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What does all our stuff say about us?

Posted in Life & Love

Hoarder kitchen
Not anyone I actually know

Over the last couple of weeks, during my daily dog run, I made  a point of picking up the prettiest pine cones that dotted my path – I have this  unshaped  idea I will spray them gold and silver and use them for a still vague Christmas table decoration. During the same walks, I also often come across what my neighbors leave on the side of the road, hopefully  to be picked up by some interested soul. It’s a very American habit – and a noble one at that – to dispose of no longer wanted household items or furniture by leaving them for someone else to give them a second life.

After dragging home two wicker chairs, cleaning them and painting them, a few days ago I stopped to inspect a brass table lamp – who was I kidding? the DIY gene passed me by at birth and the likelihood I would ever replace the electrical cord and the lampshade was so minimal, I had the good sense of walking away. My idea of repurposing is using one object in a different capacity than was intended, without any tweaking, gluing, painting or hammering required. I lack the patience and the interest, I suppose. But I do cling on to the childish notion that objects have a life and a soul of sort, a soul that often prevents me from terminating their lives way past their expiration date.

Ambivalence can be my master: on one hand, I despise clutter to an extent that my house is obsessively neat and I have even gone through the (unsolicited) trouble of reorganizing other people’s living spaces, especially kitchens. On the other, I can live with semi-functional objects because I feel sorry about discarding them, if they and I have a history together: the wooden spoon with the shaved handle; the toilet in the guest bathroom that doesn’t flush properly; the wobbly chair with the colorful cushion; the chipped measuring cup that still measures after all and on and on.

Organized pantry
Not my pantry but the organizing spirit is the same

Until last week. Two neon lights came crashing down in the laundry room in the middle of the night, prompting me to think a giant bird had collided with a window (why a giant bird would be flying in the middle of the night belies my fervent imagination). After picking up a sea of glass, I looked around me, and made a list of anything in my house that  needed replacing or updating.

Why was I making do with half-assed things? What does that say about me, and the way I feel about my space? Since then, I have methodically disposed of things that were half-broken or  started the fixing process for those that could be rescued. I noticed that some objects didn’t need replacing: I have two other measuring cups in addition to the chipped one. More plates I will ever use in one setting. More mugs than even a Mad Hatter tea party would prompt me to fill. Ten years in this house and so much stuff. Neatly organized, no doubt, but still stuff.

And I know I am not alone. While catering a dinner for a client a few weeks ago, I was rummaging through her kitchen looking for a ladle, and I came across an unwarranted quantity of same objects, of gizmos that probably never see the light of day – every drawer packed to the gilt. And here we are, entering the season of gift-giving. Everywhere I look, there are e-mails, newspaper and magazine pages filled with stocking filler ideas, gifts for her and him, gifts for $25 and for $250.

broken picture
I took a picture before letting it go

I certainly don’t need anything (well, maybe an iPhone upgrade would be nice – see? that’s advertising for you). So, this holiday season, please don’t give me anything. I mean it.  Invite me for lunch if you would like to show your appreciation for my company. Write me a personal note expressing why you think I am such a good friend. If you believe I am such a valued customer, maybe offer me a discount because I really do not need another tote bag. If you value me as an employee, slip a bonus in that envelope.

I will take some homemade jam or cookies. But no more stuff.

This is Edite. I just found out her loan through Kiva has been fully funded. She can start building her house
This is Edite. I just found out her loan through Kiva has been fully funded. She can start building her house

Other than indulging children with shiny packages under the tree, there shouldn’t be anything for me or any other sensible adult who is not in need. And there are so many of them. This year, the money I would otherwise spend on random gifts will go to Edite in Mozambique, who is trying to build herself a house, and to Feeding America – in my rich and mighty country, 1 in 6 people experiences hunger, at some point in their lives. These are often hard-working adults, children and seniors who simply cannot make ends meet and are forced to go without food for several meals, or even days. So, while I carve my ham, arrange the pine cones I picked up in the street and harbor no expectations as to what is under the tree for me, I hope my small contribution will have made someone else’s week a little bit brighter.

And as to the people we love and we want to reward with tangible gifts from the heart from time to time, we don’t have to use Christmas as an excuse and feed the marketing machine (not to mention our anxiety level). What’s wrong with January 12?

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7 Comments

  1. My husband is the same. His “crap” has led to many a disagreement. Now we have agreed he needs to confine it to his office (where I only enter on a strictly “as needed” basis…)

    December 9, 2013
    |Reply
  2. I am in awe of your discipline. I am one of life’s collectors although I’m trying to do better as I married a man who lives as sparsely as a monk. What fun, eh, in our household! I have been taking notes from you and him and hope I can implement what I have learned 🙂

    December 8, 2013
    |Reply
  3. Jen
    Jen

    Good on you. I would be happy to never get another thing ever for a gift, except for a gift certificate to the used book store of a homemade one for a massage from my hubby. I do hoard stuff tho, both from long ago and out of an anxious need to prep for the apocalypse. As if! If the world ended, I’d be the first to die from some GI upset. No need then for all the glass jars I have piled up in the storage closet for future canning needs.

    December 7, 2013
    |Reply
    • That’s just it. The canning jars. We do it all the time: let’s put this aside because we might need it one day in 200 years or so. And we never do!

      December 8, 2013
      |Reply
      • Jen
        Jen

        Yet! 😉

        December 8, 2013
        |Reply
  4. For some very strange reason we seem to be thinking of the same things, at the same time, most of the time. I am your twin in neurotically organising and at the same time having am hard time to part from broken things. Last week I put plenty of old stuff out of my door: most of it, even the broken chairs, were gone in half an hour. I feel better thinking that someone else will paint, repair and sit of them instead of knowing them floating on a hill of rubbish in some recycling center. Still, I sometimes feel so overwhelmed by stuff that I feel objects will swallow me whole. Right now, I only dream of near to empty cupboards, clean rooms and no more superfluous objects or foods.

    December 7, 2013
    |Reply
    • Sometimes I dream of living in a minimalist house, with white walls, three pieces of furniture and not a single knick-knack. I would probably hate it after a week but…oh…the lightness!

      December 8, 2013
      |Reply

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