Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Stuffed ...

I have a lot of stuff.

I used to have less stuff – when I lived in my studio apartment – and then I got more stuff – when I moved into a 1-bedroom apartment – and now I have even more stuff, because I live in a house.

I have far, far, far more stuff than I need. Which I've been thinking about a lot lately, during this holiday season when money is tighter for almost everyone and retailers are reeling from our collective inclination to buy less stuff.

Stuff is the topic of Anna Quindlen's column in Newsweek this week.

This year, instead of giving me more stuff, my mom is making a contribution to a charity in my name. Well, wait. That's not entirely true. She will be making the contribution to the charity, but I will also receive some stuff because she wants me to have something to open on Christmas morning. I gave her a list of some CDs and DVDs I'd like and told her to pick one or two.

Yesterday, I was thinking about Lyle Lovett's song "Step Inside This House" and these lyrics:

I'll show you all the things I own
My treasures you might say
Couldn't be more then ten dollars worth
They brighten up my day

And I was thinking about families in struggling countries that count themselves lucky to have the most basic of possessions.

Shopping one day before my birthday, I saw a set of dishes I really liked. Now, I don't need dishes. I have dishes. Mom offered to buy the new dishes for me for my birthday. No, I told her. I don't need them. And I don't. I like them, but I don't need them.

And so it seems that this country has finally awoken from our long consumption coma and now we're rubbing our eyes and looking around and asking, "What are we doing with all this stuff?"

I understand that stuff confers status. When you're a kid, the more presents that are under the tree, the better. When you're an adult, the toys become more expensive, but they serve the same purpose: allowing you to keep up with the Joneses or make the Joneses jealous.

But not a cold night goes by that I don't feel a little twinge of guilt. Here I am, alone, in this whole house, while there are people who will sleep on the streets tonight, I think to myself. And I wonder how many of them might not make it through the night.

I think about paring back my life, of shedding most of my stuff and moving back into a small space. Of course, in this real-estate market, I probably couldn't sell my house anyway, so I'll stay put for the time being. But while I'm here, I've started sorting through my stuff and setting some aside for a garage sale (yes, so someone else can assume my stuff, but I'll donate the money to charity) and thinning out my already-thin closet and donating clothes to Goodwill.

Now, I don't intend to become my grandmother who held on to things until they practically disintegrated. But I can certainly get by with less. (Though I will always be a happy recipient of CDs because I love new music. Yes, I can buy it digitally, but there's something about the CD and the liner notes that makes me happy. I mean, I'm not a monk! I'm not giving up everything!)

I bought gifts for everyone this year, but I tried to buy useful things, not just stuff for stuff's sake. The nephews and niece will have some things to open on Christmas Eve at my mom and dad's house, but even they're asking for less these days. And they'll like their presents, I'm sure, but the best part of the evening will be curling up on the couch in front of the fireplace with my niece (she makes sure we do that every year, the love) and then watching a Christmas video with all of them after dessert.

Last year, the grown-ups – that'd be my mom and dad and brother and sister-in-law – sat around the kitchen table and noshed on cookies and had coffee and chatted while me and my nephews and niece retired to the TV room to watch a DVD I gave to my younger nephew. We laughed so hard we were crying. That will go down as one of my all-time favorite Christmas memories.

That's what I want for Christmas: moments that make up memories. Because I can keep them forever.


Blogger J. Marquis said...

That's a good article. I reprinted it over at my place.

I'm with you...I'll be glad to cut back but I'm not giving up buying cds. New music is essential to good mental health.

10:51 AM  

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