I suppose things have been building up to this point for a while, and it is time to face the music. We are stuff-a-holics, and need to go into recovery.
It sneaks up on you, this condition; it can start out with thrift-shopping for bargains or cruising yard sales as a way to learn one’s way around a new neighborhood. Then the giddy thrill of a cool score gets its hooks in a person, especially one susceptible to the syndrome. Giveaway boxes, moving days, even Dumpster diving; any way to get the rush.
Then come the excuse-making, the justifications, the prying open of loopholes through which we find ways to sneak more shiny, pretty, interesting, useful things into the house; soon enough, we are featured on an episode of “Hoarders.” Or at least we feel like it. I suspect there is a similar psychological cause to our continual binge-and-purge cycle of abuse as the poor souls profiled on TV, but we somehow have managed to check ourselves before letting it get to the point of reality-show contestant-hood. (Sorry for all the hyphens, but I found a few extra in my desk drawer and I want to use them up.)
My Dear Wife deserves most of the credit for this turn-around, and she lays out the reasoning behind it very well. I’ve been wandering about in a fog of my own lately, unable to tackle the creeping mass of STUFF that, like the ivy outside our walls, was ever-so-slowly taking over all the space available for it. Invasive species are like that. Stealthy and insidious; hitching a ride or sneaking over the border; disguising themselves as something healthy, useful, or pretty; only to be discovered when they’ve established themselves in the ecosystem. By then it’s too late; the damage is done, and remediation is both difficult and expensive.
Not that I am abdicating our own responsibility; just as we need to rinse off our boots and boats to stop the spread of invasive species in nature, we have to thoroughly check ourselves when we engage in commerce. First of all, for what are we shopping? Did we make a list? Do we have the list? Follow the list exactly. Do not deviate from its path. Secondly, why are we shopping? Do we actually need anything (see above re: the list), or is this more of a recreational shop? If the latter, is there nothing else to do? Surely there must be some other way to relieve the tedium and tension we’re feeling. (My apologies also for the gratuitous italics; they were buried under the hyphens in the desk drawer and I don’t want them to spoil.) Are we tired or hungry, hot or cold? These are dangerous conditions, when judgement is sketchy and mistakes are easy to make.
Here we are, then, trying to clear out years’ worth of English ivy and Scotch broom, and vowing to be much more careful from here on out. I’m struck by the strange dichotomy of my thinking on the matter: on the one hand, I promote simple, sustainable living; on the other, I have been over-grazing on the detritus of an over-productive economy. We have gleefully engaged in over-consumption, but considered it virtuous due to its low position on the economic ladder. Part of it stems from poverty, and a desire to be thrifty: stockpiling necessities at a good price for that inevitable rainy day is part of my Yankee heritage. Another part, as I’ve mentioned before, is the thrill of treasure-hunting; there are some incredible finds out there.
And yet…the amount of stuff we’ve acquired in the past two years is staggering, and this is hardly the first great purge we’ve had. We moved to the Great Northwest in 2002 with a 4 x 8-foot U-Haul trailer. Two years later we moved to another house and barely squeezed our belongings into a 26-foot truck. In 2010, we pared our gear down by half before moving out here and managed to fit in into two vehicles and a 6 x 12-foot trailer; two years later (by shocking coincidence!) we are cleaning out again. You’d think we’d have figured it out by now.
Maybe, finally, we do. We sold The Little Red Wagon this spring and committed to keeping The Green Monster for another year. While our bicycle population has crept up from five to nine, three of those are marked for resale before we move again next summer. Most importantly, we are truly feeling the effects of “stuff-crowding” and have recognized the problem for what it is. It is affecting our ability to do what we really want to do: travel when we can; relax at home in the meantime; enjoy the hobbies we like; stay on top of bills, social engagements, and school functions; keep the house reasonably clean; hear ourselves think.
I think that, at long last, we’re done with it. We’re going to stay out of thrift shops and away from yard sales for a year, unless we have a very specific need to fulfill; we have committed to no unnecessary spending for that time; and we are going through every nook and cranny of this house and culling all that we neither love nor need. Maybe then we can spend our time on what we like, rather than on getting the rest of it out of the way. Maybe then we can move forward rather than in circles. Maybe then we will have, as the great Aldo Leopold put it, “peace in our time.”