Winter blues? Stuff it.

| January 14, 2004

I know I'm not alone in my post-holiday hangover, a mixture of queasiness brought on by the credit card bills rolling in and stress from all the extra stuff I now have to find room for. Despite the fact that fifty-four percent of consumers started the season paying off credit card debt, polls showed that we still planned to increase our holiday spending by more than six percent.

          Every winter I gallop into the stores with my charge card held high, a banner under which to conquer each purchase. I bag my plunder, ignoring the fact that neither I nor anyone on my list really needs what I've bought.

          Then, predictably, I spend the rest of the winter regretting my greed. Well, 2004 is going to be different. I hereby declare that I'm getting rid of my belongings. Not just the stuff I don't use or is broken. All of it. I'll save a little bowl for brown rice, a pair of chopsticks, and a straw mat to sleep on. And maybe a book or two. But that's it.

I'm certain I won't regret this decision because I've been watching my neighbors and my mother grappling with their respective accumulated possessions. My neighbors, who are in the winter of their lives, have been emptying their family home in preparation for an eventual move.

          It's a lot of work. Rather than dumping everything into a Goodwill box, my neighbors are making sure each item goes to someone who needs it. The rugs and furniture go to family members and an arts organization's annual auction. Linens from the summer cottage go to an inner-city daycare center. They've even offered some letters and photos of historic interest to the Genesee Country Village and Museum. I hope I can be as thoughtful and energetic in the disposal of my goods as they are.

          On the other side of the coin is my mother. She is stuck in a fully furnished four-bedroom house and feeling completely stifled by it. She's got a dozen items that would have come in handy when my brother and I were setting up homes, but she's never been able to let go. I sympathize with my mother; her stuff is her life. It comforts her in her widowhood, even as it overwhelms.

          I don't want to end up like that, but there's no guarantee anyone will even want my belongings. Unlike prior generations, which valued quality, my generation has turned the accumulation of disposable crap into an art form. Spurred on by the rallying cry, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins," we've furnished our lives with computers and other electronics, jeans that only we can love, IKEA furniture, and tumbleweeds of speaker wire. Not much here for the Genesee Country Village and Museum.

My house needs a massive colonic. Just shove the tube in the front door and blow this sucker clean. Then I can enjoy life.

          Of course, there's a small risk involved. What if the straw mat becomes too hard for my aging bones and the books grow dull on the umpteenth reading? Maybe I should leave room for a few extra items in my purging plan. A down pillow, my laptop, and the small TV. I'll need cable for the modem and the television, of course, but that's it.

          Actually, that might not be enough. In order to prepare for the ascetic life, I just checked my life expectancy at an insurance company's website (www.nmfn.com, search on "Longevity Game"). I answered a few questions and it calculated the shocking results.

          I'm going to live to 93, God willing. I'm not even halfway there yet. How am I going to survive the next 50-plus years without my five pairs of sneakers and my thigh-high boots? Without my pre-Socratic philosophy texts? Sure, I don't read them now, but who knows what I'll be into in the coming decades. Same with the neglected free weights, plastic picnic wineglasses, and vintage dresses. Someday I might take up bodybuilding, outdoor drinking, and dressing like Jackie O.

          Or, I could just lower my life expectancy. I could start smoking, say, or stop wearing my seat belt. But, according to the life expectancy website, that'll shave only a few years off. I'll need a major lifestyle shift, like garnering multiple DWI arrests, to really shorten my life.

          There I go, letting my possessions rule me. Perhaps since no one is really going to want my things anyway, it would be prudent to hang onto them for now. After all, I have grown quite fond of some of it, especially my half-dozen gardening spades and two lobster pots. Besides, I'll never be as generous as my neighbors. It's just not in my genes.

          I'm not abandoning my plan entirely. I will not forget this sickening post-consumer-orgy feeling. I will never buy anything ever again. No more trips to the mall, no more online shopping sprees. Of course I can't be expected to pass up that George Foreman grill offer I saw on TV. Or the super-cheap DVD player-recorder at Best Buy. But that's it.

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