Zero Shopping Days for Christmas

I have no intention of buying a single gift this holiday season. No, I’m not Scrooge. No, I’m not a bitter, lonely person. I’ve just outgrown the love of stuff, and am no longer a member of the cult of crass consumerism.

My husband and I are more into experiences than objects. My dogs don’t distinguish one day from the next. I have no children, and my parents have passed away. My niece and nephew are independent adults. My sister and I are long past the whole present buying thing. Thank heavens I wasn’t born into a family that takes the gift exchange to an extreme, buying for aunts, uncles, and cousins. And my fellow bridgetenders can’t be bothered with secret Santa. (Yay!) I don’t even mail out Christmas cards.

Yes, we’ll get a tree and decorate the house with lights. We will have a nice meal. We’ll listen to carolers and go to festivals and check out Christmas decorations in town. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life while sitting in front of a nice fire. We might make a batch of cookies.

We keep Christmas in our own way. It doesn’t come wrapped in pretty paper. It’s not covered in ribbons and bows. But it will be merry in spite of, and perhaps even because of, that.

Christmas

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Tsundoku

I learned a new word today, thanks to this article. Tsundoku (not the be confused with the number puzzle sudoku) is the Japanese word for the acquiring of reading materials, followed by letting them pile up and subsequently never reading them.

Now, who among us isn’t either guilty of that ourselves, or at least knows someone who is? It’s a tragedy. When I think of all the trees that have been converted into expensive paperweights in this manner, it makes me want to weep.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of reading. I absolutely love books. What I really hate is stuff. Accumulation. It’s just too much. That’s why I adore libraries. I can always lay my hands on any book I want. I just don’t have to store it myself. I can’t think of a more amazing service to provide the public.

Somewhere in Missouri are about 50 boxes of books, moldering away in a storage shed. They are my inheritance from my late sister. The one thing we had in common was a love of reading. But I don’t know what she was thinking. I couldn’t afford to ship them all from there to here if my life depended on it. And where would I put them? One of these days I’m going to have to fly out there and donate them to a library or sell them to a used book store or something. Meanwhile they just sit there, occupying space and entertaining no one. What a hassle. What a shame.

I guess you might say I suffer from Tsundoku by proxy.

pile-of-books

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Collecting Stuff

I have this theory about collections.

They always seem like a great idea at the outset. They are fun and unique and a form of self-expression. And they’re a bit of immortality, too, because if you collect owls, then everyone who knows you will instantly think of you whenever they see anything that’s owl-related.

But over time, collections often take on a life of their own. They take up space. They cost a fortune. You sort of become a slave to your collection. Even if you want to stop accumulating postcards of chimpanzees, for example, people will start sending them to you. That thing you’ve chosen to chain yourself to will be all that you get for Christmas from now until the end of time.

Before you know it, you’re outnumbered. And if you move with any frequency at all, you’ll probably rue the day you started collecting those beer steins. It’s just one more damned crate to pack. Stuff.

I used to collect t-shirts from my travels, but it soon got out of hand. I have more t-shirts than I’ll ever wear. No one will want them when I’m gone. It’s senseless. So I switched over to something cheaper and smaller—refrigerator magnets. They do take up less space. But I may never see the surface of my fridge again.

So if you’re thinking of starting a collection, my advice would be “Run! Run away!” But if you can’t resist, at least choose wisely. Not only will it define you, but it will impoverish you, and bury you under a mountain of… well, let’s just say I hope you pick something light.

collections

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Spiritual Wealth

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a Christian. But I do believe that there are a lot of important lessons to be learned from the Bible. I think there are lessons to be learned from many other sources as well. The trick is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, the chaff often does not come from the philosophy itself, but from the way that philosophy gets twisted by others for their own benefit. Nothing makes me more angry than seeing people get taken advantage of. Nothing is so heartbreaking as seeing people preyed upon and then cast aside.

I may not be an expert on all things Christian, but I do know this: Jesus did not advise people to crave money. He never said that the way God shows favor is by making you rich in this life. He cast out the money lenders. He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” (Matthew 19:24)

Basically, Jesus wasn’t about stuff. He wasn’t about accumulating riches. He wasn’t trying to show people how to game the system so that God would give them prizes.

He did not approve of greed. And he certainly never told anyone to go without groceries so that some creepy preacher could buy a private jet. Jesus would be horrified by the prosperity gospel.

Money is not the key to happiness in this life or any other. Whether you agree with him or not, does Trump seem particularly happy to you? He worships Mammon, and I wouldn’t want his life for anything. Golden toilets don’t make the going any easier.

Love, decency, kindness, generosity, the ability to learn and think critically… these things are priceless. Clamoring for stuff and money… that’s not your kingdom here on earth. It’s just a form of burial before death. If you learn nothing else in this life, let it be that.

Money Church

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Capitalism 101

Apologies in advance. I’m feeling a tad bitter today. I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t think of this before, but the capitalist system, our system, can be easily explained as follows:

The main goal of this system is profit. The only way that corporations can make a profit is by making sure that the amount their employees are paid is less than the amount of wealth those same employees produce. That’s it, pure and simple. The profit comes from our sweat.

And it’s even better for them when those same employees spend those meager earnings on stuff, thus returning it to those same corporations. Do we really need the latest iPhones and 50 pairs of shoes? Why does fashion go out of style? Why does software become obsolete? Why is everything so disposable?

Now do you get why unions exist? Almost everything you see around you was created by some underpaid, underinsured, struggling shmuck who is just a cog in a corporate wheel. And why the hell did we elect a corporate mogul to lead this country, who is doing his level best to strip it of what few riches it has left?

It’s time to stop sniffing the glue, folks.

filthy lucre

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Yard Sales

About once every 15 years, I put myself through the torture of a yard sale. You’d think I’d have learned by now. They are an exercise in frustration, and unless the Yard Sale Gods are smiling upon you, these events tend to be a monumental waste of time.

I will say this, though: yard sales are an excellent way to discover just how worthless your stuff is. Every single “priceless” possession you have used to be money. Now you’re going through everything, trying to decide which items are more valuable to you if you convert them back into money. All the while, you are emotionally struggling with the fact that in the vast majority of cases, your financial return is going to be much less than your original financial output.

And I’m always shocked at the amount of man hours that have to be put into simply preparing for a yard sale. I’d say that for every hour of the sale, you put in an additional two hours in gathering the stuff, cleaning it up, pricing it, finding tables, making signage, advertising, getting cash in small denominations, schlepping your stuff into the yard, and creating an enticing display.

And if you’re like me, you overestimate how much people will be willing to pay. At first. Then, after being faced with an indifferent wave of lookie-loos, you drop your prices. Probably a couple times. At a certain point, you become convinced that you’ve priced things as low as you can possibly go. And yet, people will still bargain shamelessly. Will you take 10 cents for that autographed first edition instead of 25 cents? Can you part with Aunt Mabel’s complete set of porcelain flatware for a dollar instead of ten?

I can understand the bargaining instinct, but at a certain point it becomes insulting. And then, as the sale is winding down, you look at all the crap that has been left behind, and you know you’ll have to deal with it by putting it back in the attic or hauling it to the junk yard or to Goodwill, and you consider paying people to take it off your hands.

Bottom line: After about 20 hours of preparation and 10 hours of yard sale, we came away with $160. In other words, $5.33 an hour. Minimum wage. 15 years ago. Or today, if you live in the Bahamas.

But on the other hand it is a great way to meet your neighbors and sit out in the fresh air. And it does motivate you not to spend that 160 bucks on bringing more junk into your house. And you can catch up on your reading. So there’s that.

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The Causes of Clutter

My fiancé and I are preparing for a future consolidation of our two houses. After 50 plus years of separate accumulation, needless to say, clutter has been on my mind quite a bit of late.

I think the mistake I’ve been making with my clutter is assuming that it’s all due to an overwhelming amount of laziness and an utter lack of organization. I’ve always felt that if I could get off my behind and just get with the program, all my clutter problems would be solved. Well, after a fair amount of internet searching about clutter and it’s causes, I now think a lot differently about my stuff.

In particular, I found this short video, entitled THE two things that cause ALL clutter to be most helpful indeed. Basically, it demonstrates that there are two reasons for clutter: Deferred Decisions and Incomplete Actions.

Some examples of Deferred Decisions are:

  • I am keeping this item because I might use it as xyz. Or maybe I’ll just throw it away. I haven’t decided.

  • These clothes don’t fit me. I don’t know whether to keep them in hopes that I lose weight, or give them away.

  • This is a pile of books I will probably never read. But you never know.

Some examples of Incomplete Actions are:

  • I’ve been meaning to give this to my sister, but I haven’t gotten around to it.

  • I put that there to do something with, and I forgot all about it.

  • I plan to sell this, but I haven’t posted it on Craig’s List yet.

  • I have these craft supplies because I plan to make something with them, but I haven’t found the time.

  • I’ve been meaning to sort through these obsolete phones and computers and get rid of them, but I haven’t taken the time.

  • I’ve been meaning to transfer these photos/Cassette recordings to digital to create more space. One of these days.

Once you look at things from the lens of Delayed Decisions and Incomplete Actions, it’s a lot easier to get moving on them. With the former: Make your decision! Don’t put it off. There’s no time like the present. With the latter: complete that action. Just do it.

Easier said than done, I know. But what I’m finding is that it’s a lot simpler to follow through on this stuff if my fiancé is present. He doesn’t judge. He just acts as a logical sounding board, and points out the obvious.

“Are you really ever going to play that ukulele again?” “Even if you fit into those clothes again, are they your style anymore?” “I know a great place where you can have your cassettes digitized. Let’s consolidate them into one box and do that on Wednesday.” “Do you really need 8 garlic presses?” “If that has sentimental value, maybe you should keep it. Or maybe you should take a picture of it to keep, and then pass it on to someone who could use it.”

I’ve made more progress with his help in the past few weeks than in all the time I’ve tried to tackle it alone. When I die, whoever has the unenviable task of sorting through my personal effects will want to kiss him on the lips.

Another thing that has incentivized me is that my neighborhood is planning a community garage sale later this month. That would be a great opportunity to try to sell stuff. But anything that doesn’t go will NOT go back into the house. Period. It will either go to Goodwill or I will put it on Craig’s List for sale THAT DAY, and leave it on the back porch for a maximum of two weeks in hopes of sale.

But, back to my original argument about laziness and lack of organization. The good news is that you don’t have to get rid of everything. Thinking you do is half of what has probably caused your inaction. No, there are some things that are

Not clutter, but a mess:

  • Photos. (But do try to digitize as many of them as you can.)

  • Things that have sentimental value (and a photo won’t suffice).

  • Things you really have used within the past year.

Once you’ve gotten rid of all the other stuff, it’s time to organize the mess. But that will be a whole lot easier when you have the space. And, if you’re like me, as you make more and more progress, you’ll feel proud of your accomplishments and you’ll be energized.

Wish me luck! If I can do this, you can do this. And, like a shoe that’s two sizes too small, it’ll feel soooo good when it’s gone.

clutter

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It’s All Stuff and Nonsense

I just finished reading a Rolling Stone article about the financial woes of Johnny Depp. Hundreds of millions of dollars gone. Poof. Just like that. Millions taken by hangers on, apparently without Depp even noticing until it was too late. Much signing of signature pages without reading the actual content of the document. 6 million in fees for paying his taxes late for 13 years in a row.

Then there’s the drugs and the alcohol and the stuff. The stuff! An 8,000 square foot estate above Sunset Boulevard. The rock club. The 1940 Harley Davidson. The horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky. 14 other fully furnished residences. A yacht. 70 Guitars, 200 pieces of art. 45 cars. An island in the Bahamas.

It is alleged that his lifestyle costs him 2 million dollars a month, including $200,000 a month on air travel and $30,000 a month on wine. He once spent $108,000 on suits in a single trip to Singapore. A 1 million dollar wedding, and an even more pricey divorce. He himself claims he spent 5 million to shoot the ashes of Hunter S. Thompson into the sky with a cannon.

For God’s sake, it really isn’t all that difficult. Look around you. All that stuff you see? It used to be money. Now it’s stuff. And that stuff isn’t going to make you happy or keep you warm at night. It won’t stop your loneliness or boredom. It won’t make people love you more. It’s just crap, and it weighs you down. Every object is an anchor.

Before you buy something, ask yourself if you really need it. If you’re honest, most of the time the answer to that will be no. I mean, cavemen had very little, and they survived.

Okay, so we’re not cavemen. All we really need is a SMALL place to live, a SINGLE mode of transportation, a knife, a spork, a bowl, a shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of shoes, and about 3 pairs of underwear. Everything else is frosting on the cake.

And believe me, I know how comforting it can be to hide behind frosting. You don’t have to be all emotionally naked and vulnerable when you’re surrounded by distracting luxuries. You are not exposed. But you’re also not free.

Johnny Depp is known for taking on controversial roles. I would challenge him, and all of us, to do that with our lives as well. Strip down to only the bare essentials. Divest ourselves of the junk. Take a good, hard look at ourselves.

And then, go live.

Durbar Square Hindu Ascetic

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The Letting Go

When my mother died, I hung on to this bottle of deodorant she had given me until long after it had been used up. Because she gave it to me. I think I got it into my head that getting rid of that bottle would be like losing my connection with her. I just couldn’t do it. Not at that point.

I have other things that belonged to my mother, of course. Jewelry. Family heirlooms of one kind or another. Photographs. These things make sense. But an empty deodorant bottle? Come on, now.

Then, four years ago, my boyfriend died quite unexpectedly. Since we weren’t legally married, I was left with very little of his to cling to. Once again, I had a bottle of deodorant. This wasn’t a gift to me. But it had belonged to him. It smelled like him. Again, I held onto it for years.

Finally, several weeks ago, almost without thinking about it, I reached into my medicine cabinet with my eyes closed and threw that sucker out. Just like that. Just like I had eventually done with my mother’s bottle. It was time. My life is moving on.

And guess what? The world kept right on spinning. The sky didn’t crack open. My connection is every bit as strong. My memories are intact. All continued to be right with the world. And now I have more room in my medicine cabinet.

It’s okay to let go of things. Things aren’t people. Things only have an emotional charge if you give one to them. Yes, hold onto those photos and heirlooms. They are part of a family legacy. But don’t cling to someone else’s clutter. Make room in your life for your life.

No pressure, though. You’ll know when and if it’s time to let go. Only you can decide that.

Since the deodorant disposal (not because of it), my life seems to be progressing at a rapid pace, and I love the direction in which it’s going. So just the other day I decided it was time to let more go. It was time to scatter the last of Chuck’s ashes.

The fact that I even have any in the first place is a pure miracle. Some of his relatives felt I didn’t deserve any after “living in sin” with him for four years. Others, though, who knew how much we loved each other, liberated some and slipped a tiny bottle of them into my purse. So I had this tiny bottle, and have cherished it ever since. But it was time to set Chuck, and myself, free.

Where would I do this, though? He’d never even been to Seattle. He’d have had a love/hate relationship with it. I think he’d have loved it this time of year, but not in the winter. I think he’d have loved the many things there are to do, but not the politics.

He’d have loved the water and mountain view at my work. So that’s where I decided to do it. When I got there, though, it occurred to me that the only window that actually opens out over the water is the one in the bathroom.

You had to know Chuck. But trust me, he’d have appreciated that irony. He’d have thought it was freakin’ hilarious. So, after depositing a tiny bit of him in a perfume locket that I have (where he’s encountering my mother for the first time), I held the bottle in my hands and opened the window.

“Chuck,” I said, “I love you. I think you know that my life has become magical and wonderful again, and it’s time to let you go. I truly believe you’re happy for me. I’ll miss you. I’ve still got pictures and memories, and you’ll always have a piece of my heart. But I’m still alive, and it’s time to live again. It’s time to embrace the joy of the here and the now and the future. I know you get that. You probably get it more than most people do. So here goes. Safe journey.”

And as I scattered the ashes, a sudden gust of wind blew some of them back into my face. The bathroom and I were now covered in Chuck. I laughed as I cried, because he’d have laughed. I could hear him in my mind, that wonderful, infectious, breathless, delighted chuckle of his.

And it was good.

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Just Because It’s Yours Doesn’t Mean You Have to Keep It

I used to know a guy who had a photo of a cat. “Cute cat,” I said, “What’s his name?”

“I dunno. A pen pal sent that picture to me 30 years ago.”

“Are you still friends?”

“No.”

“Then why are you keeping the photo of a long-dead cat that belonged to someone you no longer know?”

“Because she sent it to me.”

He also keeps every gift he was ever given, including clothes that he never liked that never fit, and toys that he never played with that he’ll never sell. It’s a thing with him. He’d rather be a dumping ground than hurt someone’s feelings.

Personally, I can’t remember the vast majority of the things that I’ve given to people. So unless something is outrageously expensive or a family heirloom, if I’ve given you something that you don’t like, use, or need, feel free to get rid of it. You were not put on this earth to preserve my psyche. If it’s that fragile, then your hoarding my tchotchke isn’t going to keep my morale intact anyway.

We place entirely too much emotional value on “stuff”. I guarantee you that there are very few possessions that are worth your life. If your house is engulfed in flames, I doubt you are going to run back inside to rescue that cute pair of shoes.

Now that I live in a tiny little house, I’m trying really hard to pare down. It’s teaching me to be selfish and cold-hearted. In a good way.

If I’m reluctant to part with something, I examine that instinct closely. Why am I keeping it? Am I doing it for me or for someone else? Because here’s the thing (yes, there’s always a thing): No one else has to live in my space. I’m the one who has to dust, maintain, trip over, and be irritated by the stuff I choose to keep. George Carlin made a very good point when he talked about our houses being very big boxes with lids.

The older I get, the less I’m willing to deal with the detritus of life. My time is even more limited than my energy. It’s a safe bet that when I die, 95% of what I own will wind up either in a landfill or in the hands of complete strangers. How’s that for perspective?

Incidentally, this theory works for emotional baggage, too. Food for thought.

Anonymous cat

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