Overwhelmed, bursting at the seams: We have too much stuff.

Back in the pre-historic times, before Ipads and Iphones and before American cars were “super sized” to accommodate their owners’ “super-sized” frames, all my worldly possessions fit comfortably into my small 1985 Chevy Cavalier.  Not a great car, by any stretch of the imagination, but it transported me and my things – treasured books, hats and clothing, camping gear, and my beloved Cannondale mountain bike – from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific.  Fast forward a few decades to now and, as a true American, I have also super sized and changed drastically.  Instead of a small car, eight full-sized shipping containers were needed to transport our ever-expanding stuff from the Straits of Singapore to the North Sea.   Although I picked up a husband along the way, I don’t think I can blame him for adding all eight containers to our relationship.  Or could it?  When the movers asked my husband if we were planning to open a shop, I laughed and said, “Yes, my husband has lots of clothes, doesn’t he?”  The movers all gave me a funny look and one clarified, “We meant a ladies shoe and handbag shop, ma’am.”  “Oh,”  I said, disappointed and embarrassed.  My husband gave me a righteous smug that said, “Didn’t I tell you, you have too many bags and shoes.”  I left and let the movers continue packing up our stuff.

Apparently we are not alone in our zealous accumulation of stuff.  According to a study conducted at UCLA, which culminated in a book called “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century:  32 Families Open Their Doors,” ever-expanding stuff is a growing epidemic in the U.S.  Unlike the nuclear families showcased in the book, my family is just two: my husband and me.  You would think two people would manage better and moderate their consumption of things.  Sadly, that hasn’t been the case with us.  We have too much and we need help.

If you were to peak into our bathroom closet, you would find six pairs of relatively new and unused swim goggles, which might make you think:  “Ah, they must be training for the Olympics.”  Sadly, no.  We are not avid swimmers.  In fact, we rarely swim now.  But couple years ago, when we were living in Singapore, where it’s hot and humid 365 days of the year, we had the bright idea that we would try to swim couple times a week 1) to add some physical activity to our sedentary lives, 2) to cool down from the heat, and 3) to add variety to our nightly ritual of going out to dine. 

When you endeavor to start any new activity, the first thing you have to do is attire yourself appropriately.  We learned that when we lived in Japan.  The Japanese dress appropriately for whatever sport or activity they engage in.  Because we already had bathing suits, from our love of tropical beach holidays, we were halfway there; all we needed were some swim goggles.  Like good sports novices, we did the research, getting excited about the prospects of doing some physical activity, and made our purchases. 

The thing about being DINKs (double income no kids) is that, because you have no kids, you work really long hours slaving away for your employer, who gives you a good salary, which blinds you from making economical decisions about your spending habits.  You think, “I have a job.  I can afford it.  I want it.”  And then you buy, buy, buy. 

And savvy merchants like Amazon offer Amazon Prime (one click purchase), so that you don’t even have to bother getting up to grab your credit card, because if you’re like me, after you get up from the computer to grab your credit card, you may pass by a stack of clothes on the floor and immediately stress about how much laundry you need to do or remember the comments made by the movers, who seemed to think that your wardrobe could fill a clothing shop, and then by the time you get into the hallway, you’ll have forgotten all about that non-Amazon store purchase because you’re suddenly wondering if you do indeed have too many clothes, and then your field of vision focuses on something that requires your immediate attention, so you forget about the village, you forget your potential purchase and you walk into the kitchen.  This happens to me and my husband all throughout the day.  For example, I’ll walk into the kitchen and see that the fridge door is open, but my husband is nowhere in sight.  I’ll call out to him and he’ll be on the phone in the living room or climbing up a ladder in the bathroom?  When I ask him what he was doing in the kitchen, he will respond with a blank look that says, “What do you mean the kitchen?  Can’t you see that I’m busy replacing a light bulb right now?”  There is no good way to reply to those types of questions, especially if you don’t want to start an argument.  I’ll usually pretend not to hear and then walk back to the kitchen to do some sleuthing on my own.  After surveying the room, I may find a half emptied bag of groceries that my husband was busy putting away, before he received a phone call or walked into the bathroom to put something away, and then remembered that the light bulb was out and needed to be replaced.  Is this how our lives have always been or have they become more convoluted as we have aged: from one distraction to the next, we jump from this to that, not really living in the present. 

That’s how we came to own six pairs of swim goggles between the two of us.  I ordered one, used it and put it somewhere that I couldn’t find it again.  I had to order another one and then, of course, I found the first one.  And then there were two.  I think the third one was ordered during the same time I ordered the second one, but I had forgotten that I clicked purchase on one website and then when I received two in the mail from different vendors, I realized my mistake.  I should have returned one, but I was too busy to bother and I figured that I could use them all.  Now what do I do with six goggles, that neither me nor my husband will need in the foreseeable future?  The scary thing is that it’s not just the swim goggles.  Today I finally set aside time to organize the mess in our bathroom closets.  And it’s a good thing I did; it turns out we have a big, growing pharmacy and drugstore in our bathroom.  For another two decades at least, we don’t need to buy any more shampoos, lotions, soaps, toothpastes, toothbrushes nor any drugs like Tylenol, Tylenol PM, Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Nyquil, etc.  I, for one, am glad about our newly discovered stock of medications.  All this stress from too much stuff keeps me up at nights, but now that I have discovered our abundant supply of Tylenol PM, my nights won’t be restless anymore. I hope.

Here’s a link to an article discussing the book I mentioned above:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/28/garden/an-anthropologist-on-hyper-abundance-and-the-american-home.html?_r=0

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