The Gift of Not Giving

I’m dis-assembling my life.  At the age of 65 I have looked around me and I am staggered at the amount of “stuff” I have accumulated.  And I’m a lightweight compared with others.

This has been coming on for some time.  I’m a widowed, recent-retiree who lives in a lovely house with three bedrooms, a large porch and a two car garage.  I have no children and, so, no grandchildren.  The last time I gave a party for more than five people was almost a decade ago.  Why do I have all this space? And why do I have all these things?

It is, I think,  a very “American” thing.  I’m a nurse and have participated in several medical missions to under-developed countries including India, Uganda, and Haiti.  I have also traveled to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Nowhere else have I seen the excess that we Americans seem to take as a birthright. Perhaps it has to do with our past — the promise of endless frontiers, the phenomena of events like The Land Rush of the 1880s.  Prior to World War II most Americans lived modestly but something happened as the soldiers returned to build their peacetime lives.  The  “little boxes” of Levittown kept getting bigger and bigger.

Baby boomers took all of this to new heights, building McMansions that were often in excess of 5,000 square feet — a tenth of an acre!  There were rooms for everything — sleeping, eating, exercising, entertainment, meditation rooms, craft rooms. dens, offices, and on and on.  These same boomers would also have vacation homes by the shore or in the mountains and they too would be loaded with “stuff.”  I heard of one boomer whose Smokey Mountain “vacation” home was decorated in a “bear” motif.  She had 67 bears in this partially used, three bedroom house.  She wished she could buy another home because decorating was “so much fun.”

Well, I’m over it.  I no longer take pleasure from either the space or the things.  For the past six months I have been engaged in ridding myself of stuff.  It’s a chore, let me tell you.  Divesting myself of it responsibly is real work.  I’ve consigned things, sold things at a neighborhood yard sale, given to charity…I even found an online service that takes audio cassettes and recycles them.  I sent them more than 20 pounds of audio cassettes!  But still the stuff is here, perhaps there is less of it but it is still here.

So what’s the answer? I don’t have it, obviously.  But it did occur to me that a start might be found in the gift of not giving.   Or, if you must give, make it a gift that goes away — something to eat or drink, flowers, gift cards to restaurants, extravagant tea or coffee collections.  You get the drift.   The gift of not giving could be the key to a simpler life.☙

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