Recently I read two different stories about the joys of personal downsizing. In the Opinion section of The New York Times Graham Hill, the founder of Treehugger.com and LifeEdited.com, extolled the joys of his 420-square-foot studio and his lack of material goods. In the April issue of Martha Stewart Living there was a profile titled “A Want for Nothing” which featured the home of Bea Johnson, author of the new book Zero Waste Home. Ms. Johnson totes her own spice jars to the store and each family member has “just two towels.”
It makes me want to cry with jealousy.
I want to tote my own reusable spice jars! I want to live in a studio with only ten multipurpose dishes! And damn it, I want my family to make do with only two towels each! But more than anything, I want someone to tell me exactly how to convince the rest of my family to hop on board baggage free.
My husband also wants to move to a smaller house, reduce our overhead, get rid of our daughter’s 619 Webkinz and, more than anything, wants to stop hearing me complain about all of the useless junk that surrounds us. At least until it’s time to get rid of his Cocteau Twins CD from college: Now that’s just crazy talk.
But what I really want to know is this: How did Mr. Hill and Ms. Johnson actually unload all of their stuff? I know how to turn our smelly sneakers into a brand-new basketball court, but how do I dispose of the emotional baggage disguised as material goods that the rest of us have been passing between family members for years? Did they give Great-Aunt Julia’s soup tureen to a sister or sneak it into the trash? This is what I really need to know.
I can’t step foot in my parents’ house without being handed an item that is, oh how I loathe this word now, “special.” When we first moved back to New Hampshire my family gleefully helped us furnish our first house with their castoffs and now I know why: In my family once you take something “special” you’re stuck with it. You can’t give it back and you can’t just give it away.
A Yankee would rather pay her tax bill early than thrown a perfectly good toaster into the trash. Okay maybe the toaster burns every piece of bread that goes in it, and maybe, just maybe, that toaster electrocuted Uncle Duncan a couple of times. But it still works! (And by "works," I mean it burns toast and electrocutes people.)
In the past few months alone I’ve been offered a full set of china, one “valuable” bud vase, and a broken pitchfork. Recently my parents tried to give me a wallet-sized photo of myself from fourth grade. Believe me, no one needs to see that photo.
“I have a copy, just throw it out,” I said.
They stared blankly at me. My father finally recovered his voice. “Don’t you want to give it to Maxine?” (My poor only child who now stands to inherit three families’worth of unwanted hodgepodge that they couldn’t bring themselves to get rid of.)
“No. Just throw it away.” They just sat there. “If you want to you can give it to me and I can throw it away.” I said, loudly, just in case they weren’t getting the message to throw it away.
I’m not sure what became of that photo but I’m pretty sure it never made it to the trash can.
After reading about others who have embraced the “Less is More” aesthetic, the temptation of having less to clean and more time to read is just too hard to resist. So maybe I will put my aunt’s mink stole on eBay, I don’t have to tell anyone. What’s the worst that can happen, I get disinherited?
Wait a minute…I think I’m on to something.