This is a complicated time of year. The overwhelming cultural message for the past six weeks has been MATERIALISM!!! Glittery, sparkly materialism! Sequined, perfumed, bouncy flouncy materialism! Oh joy, MORE STUFF! Yet we can look around and see that the goodies we got two years ago and three years before that aren’t very exciting anymore. We can check our account balances and, once we’ve sat down, had a drink of water, and waited for the room to stop spinning, we can remind ourselves that we’d much rather have financial security. Ya know what, though? Consumerism has its place.
I’ve been scrolling through numerous articles, at least two a day, that supposedly gather together dozens of fabulous gift ideas. The vast majority of them make me sit back in my chair, practicing my one-eyebrow raise, wondering, “Now, who on earth would let that thing in their house?” Or, “Who even thought of such a thing, much less designed it, much less brought it to market?” The multifarious thingness of it all... Every single one of those objects, though, began as an idea and turned into several people’s jobs. I remind myself that there is a point to it all. If we were all minimalists, what would we do for an economy?
Seriously, I wonder about that quite a bit.
I’d like to think that when we lean in the direction of fewer things, we go for better quality. I’d like to think that we’d put more attention and respect toward our items of daily use, rather than random tchotchkes. I’d like to think that we would move toward buying things that were a pleasure to make, and that we’d buy them from places where it was at least occasionally fun to work.
What is really interesting to me about my work with compulsive accumulators is that they save things that are designed to be used up. The particular favorite here is bath sets. Every darn one of the homes where I have visited has at least one plastic-wrapped gift basket, containing fancy soaps, lotions, powders, and other little jars and bottles. Many of my people have enough of this stuff to last them for years, by which time they’re certain to have accrued another one. Why use the same old supermarket stuff, when your friends and family want you to indulge yourself? How could you reject such a thoughtful gift?
By my estimation, I have received at least 25 bars of fancy soaps over the past 20 years, and I’ve gleefully used them all. Ditto shower gel, bath beads, bath bombs, and bath salts. Keep ‘em coming! (Vegan and cruelty-free, of course)
Another one of the top contenders for hoarded gifts is fancy groceries. We’ve got infused cooking oils, special vinegars, spice mixes, exotic mustards, foo-foo jams, you name it. You think someone is going to crack open these containers and have a special picnic? Ha! They’re going on the ‘good’ shelf, where they can peacefully expire.
We “save” everything for “later” - which means, forever, or until it gets ruined. We willfully, purposefully reject and refuse the bounty our friends have so kindly chosen for us. What they want is to give us things we’ll really love, gifts that will delight us, things we’ll use to create lasting memories. What we do with those wishes is to create yet another dust collector.
I’m wearing a pair of rainbow-striped knee socks right now. They were a New Year’s gift from my husband. He’s bought me three pair over the years since we started dating. These have little hearts up the back. The first pair have already worn out, because I wore them ALL THE TIME. I never need to worry about “running out” of rainbow socks, partly because someone is always going to keep on making them, and partly because my hubby knows I like them. There will always be plenty (say it with me) and there will always be plenty more. Plenty more gift soaps, plenty more infused cooking oils, plenty more rainbow socks. Plenty of everything.
We’re supposed to be a little greedy around this time, because that’s what our friends and family want for us. They aren’t bringing us gifts to induce a zenlike state of renunciation and non-attachment, am I right? They aren’t shopping until their cute little feet are tired because they want us to be bored and uninspired. They would be kinda hurt if they realized how many of their thoughtful presents remain still in the bag from previous years, stuffed into a box or a closet!
We have to splurge. We have to be extravagant, sometimes. It’s the appropriate reaction when someone has brought us a gift of love, a little symbol that says, “I care about your happiness.” When we use these things down to the last dollop, it’s a measure of gratitude. It’s a way of reflecting appreciation for the bounty of this world, for the good things we have. What is it we think we’re doing when we set it all aside “for later”?
The goal here is to look around at everything we have around us, and to see it for the fabulous richness it represents. How could we ever pine away for all the things we don’t have, when we have so much more than we truly need already? How could we be anything other than bowled over by the magnificence that’s being showered on us all the time, so much more than we could ever use? Let’s just go wild this year, making a point to open all the packaging and actually indulge ourselves, the way the givers have intended.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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