Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008: International Year of "Oh, I give up"

Nobody really makes New Years resolutions anymore, do they?

We had some friends over on NYE (New Year's Eve) and one pal raised the issue of resolutions. "So," she said hesitantly, "...I guess we're supposed to, uh, say what our resolutions are. Or, you know, something."

From around the table: silence, blank stares.

"You know...." ventured another friend, "I've sort of given up on the whole resolution thing."

"Me too," echoed...everyone else. Then the floodgates opened:

"I mean, what's the point?"

"You never stick to them anyways."

"Unrealistic."

"Moderation. That's the answer. You got that, you don't need resolutions."

I found the conversation refreshingly honest, and also interesting. Think of all the promises to self made around midnight a few days ago. In my mind's eye, I see all the thought bubbles floating up from a map of Canada and the U.S.:

"I'll lose 50 pounds... I'll start going to the gym... I'll get a new job...I'll be nicer...I'll invite the neighbours to tea...I'll declutter my life... I'll save for retirement...I won't buy so much crap..."

I see them float up, up...and...drift away...into the sun...where they are blasted to oblivion by February.

We all know that resolutions rarely get kept, so there's no revelation here. That they're usually about giving something up is a little more interesting. Even promises to start doing stuff...like working out, for example...are, in a sense, about giving something up. When you resolve to start working out, you're resolving to give up some time that would otherwise be spent on your butt. It's a sacrifice.

The hilarious irony of resolutions is that every year we get fatter and more weighted down by stuff than ever. The average American now consumes as much food, clothing, electronics, household goods..."stuff"...as 32 Kenyans, despite the fact that the American population is only 10 times larger than the Kenyan population.

North America is the world's most fascinating socio-bio-psycho laboratory for human behaviour. Today's experiment: How does the human animal deal with excess resources? We seem to respond with two conflicting impulses: stockpiling and streamlining.

We're a society where people can get pretty much anything they want. Even people with little or no money. We have so much stuff that we need to buy stuff in order to contain our stuff, just giving us more stuff. Usually both container and contained end up piled on a shelf, forgotten.

We have so much stuff that we have absolutely no mechanism for keeping track of what we own. The human mind itself does not have sufficient storage capacity to recall what we have hidden away in the nooks and crannies of our homes. I believe that this incapacity is the single biggest driver of sales of corkscrews and canned tuna.

I was at my mom's on Boxing Day (aka..."Buy Stuff Day") and I mentioned that I seemed to have inherited her tendency to acquire dish sets in multiples. I own an everyday set, a slightly fancier set that I'd put on my wedding registry, and a third set I inherited from my great-grandmother and which is presently sealed up in a box in the basement (I'll take it out when I buy a china cabinet to store it in...see how stuff breeds itself?).

"I don't know," my mom said, chewing her turkey thoughtfully. "I only really have those two sets over there." She pointed at one of her two china cabinets.

She glanced down at her plate. "Oh, and this set of Christmas dishes." She took another bite and considered her china cabinet again, squinting a little. "And, uh...I guess there's also that everyday set in the kitchen. And the new white set I've been collecting. How many does that make again?"

Five. It makes five, mom.

And I don't fault her one little bit. I'm well on the road to five sets of china myself. But it made me think. About stuff. About acquiring less of it. And then, in rapid succession, about maybe even making a resolution of it and the futility of resolutions in a society where one is surrounded by stuff you can, should, need to, want to buy. So much stuff. Wonderful, beautiful stuff all holding the promise of a better life.

We recently renovated our kitchen. Well, it's not completely finished yet. I'm going for "retro glam" and the glam part will come in once I receive the hardware, tiles, and other STUFF I've purchased to make the finished product sparkle. I think we single-handedly doubled the country's landfill in the process of this reno. The old kitchen wasn't easily salvageable, so...we threw it out. I have lost sleep over this wastefulness, if that helps at all. Please don't hate me.

But the thing is, the old kitchen was inefficient. It forced me to buy stuff to deal with the inefficiency. It was the kitchen's fault.

My new kitchen, though, is pared down, fine-tuned like a German engine, it will result in me needing to buy less stuff, honestly. Once I replace the old stuff that doesn't really go anymore.

So back to the resolutions. How do I make a resolution to start acquiring less stuff in a year when I know for a fact that I will be: 1) completing a kitchen renovation, 2) completing a bathroom renovation, and 3) having a baby (they are little stuff machines, I hear)?

Do I go ahead and make the resolution knowing that it will be dead by February anyways? Do I stop fighting this acquisition impulse and just buy the life I want already? Will I actually buy less if I just go out there and buy exactly what I want, once, instead of trying to make due with what I have (and inevitably having to supplement it to make it work)?

Being an overfed, overprivileged, comfortable North American can be so hard sometimes.

On the subject of stuff...here are two great NYTimes.com articles from today: one, two.

3 Comments:

Blogger Nathalie said...

Excellent post on the subject of "stuff". As you pointed out very honestly, the question is how do YOU deal with it?
Being aware is a great start, I believe. The only one good resolution you could take is every time you're about to buy something, ask yourself "do I really need this stuff?". I do this regularly - and regularly find myself putting things back on the shelf - occasionally with a tinge of regret at the time but never for very long. In fact I've never turned back to one of those items thinking "I should have bought it" - proof that I could live without. At this stage I have decided I can live without a microwave oven. Frustrating at times but only every so often. Not often enough for me to clutter my tiny kitchen with one. SO.

8:01 AM  
Blogger whyioughtta said...

Hahaha, it's funny you should mention a microwave...this is exactly the dilemma I'm having right now. We don't really have a space for it either. Yes, it's convenient...but do we "need" it? Probably not.

Your advice is wise. Having a bambino on the way, and the expense of our renovation, has made it easier for me to put things back on the shelf. I'm glad you're doing it...gives you more time to focus on taking your gorgeous photos.

2:53 PM  
Blogger jackp said...

less shopping...more sex

6:27 PM  

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