Thursday, November 4, 2010

Accumulation and its Discontents

An article in today's NY Times touches on the "central tension of American life -- the desire to acquire and the subsequent inability to dispossess."  While I'm well aware of my own tendencies to collect too much stuff (for evidence, see the lists of my embarrassingly large collection of clothes, shoes, and jewelry), I do try, often, to weed out extra possessions, which are then given to charity, so that someone else can benefit from them.  Doing so is a necessity in a NYC apartment.

My parents, though, lived for many years in a huge house with enormous storage potential.  When they downsized several years ago, it was heartbreaking to see all the stuff that they had held on to throughout the years.  Old clothing my siblings and I had worn more than 20 years ago -- now hopelessly dated and out of style but in perfect condition -- that could have been useful if only they had given it away at the time we had outgrown it.  Ditto for toys, books, household items.

My mother, in particular, feels a need to hold on to things.  The Times piece seems to capture her dilemma perfectly: "Getting rid of a possession means abdicating all the pleasures and rights of that possession.  And that freaks people out.  It goes like this: 'I got this from Aunt Maria; I can't get rid of it.  I spend a lot of money on this: I can't get rid of it.  I wore this a year ago, I might wear it again; I can't get rid of it.  If I get rid of it, I've lost all these opportunities.'  That's a kind of death."

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