My husband has a special name for me: the Chucker. Leave anything lying around too long and there’s a good chance I will make it disappear into a recycling or donation bin. The reason is simple: we have way too much stuff and no matter how hard I protest, recycle and chuck, it just keeps accumulating.
I feel buried under the psychological weight of managing, sorting and sifting through so many things. Our possessions entangle me, enmeshing me like our large bin of electrical cords that have long since lost the items they were supposed to power and instead weave together in a thick knot of black wiring that takes hours to undo.
I’ve long sworn off trying to have more things, certain in the knowledge that most things quickly lose their appeal. So when birthdays, anniversaries, mothers days and any opportunities to celebrate punctuate the year, I request experiences, rather than possessions. “Let’s go out and do something fun,” I say. Or, when the occasion warrants it, “let’s get on a plane!”
I’m packing bags as I write this, heady at the thought of an impending family adventure in Vietnam, a perfect celebration of my husband’s birthday. With our kids in tow, the journey will be exciting, challenging, engaging and bursting at the seams with enriching cultural interactions.
I suspect few of us have enduring memories of the material gifts we’ve received over our lifetimes. After all, how much meaning can we possibly extract from another tie, a briefcase, a bottle of perfume or the latest, must-have technological gizmo? The excitement of new stuff wears off quickly, even more so when it’s an object made for short-term durability.
But family moments together, exploring new destinations, venturing down unknown paths and stepping beyond the safe havens of our immediate environments – these have a magical quality that leaves precious, long-lasting memories. Almost always, there’s some adversity along the way: missed flights, a bout of food poisoning, inclement weather or plans that don’t work out as seamlessly as they’re supposed to. Despite this, the journeys are richly rewarding, laden with learning, surprise encounters and conversations that would never happen under other circumstances.
We live in a society in which we’re constantly encouraged to have more. We’re barraged with insidious messages through television, radio and online, messages that insist we can’t be happy unless we upgrade to something new. New clothes. A better phone. Glossier lipstick, or the beauty treatment that removes every last hair, obliterates every last wrinkle. We’re taught that our very existence should be based on a hunger for more stuff, creating an insatiable appetite to accumulate, in order to keep up.
It’s all so pointless, this interminable shopping. As I edge closer to 50, I feel an urgent desire to be emancipated from more stuff. And nowhere do I feel freer and more invigorated than when I’m traveling, reaching into the history, food, culture and language of other countries and trying earnestly to better understand the world. The opportunity to travel is the ultimate gift, and it’s one that keeps giving through nostalgia and unforgettable memories.
So next year, forget the mall when it comes time to give a gift. Book an experience with the one you love, be it a cooking class, a weekend away, a night at the theatre or a trip to that far-flung destination you’ve always wanted to visit. Give them the gift of time and experience, instead of more stuff. Life is so short. It’s a pity to waste it shopping.