The Purger vs. The Accumulator – Cage Match

 “Hic sunt dracones”
The man-cave sign states boldly.
I smile and walk on…

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The day of giving stuff to other people has come and gone. We now have more stuff. An amazing amount of stuff.  Before Christmas I purged the kids’ toys to make room, but somehow it never seems to be enough. (Plus, thanks to the Toy Story series, the kids have a very emotional attachment to their toys now and fear pain and suffering will ensue should I get rid of any toy, so they are quite watchful… so far, so good, they haven’t missed anything.)

So I’m left with a question that I ask a lot these days: Why do we have so much stuff? What good is it?  I love reading Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits – I’ve learned a lot from him about how to not have so much stuff.  I don’t aspire to his level of minimalism, but the idea of culling the crap if only 20% would be a treat for me.  I’ve done a ton already… we’ve packed or unpacked our possessions 6 times in the past 7 years (from the US to England, from England back to the US into a rental home and then from that rental home to our current home… all since 2005).  As such, I am now a true blue “purger”.  I buy a lot less than I used to – I can go to Target and leave having bought only what was on my list – hah!   For the stuff we already have, well, if we don’t have a use for it, I give it away, sell it or throw it away. I have very little patience for keeping things “for when we might need it someday” because I am keenly aware I can’t remember if we have milk in the fridge right now, let alone whether we have an extra set of curtains in a box in the basement for just the right need.  (To be fair, despite the purging, we still have a lot of stuff… including enough Christmas decorations to delight several households, so I’m not perfect.) Most importantly (and with a head nod to Zen Habits), I have tried to become less attached to things and more attached to memories and experiences, which has been a nice substitute.

Here’s the rub: I am married to an “un-purger”.  Actually, I would most accurately call him (say this next part in your best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice):  The Accumulator. Not in a creepy hoarder-keeps-his-used-toilet-paper kind of way.   More like this:  he has never met an obscure motorcycle part, car part, airplane part, spare part or hand tool that he didn’t buy/try to buy/almost buy.  Unlike me, he has the memory of a computer – aware that back in 1994 (“you remember, we were looking for that Greek restaurant in Warren County?”) we stopped at a garage sale on some back road and he found a doo-hickey that did something special at 10% of what it cost new and we had to have it because he had always dreamed of owning a doo-hickle and this would be crucial to its maintenance. (The fact that nearly 20 years later we still don’t own a doo-hickle is irrelevant.)  So he has a lot of man-stuff from his 48 years on earth.

Interestingly, our moving over the last few years has never involved moving his man stuff, thanks to a large barn we owned on some property, so he hasn’t had to face up to his stash of stuff… That is until this past Fall, when we sold that property and my dearest had to vacate his 3000 square foot man-cave barn.  “Ah! This will require him to purge” I gleefully said to myself.  “This will mean less stuff since it all has to go into storage!”   Well, not exactly…

To be fair, he did do some purging. One day I visited him during pack-up and he showed me his (amateur) garbage pile:   “look, a spare leaf blower motor I was saving to motorize a skateboard some day; two old faucets I was saving for parts – all in the garbage!”) but all I saw was bin after bin of things I couldn’t identify.  I couldn’t believe how one person could stand to have “that much stuff” and chided him about it.  I talked about how it “took up emotional energy” and “cluttered his metaphorical space” leaving less room for the here and now.  Pause for a moment and imagine the look he gave me; it was quite funny.

And then I realized something really important.  For me, my stuff does take up emotional energy. I don’t like seeing it unused, don’t like the look of all the storage boxes, get frustrated when I realize I have something I just bought another of because I forgot I had one already.  I feel overwhelmed and get pissed I need to dust around it all or remember where it’s stashed. I like having well-loved and well used things that I enjoy regularly.  My beloved?  Well, he is a man. He derives tremendous glee from “the hunt”… the hours spent on eBay searching for the unique; the months spent watching Craig’s list search engines for this or that… this accounts for 85% of his satisfaction with the item. The owning of it is about 10%.  And the last 5%? Well, for him, he either uses it or he doesn’t, but he isn’t bothered either way.  He’s doesn’t care about how much space it takes up – energetically or otherwise – and certainly doesn’t consider remembering what he owns to be a bother (recall he has the mind of a computer).

Bottom line is we will continue to work it out in marital bliss: I will continue to happily purge and streamline my possessions (and never, ever talk to him about the “metaphorical energy of stuff”).  Him? The fact that he doesn’t own a doo-hickle and thus his doo-hickey collection goes unused? He would say, with a wicked grin, he doesn’t own a doo-hickle YET… there’s still more time.

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