39. Too Much

The other day, as my wife and I drove around town, we passed an old shopping center that has been inactive for about 10 years. In the meantime, other properties have been developed for shopping centers, meaning that swaths of trees have been torn out, grass has been plowed under, and concrete has been lain over vast expanses of soil.

I have never understood why, instead of destroying more nature, developers do not just take over and modernize places that had already been shopping centers. More precisely, I don’t understand why local governments permit this practice, that is, why they don’t preserve and protect the environment instead of pursuing supposed tax revenues and who know$ what other incentive$.

As we drove by the abandoned property, I was pleased to see that development was taking place at one end – that is, until I saw that what is going up is a group of self-storage pods. As if we don’t already have enough of those in and around town.

Recently, my wife placed a handful of Italian plums in a small candy dish that is decorated with maple leaves and emblazoned with the words “Souvenir of Canada.” This is the first time that we have ever used that dish, and we don’t know how it comes to be in our house. We don’t remember buying it on any of our trips to the Great White North.

So how are the storage pods and the candy dish related? As I see it, the major way they are related is in how they represent having too many possessions. People often use self-storage units and pods to hold things for which they have no space in their homes. This can happen when someone moves from a house to an apartment/assisted living facility/nursing home, or when a deceased parent leaves behind “a lot of stuff,” as Americans say. The “stuff” may have monetary or sentimental value, although I suspect that the reason it is saved is because the saver does not know what to do with it.

As for the candy dish, it is in the category of items that we are reluctant to “use up.” For example, when my wife visited Venice years back, she bought a small red vase decorated in gold leaf. It was the only Murano glass item she could afford at the time, and for fear of breaking it, she has never used it. The little red vase sits on the top shelf of our china cabinet.

Also housed in that cabinet is a huge set of Italian china, a lovely wedding present from a sister. The plates and serving dishes are beautifully decorated with 24-karat gold leaf. We have used the china a few times when we’ve had people over for dinner and when we have prepared special meals for ourselves to celebrate our anniversaries. But we have not had occasion to use the full 12-place settings, and with the way things are going these days, we probably never will.

I know it sounds very bourgeois, even unseemly, to mention having too many possessions. Admittedly, we have been fortunate. And, compared to other people, we have not accumulated all that much. We, for example, are not collectors, so no stamp or coin or stuffed-animal collections for us.

Someday, we may sell our house and move to a smaller place, or one of us will pass away. In either case, the day of reckoning with all our “stuff” will come. The older we get, the more we think about that.

We have started throwing away things that are torn or broken or no longer useful. We have also started to use items that we acquired long ago and that have been sitting in drawers or cabinets.

My wife recalls that her paternal grandmother who lived in Central America had a closet devoted to gifts from her adult children. Many of the items arrived from the United States for her birthdays and Christmas.

The closet was stuffed with boxes of shoes, hangers of flowery dresses, tubes of toothpaste, bottles of perfume, aspirin, shampoo, and body lotion, tins of candies, packages of crackers, canisters of powder, as well as shawls, blankets, stockings, and underwear – more than the grandmother could ever use in her remaining days. Like most of us, she tended to wear the same few sets of clothes and shoes day in and day out.

She died at the age of 96, no doubt with that closet still overflowing with unused gifts.

That is something my wife and I are determined to avoid. We will use up our stuff as much as we can.

Treasure or Burden? courtesy of “Anton”

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