Monthly Archives: December 2011

Make space for what matters

I have written before about how many Americans are conditioned to want more and more things. Besides being a waste of money, a misguided focusing of energy, and potentially detrimental to the environment, there is another negative consequence: clutter.

When you have a big house with lots of space, shelves and closets, it’s not so bad (until you move and have to deal with three enormous U-Hauls of crap). Many people stuff their garages to the brim, while others have to overflow into spare rooms or storage units.

This MSN Money article discusses the phenomenon of the storage industry, as does this longer but fascinating New York Times feature. It’s interesting to note that people with a small to average-sized storage unit can end up paying tens of thousands of dollars on a long-term basis [monthly unity cost ($120) x 7 years = $10,080].

Some things are priceless: old photos and nostalgic, sentiment-saturated mementos. We can’t throw everything away. We can give some things away. We can go years without coming into contact with many of these things, often forgetting just what is lying around in all those cardboard boxes. Yet we are comforted that they are there, safe and sound.

It turns into love-hate. We feel burdened by all our things, yet we don’t want to part with them. We are overwhelmed with the task of organizing and cataloguing them. If there are too many things, we lose them and can spend anxious hours searching. Once high-priced items rapidly depreciate; last year’s showroom furniture can turn into tomorrow’s Craigslist ad or garage sale.

And we keep buying more.

Of course, the question of how much is too much depends on who you are and what you value. I found a recent summary of a TEDTalk inspiring and enlightening. It discusses how to “edit your life” down to what really matters. It concludes with this:

“2012 is the time to edit. We edit for the sake of the planet, for the sake of our pocketbooks, for the sake of our happiness.

Your personal edit might be buying a smaller home, participating in a car share, or buying one less pair of jeans. The specifics are not important. Simply remember that everything you add to your life that is not important, detracts from everything that is.”

You can read the rest of the article and watch the original TEDTalk here.

This Mother Jones article (which they shamelessly recycled from 2007, but hey, it’s still relevant) has some crazy statistics related to Americans’ pathological accumulation tendencies.

I’m no saint. I’ve definitely down-sized, yet I still love to get a new pair of high heels every now and then. I couldn’t throw my life into a backpack and travel the world — not unless I moved everything into a relative’s attic or a storage unit. But I do plan to think about editing my life in 2012 — making space, time and money for what matters, and getting rid of everything else.

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Well-endowed actor has a brain to match his …

I have never watched HBO’s “Hung” nor do I ever plan to, and apparently, neither does its star, Thomas Jane.

In this recent Huffington Post article, he eschews all “in-depth brainwashing that’s done by CNN or any news show or any television show.”

His awesome interview continues:

“People’s reactions to the world around them, if you give them drugs and alcohol, they tend to not worry too much that you’re ripping them off on the parking meters and you’re putting people in office that don’t know what the f*ck they’re doing. We can go down to the bar and complain about it there instead of going down to f*cking Congress and complaining to the people who really f*cking need to hear it, you’ll find yourself down at the corner bar, yelling at the f*cking bartender, who could give a f*ck, is just waiting to go home and turn on the goddamn TV.

“I find a nation of sleepers and slackers, and it’s not our fault, we’ve been conditioned to stay asleep… We wake up briefly, but by then we’re too tired and shell shocked and beaten down to do anything about it, because we realize half of our life is gone. Generally, the easiest thing to do is to fall back asleep and just sort of nestle in and wait for a bit until we slough off the mortal coil and call it quits. That’s the metaphor in our film of death …

“That’s what school is, it’s a prison for your mind, and it’s a travesty that we do this to our children, it’s an open letter that Rockefeller wrote to the President of the United States saying, ‘We need workers,'” he says, noting that he does not send his own children to American public schools. “And that’s why we have the school system that we have in our country, is that Rockefeller said we need workers, people who follow directions, who are able to stay in one place for about eight hours a day, and people who fear authority…

“Really? I’m 40 years old and still wearing the same goddamn uniform that I wore in my 20s? So what’s the new uniform — a suit? Well, okay, everyone wears a f*cking suit. With that, you’re just a suit, you’re a zombie, there’s no self-expression. There’s no individuality within that. So it’s either blend in and become a zombie, or revert to your 20s. We got nothing.”

It has accrued over a thousand comments so far. Negative comments range from “nothing new” to “self-important ex-junkie” to “B.S.” Positive comments abound as well. No matter which side you are on, however, you have to admit that it is astoundingly refreshing to hear someone part of the vapid Hollywood world come out and make statements like this. Statements that, you know, actually make you think a little.

‘Tis the season to spend money

How I'd like to celebrate

I met a beautiful Brazilian girl at a bar the other night. In town on vacation, she was originally from a small town in southern Brazil but had moved to a Midwestern state a few years ago for an internship.

Despite being the opposite of her ebullient, sultry native country, she loved her snowy, rural adopted home. She got into the cowboy boots culture and met a nice American boy.

She did, however, find our Christmas traditions a bit of a turn-off.

“People die,” she said to me, her pretty eyes widening with a mixture of amusement and bewildered horror. “They die.”

She was referring to the Black Friday stampedes — commonly through the glass double doors of the big-box Walmarts, Targets and Best Buys that are in almost every American city.

In Brazil, she told me, people usually pick one family member each and gave one simple gift. There is no expectation to receive the dozens of items that the average American child and adolescent begs for and gets — only to throw a tantrum when one thing is left off their list.

I know that I risk generalizations with comments like this, but I think, by and large, I can safely say that Americans buy, spend, give and get at a staggering rate this time of year.

I did some research on how Christmas is celebrated around the world, and it is very interesting. I think only if I visited or lived in other countries during this season could I be truly qualified to make unflattering comparisons to the U.S. — this thread, however, (a few years old, but still relevant) does just that.

It seems to say — and I’ve heard people say as much aloud — that, in general, the decorations are much more elegant, the shopping far less aggressive and overwhelming, in Europe and elsewhere.

Every family celebrates the holiday differently, of course. I can say that, if I did have kids, I hope that I would teach them to not equate celebrations with greed and materialism and to not view objects and things as the physical/monetary manifestation of a parent’s or relative’s love.

Adults can also sometimes quantify their significant other’s love for them in terms of how much money is spent (ie, the more he spends on me, the more he values me). This mindset can cause the other person to feel pressured and obligated to spend beyond their means or to find ‘the perfect gift’, and also guilty if they feel they didn’t spend and give enough.

It’s nice to give a gift that you know someone will truly use and appreciate for years to come. Perhaps you made it yourself or thoughtfully picked it out or sacrificed a couple of paychecks to purchase it. This is different from feeling the need to fulfill long lists of demands for makeup, clothes, video games, electronics, etc., that will set parents back thousands of dollars.

And of course, through the years, the lasting part of every holiday celebration is the experiences; the parties, special outings, traditions, good deeds and good times.

Which brings me back to Brazil. Why can’t we have a truly spectacular holiday, like Carnaval? Dancing, music, drinking, eating, flirting, partying until all hours of the night, for weeks and weeks — now that’s a holiday. I’ll take that over Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s, Halloween, and yes, even Christmas, any day of the year.

Your mom is being targeted

Better Homes & Gardens is the third most popular magazine in the United States, bested only by AARP Magazine and AARP Bulletin (AARP is the American Association for Retired Persons; these publications are targeted towards the burgeoning Baby Boomer demographic).

Over 7.6 million American women are mailed a copy every month. And when you take into account all its sister publications (like Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Parents), all under the Meredith Corporation umbrella, you can deduce that over 75 million women are exposed to not only recipes, stress-reduction techniques, beauty tips and decorating features, but to targeted advertisements. Which, disturbingly, are often those of Big Pharma: Merck, Lilly, Pfizer, et al.

I became intrigued when I was flipping through an issue and was horrified to see page after page of prescription drug ads. In a recent issue, I counted six (besides others for over-the-counter meds and ultra-beneficial products like M&Ms, Campbell’s Soup, refined Domino’s Sugar, McDonald’s, Eggos and Cocoa Pebbles cereal). All except one were 2-3 page ads (the second and third pages needed to list all the myriad, horrifying potential side effects). They were mainly for bladder and cholesterol issues: Vesicare, Enbral (psoriasis), Livalo, Toviaz, Celebrex (arthritis) and Zetia.

Only the United States and New Zealand allows for television advertising of prescription drugs; and the United States — which makes up five percent of the world’s population — accounts for forty-two percent of the money spent on prescription drugs.[4] (sourced from rationalwiki.org).

Seeing an ad does not necessarily incite action. But when your doctor is pushing pills (because they get research stipends and other incentives for doing so) and you are seeing them in every other ad on the TV and in your favorite magazine, and you don’t know any better, you might just think they are a good idea. Taking these pills, I promise you, will cause much harm and very slight, if any, good.

Read a little more.