Back to Basics: How to overcome hoarding

>> Thursday, November 13, 2008

"A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!" George Carlin

How much stuff do you, really...take a look around your home or office and inventory your 'stuff".

Now ask yourself "how much stuff do I need"? Sentiment much of your trinkets and tchotchkes do you really need to live?

Need that collection of dust-bunny laden stuffed animals? How about the high school jacket in the back of your closet. Is it necessary to have 3 sets of china?

Now consider how much effort it takes physically, mentally, emotionally and logistically to maintain all that life hoard. You have to move it, fold it, dust it, wash it, arrange it, polish it, straighten it, iron it, hang it, insure it. When it breaks, you have to fix it, order it, replace it, claim it, bury it and on it goes.

In the art world, Minimalism is defined as paintings and sculpture that thrive on simplicity in both content and form. The aim is to allow the viewer to experience the work more intensely without the distractions of composition and theme.

What if you exorcised 1/4 of all that flotsam and got back to the fundamentals of what life is all about. What if you pared down the material items that keep you from experiencing life more intensely without distractions? How? Searching for sensual gratification is pointless, since it leads only to craving and obsession. Associated with attachment in this context are: possessiveness in relationships, defensiveness, jealousy, covetousness, acquisitiveness, and competitiveness. One must look away from external acts and towards the area of inner attitudes and motivations.

Put it into perspective

How many things do you own that you consider to be truly special or irreplaceable? I don't mean something that you had to fight off a gaggle of other shoppers at the Filenes sale for...I mean the stuff that you would run back into a burning building for. For most of us these treasures, the ones worth keeping, are a fraction of the overindulgences.

Waste not want not

Can you say "I don't have anything I don't really need and I know exactly where everything is"?

Our society supports the ‘more is better’ mantra, with obvious faults. The modern abundance is
unsustainable, wasteful and harmful. We would do well to remember that all we enjoy comes with several price tags: accumulating things costs money and our environment is suffering; two fairly convincing motivators if you ask me.

Cultivate Awareness

I find that when I am trying to avoiding coming to terms with something unsettled in my life, things start to filter back into the nooks and crannies. Force yourself to look inward and figure out why the need to fill the material voids exist. Are you happy with your relationships with others, with yourself? Dig deep and learn what triggers your discontent and "spend" your time healing wounds instead of filling unmet needs in your world.

Photo of Dirty White Trash - Sculpture by Noble and Sue Webster


Greening up the Holidays

>> Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It is estimated that almost 25 million tons more waste is created over the holidays during the period from Thanksgiving to New Years- a 10 week period. The 25% extra waste amounts to 25 million tons of garbage, or about 1 million extra tons per week!

In the U.S. alone, annual trash from gift-wrap and shopping bags totals 4 million tons. (Use Less Stuff, 1998)

38,000 miles of ribbon is thrown out each year. To put this into perspective....The Earth's circumference is 25,000 miles.

We also use an extraordinary amount of additional electricity during the holiday season. A 2003 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy determined that Americans consume about 2220 GWh of electricity each holiday season by using standard incandescent holiday lights. The study concluded that a mere 20% switch by American households to LED Christmas lights would save 440 GWh of electricity during the estimated 30 day holiday season.

The 2.65 billion Christmas cards sold each year in the U.S. could fill a football field 10 stories high. If we each sent one card less, we’d save 50,000 cubic yards of paper.

In 2007, 31.3 million trees real trees costing $1.3 billion were purchased

In 2006 $9.3 billion was the amount spent on new holiday decorations.

$1.2 billion - Value of Christmas ornaments imported from China in 2005 - America’s No. 1 foreign supplier.

$39 million - Value of imported Chinese nativity scenes and figures in 2006.

$130 million on plastic Christmas trees from China in 2006.

Decking the White House halls in 2007

Number of decorated trees in the White House: 33

Number of Christmas Cards Sent by President and Mrs. Bush: 895,000

Feet of garland strung throughout the first mansion: 862

Red ornament balls: 4,638

Wreaths in the White House: 232

In 1981 the average household received 59 mail order catalogues, and by 1991 the number
had increased 140%, to 142? If every household canceled 10 mail-order catalogues it would reduce trash by 3.5 pounds per year? (If everybody did this, the stack of canceled catalogues would be 2,000 miles high!)

So how to cut down on some of the excess?


  • Send e-greetings to family, friends and business associates who are on-line.
  • Reduce mail volume by updating and paring down your holiday card list.
  • Make gift tags from last year's holiday cards.

It's a wrap:
  • Wrap a gift in a drawstring bag. Wine bottle bags can hold a myriad of items.
  • Use brown paper grocery bags to wrap small-to-medium size boxes that have to be mailed.
  • Fold and store boxes for next years gifts.
  • Unbuttered popcorn for packing in lieu of Styrofoam peanuts.
  • Thrift store tea pots can hold small items or cash.
  • Use a jewelry box for some flea market 'jewels.'
  • Creative wrapping paper substitutes include used blueprint paper, old maps, newspapers, the Sunday comics, kids’ art work or even the sports section for a sports enthusiast. Design your own wrapping paper using paper shopping bags: decorate them with paints, crayons, or markers.
  • Gifts for a child can go in a new backpack.
  • Use a knit hat or scarf to wrap a small gift.
  • When giving oversized gifts instead of wrapping them in paper, just tie a bow around them.
  • Gift certificates
  • Home-cooked meals or baked goodies and candies are almost always welcomed.
  • Tickets to a sporting event, movie, play, or concert, house plants, or even gifts of your own time.
  • Make a charitable donation in someone's name.
  • When you go shopping bring your own reusable bags.
  • Think durable and consider the longevity of the gift; cheaper isn't necessarily better.
  • And, always remember to look for items made with recycled content.
  • For the handyman, wrap a gift in a tool box.
  • For the fisherman, put the gift in a tackle box or creel
  • Any kitchen gift can be wrapped in a colorful dish towel, oven mitt or linen napkin.
  • Place home-baked cookies in a flower pot, reusable tin box, childs lunch box, a kitchen container.
  • Use a colorful tablecloth to wrap dishes or dining room gifts.
  • For a reader, wrap a book in a reusable canvas tote.
  • Wrap tools for a gardener in the pocket of an apron, planter, or bucket.
  • Hang earrings, bracelets, or necklaces on the Christmas tree, or put them inside or around an open ornament. Use stuffed animal to adorn the neck with jewels.
  • Search the flea market, garage sales, and thrift stores for interesting old boxes that can be used as decorative packages.
  • And don't forget to look for toys, books, and other products made from recycled materials!
  • Turn down the heat before the party guests arrive. The extra body heat of your guests will warm up the room.
  • Consider renting or borrowing seldom worn party clothes or buying them from consignment shops.
  • How about renting dishes and glassware or scouting the local Goodwill for your holiday party decor.
  • Walk to neighborhood parties, or carpool with friends if it’s too far to walk.
  • Plan meals carefully and practice portion control to minimize waste and leftovers:

The average American spends $800 on gifts over the holiday season with 70% of Americans welcoming less emphasis on gift giving and spending. (Center for a New American Dream).

Maybe it's time to ask your friends and family if they are part of that 70% and scale back this year. After all the holidays not about lights, wrapping paper, or competitive hype...they are about spending time with those you love.

Sources: BIGResearch, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Harper’s Index, The Joy of Cooking, Department of Defense, Unity Marketing, National Christmas Tree Association, USDA Economic Research Service, Guinness Book of World Records 2006, US Census, US Department of Commerce, Charity Navigator, Giving Institute, The White House, Gallup, US Postal Service.


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