Thursday, December 31, 2009

Having to move during the Christmas season makes one pause

Over the past two weeks, in preparation for my six months sojourn in Singapore, moving has become a preoccupation. First I had to pack up my temporary office at 4620 Wisconsin Avenue. I will miss the solitude of this spacious but windowless cubicle that provided a quiet oasis for my computer modeling work. The second move, from Dormgrandpop’s 101 Anderson Hall apartment was more arduous. Here, I was dealing with seven years of accumulated ‘stuff’ plus recent additions from my Center for Teaching Excellence and 4620 Wisconsin Offices. Culling and packing accumulations of one’s past - books, pictures, clothing, mementos and miscellaneous items compels one to choose: move to a new location, temporarily store, give away, or discard. I experienced flashbacks to the process of helping siblings purge my father’s apartment, shortly, after his death two years, ago. Some accumulations there spanned a lifetime, though periodically attritted by purgings from previous moves. I could also more closely empathize with students and their parents who, each spring, face the task of purging residence hall (dormitory) rooms for pre-summer vacation trip home.

But packing up and purging one’s accumulated stuff during the Christmas season raises issues that packing up at other times of the year does not. As one is sorting through gifts and purchases - some unused - from previous years, the commercial juggernaut that America’s winter solstice festival has become is relentlessly, every minute of every day, urging us to buy more.

Is it possible to show love and appreciation during the Christmas season, without transmittal of newly purchased material goods? Advertisers would have you believe the answer is ‘NO’ and, mostly, we have accepted their way of thinking. But having to purge gifts from previous years, while listening to this year’s electronic blandishments urging new purchases at least makes one pause. How much happiness-value-added did the goods I am now discarding really provide. The metaphor I would use for much gift receiving is drug addiction. There is a quick exciting ‘rush,’ but often followed by withdrawal. The pain of withdrawal must be assuaged by additional gifts or purchases. Bernie Madoff’s seventeen Rolex watches, recently auctioned off, provides an egregious illustration.

My experiment, this Christmas season, has been gift recycling. This has included giving away some of my most treasured books and artifacts as well as some items for which I have no use. For two friends facing real hardship or need, significant sums of money seemed an appropriate gift. It would be an exaggeration to say that this has transformed my life, let alone America’s winter solstice commercial extravaganza. But at the least it will help simplify the purging process in future moves both for me and, after my demise, for those who must sort through my remaining possessions.

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Blogger Beth S said...

I sympathize - as you know we just moved into a place. We are in the process of unpacking and finding space for things, and while our new home is spacious (to us) it lacks storage. So anything that is excess is being fairly stringently weeded out! I have several boxes of "gently used" items that will go to a center where they will help people who are setting up a household in an emergency situation. That feels good. And most of the gifts we gave this year were consumable - food, or tickets to events, or suchlike. The only thing that is difficult for me is dealing with the sentiment attached to certain items...
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you! And best of luck with your moves.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Mark Hamilton said...

Thoughtful and important sentiments. Our first year with a little one has made us think a lot about consumerism, recycling, sustainability, etc. We wish you well on your adventures and look forward to keeping in touch!

8:08 AM  

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