Thursday, December 5, 2019

This is an article I wrote for the Chronicle almost 15 years ago. This time of year, and always, it's good to think about the "cost" of acquiring and gifting more possessions.

Too Much Plenty

Stores and catalogs now offer a wonderful variety of storage containers, but for many of us our possessions have outgrown even the most clever "storage solutions".  We have been so successful at acquiring things that we now need a system for editing what we have so successfully acquired.
My husband has a theory that we operate in a sort of flat top pyramid pattern in relation to our possessions. On the incline it is acquire, acquire, acquire.  On the plateau it is use, use, use and on the decline it is get rid of, get rid of, get rid of.  It seems many of us baby boomers are at the top of that down slope.
Offspring come in very handy in this department. Second string possessions work nicely for first apartments. Unfortunately many of those offspring have their "first apartments" under our roofs and bring more stuff home!
I do know a few people who find it easy to get rid of things.  One is my friend Pam who for years thought she was 5 foot 8 and was thus responsible for passing along to me some wonderful items of clothing. Then she realized that she was 5 foot 4 and discovered the petite department -- cutting severely into my wardrobe.  My friend Holly follows the rule, "If you don't use it within a year, get rid of it".  If I followed that rule I would have 9 things in my closet.
There are even people who find it easy to place things on the curb for Goodwill. Others of us need a specific recipient. We can open our closets and cupboards easily if a friend can use something, but we can't just "get rid of it". There is a special pleasure in finding someone who can actually use something we've been saving for years. Eyeing my basement long ago, my husband commented, "You're saving things for people you haven't even met yet".  I think it was meant as a criticism, but it made perfect sense to me.
Some of us have that hopeful nature that causes us to see potential value in almost everything. And so we store these items that "could be" useful -- or used to make something useful -- until we finally realize we are not ever going to put in the work that turns their potential value into real value. I had an elderly friend who used to say, "Don't buy work". Many of us have not only bought it, we are storing it.
The ultimate way to edit possessions of course is to move. The prospect of packing transporting and unpacking an item really makes one question the importance of that item in one's life.  Though I have lived in the same house for 28 years, I've helped many friends move.  It's comforting to see that others have as much stuff as I do. Or to see that others also have a sentimental attachment to almost every item that has ever entered the house. 
One strategy we used successfully in a few of these moves was to make three categories. One useful, one sentimental and one that was both useful and sentimental. The last pile was a must keep and the other two depended upon how useful or how sentimental.
Having some sort of system for dealing with the need to move things along is a necessity at certain times in our lives. Polling friends and drawing from experience, a few suggestions for editing possessions follow:

--  Garage sales can be a lot of work for the payoff, do one with a group or consider alternatives.
--  If you have youngsters, find a family with kids a few sizes smaller than yours and make regular deliveries of usable clothing, toys and books. ( one caution, hold on to all Legos and baseball cards) Keep a cupboard of "pass along" items where your kids can regularly put things they no longer wear and hopefully develop a lifelong habit.
--  Create a system at work or among friends of sharing "bad purchases". Friends know that the strange shades of green they mistakenly buy will look good on me and I know who to give the red things to that I mistakenly purchase.
--  Big items such as tables and dressers that you can't yet part with can be placed on long-term loan with good friends.
--  Call local schools to donate craft supplies for after school programs.
--For current and nice clothing explore the consignment clothing stores, but call ahead to find out what their specifications are.
--If you don't want items to be resold, check with local churches that help those in need.
--Find other places to use items that grow dusty in your home. One first grade teacher brought her bread-making machine to school and her children are treated to warm bread on Monday mornings. 
 Another habit that can keep us from bringing even more into the mix is to be aware of that dreamy retail glow that surrounds things when they're in the store. Instead, try to imagine attempting to fit the item in with all the other stuff. 
The concept of enough is a hard one to nail down.  For some of us it just keeps moving up with our capacity to acquire. For others the point comes when we run out of space or when the place in our minds that inspires acquisition is busy with other things.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

  Shared Definitions? My post on my Facebook page.

      I can only manage a very few Facebook “friends”, so I’m relying upon you to share this proposal with your friends if you see fit.
       I’m proposing a NATIONAL TEACH IN to come up with some coherent and valid definitions of all the labels that get thrown around – often inaccurately. If some of the news outlets and publications would take this on as a great civic service, it could move us a little distance to some common ground. 

       So far the labels I’d like to see addressed are Liberal, Conservative, Socialist, Communist, Fascism, Federalism, States rights, Republican, Democrat, Republic, Democracy. 
What do you think?

Thursday, April 11, 2019


NPR is celebrating poetry month by seeking poems of tweet size, 140 characters. So I wrote one.

I like it here
Over the hill
Green meadow
Good company
Nice view
I can reach down
Guide others up
Maybe take on nearby trails
Or just admire the sky.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


  Survivor Guilt to Survivor Gratitude

         I didn’t dodge a bullet in a shooting. I wasn’t one of the lone people who lived after a plane or car crash. But I do have a sort of survivor guilt. That’s because I see the rest of the world better than ever before. I see that compared to so many, I am a survivor in this travel through life.
Unlike many of the circumstances media allows us to see, I have been given the resources to survive. I grew up with enough food, shelter, love, education and health care. 
I know I’m not alone in the emotion that comes from increasing awareness of the great disparities and inequities in the world. Our parents reminded us of our bounty by telling us about the poor starving children in China. That was the group in the fifties simply because we weren’t aware of the many other places where children were starving. Sadly, they still are.
The dilemma is, how do we live with this awareness and teach our children to approach this world in a balanced way. I want mine to be joyful, contributing, compassionate and aware. I don’t want them so paralyzed by the troubles in the world that they wallow in the face of impossible challenges.  I want them to enjoy life and to make the enjoyment of life possible for more people in this world.
Gratitude has two faces, I think. As I step into my warm bed I say a prayer of gratitude for how special that is. I can’t help but think about the lack of this in so many lives. That awareness doesn't need to be a cloud that hangs over every pleasure and benefit in life. Instead it can be a reminder of the need to live a life of balance. To have a good life that includes the practice of bringing good into the lives of others.
         I am bothered when I read of people who buy their dogs designer outfits, when so many children don’t even have basic clothing. I enjoy the home renovation shows, but I sort of want to punch the entitled little twits who walk into a beautiful home and complain that there are not two sinks on the bathroom vanity.
How do we enjoy what we have and live out the responsibility to acknowledge the needs of other humans? I can’t say that I have found the perfect balance. It’s a work in progress. To let ourselves be joyful, can perhaps helps us have the spirit and energy to go forward and contribute. There are some who need handbags that cost 1,000 dollars or 50 pairs of shoes before they think they are in a position or with the energy to give. I don’t like them!
Yes, it’s their money, they can do what they want with it. But I honestly believe that there is more joy in buying that 51st pair of shoes for a homeless kid than for one’s own closet.
Among my own efforts at balance, is the habit of small donations. There are two charities who deal with the most desperate in the world and have excellent ratings. When my family is facing a challenge where I feel powerless, I go on line and make a small donation. When something wonderful happens that enriches my life, I go on line and make a small donation.
One year my son had a “difficult” teacher. All my efforts at cooperation and communication did not help, so one charity and the people they helped benefitted significantly. At the end of the year the charity sent a statement for tax purposes. When I saw all the donations of that year, I just sat down and cried over how hard the year had been. But I was comforted that someone else did benefit.

My friend calls it, “Let’s make a deal” with God. Yes, I must admit, I have hoped there might be some Karmic exchange for my efforts. Perhaps what I have received is a sense of peace in being able to do something in the face of difficulty and to feel less powerless. It’s all part of the emerging process -- to feel joy and gratitude and to express that through what I can do to make a small difference in lives where mere survival is a struggle. I don’t see my survivor guilt as a kind of burden. I think instead survivor gratitude, not a burden but a consistent and powerful motivator in the face of so many challenges.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


            By nature and experience I am not a gambler. My first lesson was when I was 8 or 9 and was the treasurer of my classroom library fund. I was the trusted holder of about $3.00. That is the same $3.00 that I lost in a poker game with my older brothers and their friends. My tears were enough to get my mother to make the boys give me back the money, but the lesson still held. So when our state started the lottery I wasn’t immediately interested. I also believed as I heard from a comedian that our chances of winning are about the same whether we buy a ticket or not. But in spite of this history I became a regular lottery ticket buyer. With the purchase of every lottery ticket, I won something.  Even before the drawing I had a benefit that was more valuable than the potential winnings.
            It all began when my teenage daughter started talking about the car she would love to have and would buy if we won the lottery.  Since we never played the lottery the chances of that were pretty slim .
 She was at that stage where we didn't always have the most pleasant conversations, if any at all. So her animated, cheerful musings were a nice diversion.  We talked about the model, the color of the car and the various safety features and add-ons.
            Then I started talking about what I would do if I won.   What material things I'd like, what trips I'd take, different favors I wanted to do for people and causes I wanted to support.  It was such a nice interchange that I decided there might be some potential in getting a ticket each week.
The result was quite surprising.  No matter what teenage funk my daughter was in at the time, I could almost always engage her in a conversation about whether we should do a quick pick or choose our own numbers or some new thing I'd thought of doing with millions of dollar.
            We even had conversations about whether we would move into a fancier house. I was pleased to hear that she would not want to.  We had a nice enough home, and I admired her sensible nature and sentimental feeling in making that decision.
            Her younger brother couldn't figure out why we didn't just buy one of those "scratch-off things".  He clearly didn't understand the point of the lottery, or the point of the lottery for us.  I usually bought the ticket on Thursday so that we could have maximum time to share our musings about spending huge amounts of money.
             As a psychologist, I used to do workshops on values, and on living in a way that is consistent with those values.  Having people talk about what they would do with lots of money is a wonderful way to explore and clarify those values.  While my daughter and I visited about our millions we did just that, and I got the opportunity to reinforce values I hoped I had already instilled.  We talked about the things we would do for others and of being a responsible and charitable citizen of this world.   She had thoughtful ideas about providing for little children and of donating to animal shelters.

            Lottery tickets were the price of admission to many pleasant conversations with my sometimes-distant teenager.  For that, they were a bargain. Moreover, the conversations were sometimes about the fact that, in the eyes of most of the people in the world, we had already won the lottery.  We didn't need to wait for the Saturday drawings to do good works with the resources we already had.  An unexpected benefit was that some of our lottery-inspired conversations inspired real charitable actions that recognized this reality.