Recommended Usage

… or “What am I going to do with this?”

A few weeks ago, Michael and I were taking a pleasant wander through a local home decorating establishment. We didn’t have a mission or a shopping list, but I’d had a pleasant time there before and was just reliving that experience and browsing. I came upon a ceramic object on a shelf that was my favorite mottled gray-green. At this point, I don’t even remember what sort of ceramic thing it was, which is probably telling in and of itself. I strive these days to live so that evaluation precedes acquisition, so I held the pretty thing at an admiring angle and asked Michael, “What am I going to with this?”

Now, you have to understand that my darling will fully endorse anything at all that I want to buy. He respects me as an equal financial partner. He knows that I’m very careful with money. He fully acknowledges my independence. However, he also loves to see me smile and will encourage my infrequent frivolity. Therefore when he studied it for a few seconds and said, “I dunno…dust it?,” that was all I needed to hear.

“Well, I already have lots to do that to,” I said, “so maybe not.”

I hope someone else really enjoys it…whatever it was.

This experience sprang to mind after I read an article on The Atlantic about the neurological effect of shopping and the socioeconimic outcomes of the pleasure/pain response. Did you know (I did not) that:

  • 97.5 percent of clothing purchased is now imported
  • clothing accounted for 14 percent of Americans’ total discretionary expenditures in 1901, had decreased to 10.4 percent by 1960, and then plummeted to just 3.1 percent of discretionary expenditure in 2013
  • Americans throw away 70 pounds of clothes and other textiles each year
  • 10.5 million tons of clothes end up in American landfills each year, and second-hand stores receive so much excess clothing that they only resell about 20 percent of it

This disturbs me at more than an ecological or economic level. I just hate waste on principle, and one cannot escape the suspicion that we’re perhaps a bit corrupted by having so much so available so easily and so cheaply. If you Google the word “declutter” you will, as of the moment of this writing, retrieve 1,160,000 results.

There’s an excellent Google talk on the decluttering process by one of the leading lights (as it seems it’s a movement now), so I guess I’m not alone in my perception.

And yet, I’m reluctant to paint the problem of property with a broad brush. I did leave the ceramic on the shelf, but I carried the experience with me. Then, last weekend when I gazed at the Poliakoff at the Kimbell Art Museum (a highly recommended venue), one of the things that rang the bell in my heart was the background color of the piece. It was the same color as the ceramic, which was the same color as an adored toy teapot of my childhood, and I experienced them all – the teapot, the ceramic, the painting – as an aesthetic whole and more intensely because of one another. All of these deeply personal connections with objects, owned or not, merged into a satisfying experience.

The subtle understanding that caused me to leave the ceramic on the shelf (I think the Poliakoff is probably out of my price range) was that what I was shopping for was not an object but an experience.

Experiences don’t gather dust. Experiences are not wasteful.

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