Embrace the Waste

I love that about a quarter of PressingPause’s readers are from outside the United States. Hard to know of course if they’re ex patriot readers, or as I assume, genuine article foreign nationals. The contents of this post will most likely strike them as odd. Especially those with no firsthand experience of living in the United States.

Americans are unusually productive and wasteful. We work hard Monday through Friday and then buy lots of things on Saturday and Sunday that we don’t need. Yin and Yang. Over and over. As a result, our homes, no matter the size, get filled up with all sorts of ridiculous stuff. By which I mean The Magic Bullet. The technical term is clutter.

Given this national characteristic, many moons ago, a tradition was born in the U.S. The garage sale. A garage sale is when a family spreads out all of their leftover, unused stuff in front of their home and offers it for sale to anyone that’s interested. Our neighborhood designates the first Saturday in June to be a “neighborhood garage sale”. Too bad you missed ours or you could have bought a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory DVD; some unused, unopened 10w-30 motor oil; or an outdoor umbrella real cheap. Since my family is more frugal than most, we don’t normally participate. But this year I decided it was time to do some “thinning” of our worldly possessions since it’s been a long time and the youngest is getting ready to depart for college. It was especially fun to partner with her.

American wastefulness is often stomach turning, but Saturday during our garage sale, I realized it also provides opportunities. The sociologist in me loved the garage sale. For four hours I talked to a cross-section of society that I almost never get to. Many were first generation Americans smartly taking advantage of multi-generational American waste. For many it was a weekend ritual that they took very seriously.

Rule one, show up early. If the newspaper advert and signs say 8:00 a.m., start cruising the hood at 7:30 a.m. That way you might just luck into a free wheelbarrow or a nice $20 edger. Remember, the good stuff goes fast. My favorite part of the morning was foreign speaking customers who appeared to be just getting going in the U.S. using their smart phones to research prices.

If you have the time, join the garage sale masses. There are excellent bargains all around. Just make a list of things you need first or you’ll soon find yourself on the selling end.

In the U.S., people routinely fill up their garages so that they have to park their cars elsewhere. And sometimes, the garage isn’t nearly big enough for all of their stuff, let alone their cars. When that happens, people rent a second garage in a storage facility. Thus, if you have a lot more capital than time, invest in a storage facility.

A shiny new one recently opened near us and every time I drive by it I think to myself, “Damn. That’s the perfect investment.” Americans’ waste knows no bounds. You can bet on it. And invest in it. And profit from it. Especially where there’s population growth. Simple to build, storage facilities require little overhead. Unlike a rented house, no one is every going to call you at 1 a.m. to complain that the toilet is clogged again. There may be downsides to the investment, but I don’t want to know them. My ignorance makes me blissful.

Do not try to talk me out of it. I’m taking the $160 I made this weekend, embracing the waste, and going all in on another storage facility. I probably need other investors to buy the needed land. Care to join me?

Uncle!

Growing up, that’s what I had to scream to get my older, more muscle-brained brother to temporarily stop pulverizing me. The other night, the youngest, the oldest-Betrothed, and I streamed an episode of Wonder Years. I said to youngest daughter, “Every time you watch Wayne, think Uncle D because they’re one and the same.” If you don’t know Wonder Years and aren’t familiar with Wayne, fix that.

One time, in my late elementary or junior high years, I frantically called my mom, a secretary, at work, “This time he means it! He’s really gonna kill me!” Her somewhat shaken co-worker said, “Aren’t you going to go home?” To which she replied, “No, he’ll be fine.” Yeah, if by “fine” you mean found unconscious in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. Once, when the most mad I had ever been, I remember “Wayne” saying to me, “If you hit me, you better knock me out, because if I get up I’m going to kill you.” What’s the statue of limitations on something like that?

Our last fight was when he was 19 or 20 and I was 16 or 17. All I remember is flying across the family room. My girlfriend was aghast. Everyone of the innumerable beatdowns will fuel me when racing Iron-person Canada in late August as I desperately try to level the score by beating Wayne’s time.

But I digress. My most recent reason for crying uncle has nothing to do with my knumbskull older brother. It has everything to do with this picture, taken while on the Eastern Sierra climbing trip I blogged about a month ago.

Living REALLY large

If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve been going through a transformation of sorts—a reordering of my life based upon an amalgam of ancient philosophy, minimalism, and discontent with mindless consumerism. All of that exhausting, status quo fighting non-sense is now in my RV rearview mirror, thanks to a reverse Paul of Tarsus-like conversion inspired by seeing this badass rig up close and personal.

Uncle! I give up on trying to live more simply so that others may more simply live. My new motto is “You only live once. Embrace the bling. Less is less, more is more.” Admittedly, a tad wordy, but in the spirit of my conversion, if some words are good, more are better!

My plan is to find a similarly equipped rig on Craigslist. Well, maybe a little bigger. If you know of one that has a flip down plasma t.v. built in so that I can watch Will Smith movies outdoors, holla’.

A smaller ecological footprint be damned. Greater energy independence be damned. As one of my friends says, “Only when we’ve used up all the carbon-based energy, will we have real incentive to find alternatives.”

If you’ll excuse me. I’ve got a lot of shopping to do for the inside of my new rig-to-be. And no bro, you can’t roadtrip with me. You should have considered the possibility I’d end up living really large when you were floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee.

Everything Free Day

Two weeks ago Megan McArdle reviewed a few books on consumption. Early in the review she reveals she recently bought a $1,500 food processor. Who knew one could drop 1.5 large on a food processor?

The Saturday morning after Black Friday my betrothed filled me in on the L.A. shopper who pepper-sprayed several other X-box shopper-competitors before fleeing the scene. The good news is I don’t think anyone was trampled to death in Toys R’ Us this year. On Black Friday I subscribed to consumerreports.org in the a.m. and then spent a chunk of the p.m. shopping for new kitchen appliances at home in my pepper spray-free environment.

I spent part of Thanksgiving Day shopping too. Well, kind of. While watching Ndamukong Suh stomp on a Packer o-lineman, I blew through 90% of the 90 lbs. of newspaper ad inserts. Took everything the labradude had to drag that bad boy to the front door. Who knew Wal-Mart sells decent looking jeans for $10? And a decent Timex Ironman-brand watch for $10? Maybe they won’t stop stomping their suppliers until they can sell everything for $10 or less.

Remember the crazy shopping spree marketing prizes in the 70’s or 80’s? Some lucky winner would get an hour in a grocery store and they’d sprint up and down the aisle frantically loading a few baskets with a little of everything? And we’d watch imagining how much faster we’d go or how we’d be more strategic and target the most expensive goods that take up the least space.

What if Black Friday was “National Reduce Inventory” day and everything was free? Nothing sold out, no servers crashed, perfect availability. What would you have brought home? What about those you live with? Where/how would you have stored everything? How would those new possessions have changed your life? Would you be much happier?

At minimum, I would have ordered a few new kitchen appliances and brought home some of Costco’s most expensive vino, a new bicycle computer, and a McArdle food processor in a new Seal Gray 2012 Porsche 911. Initially at least, I would have been much happier. Among other ripple effects though, I’d have to work more hours to pay for more expensive car insurance and maintenance costs and over the course of a few weeks, months, and years, I probably wouldn’t be any happier at all.

I don’t assume what’s true for me is true for you, but I’m learning the things that make me happiest—friendship, good health, film, literature, exercising in natural settings, writing this blog, helping others—can’t be purchased in a store or ordered on-line. I could spend tons of time and energy shopping in stores and on-line at this time of year, brag about my good bargains, but not improve the quality of my life.

If there’s ever a time of the year for reflecting on this dynamic it’s now. The thrill of even great purchases quickly fades so invest time and energy in the people and things that bring lasting joy.

Related Graham Hill TED Talk titled “Less Stuff, More Happiness”.

How to Increase Your Living Space Without Spending a Dollar

By decluttering of course.

Jane E. Brody reviews a new book by Robin Zasio titled “The Hoarder in You: How To Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life.” Brody says it’s the best self-help work she’s read in her 46 years as a health and science writer. That should help sales.

After that endorsement, I was disappointed by Zasio’s advice, which I’d describe as decluttering orthodoxy based on Brody’s highlights.

Here’s the gist of it. If you’re familiar with the decluttering literature skip ahead a paragraph. 1A) Tackle just one project at a time—a closet, garage, room, dresser drawer, file cabinet—and stick with it until it’s done. 1B) To create positive momentum, work from the easiest project to the most challenging. 2) Schedule time for decluttering—an hour a weekday or weekend day for example—until done. 3A) Use three containers labelled “Keep,” “Donate,” and “Discard”. 3B) Brody adds her own advice here. To force yourself to decide among the three, be careful not to add a fourth “Undecided” container.

Simple, huh? So why do I predict, six months after finishing Zasio’s book, that the majority of her readers will still live clutter-riddled lives? Because no matter how faithfully one implements that logical plan, there’s still a cultural, even spiritual element to our tendency to buy far more than we need.

Every day, all day, we’re subjected to a one-two punch of extremely sophisticated and ubiquitous advertising that plays on our insecurities and to what sociologists refer to as “relative deprivation” or wanting what others wealthier (or more in debt) than us have. Regardless of whether we have the three containers labelled correctly, we want what we see advertised and and we want what our next-door neighbors have. Until we figure out how to resist those two things, our “stuff” will continue to overwhelm us.

I’m not immune to the one-two punch. I owned a Porsche once, an incredible machine, but I sold it (at a loss of course) because I felt self-conscious in it. Weird, I know. Most Porsche owners want you looking at them at the light or getting out of it at the restaurant. I was the opposite. I didn’t like pulling into the church or school parking lot. Insufficient swagger I guess. But then after reading Irvine, and getting fired up about Stoicism, I learned Stoics aren’t supposed to care about what others think of them. There’s something to work on. With that in mind, maybe I should give it another shot. The new 2012 911 looks damn nice. An exercise in applied Stoicism?

Xmas 12?