the hassle of the haul

Gifting is such an interesting cultural phenomenon. Bestowing our loved ones with something by which to remember us is how we, as a society, have decided is the best way to express affection and gratitude. But when you think about it, it's actually pretty presumptuous to burden someone with some thing that you've decided has value, meaning, beauty. To essentially say to them, I'm giving you this physical item with the expectation that you will carry it with you throughout your entire life, because I think it's special - and because I think I know you well enough to know that you'll think it's special, too. I expect you to pack it and unpack it, every time you change homes. I expect you to find a place for it in your life, for the next several decades.

It's not that I'm so cynical and minimalist, though I cop to both in small measures. It's just that as a lifelong apartment dweller (whose residences, by and large, have gotten progressively smaller over the years), I think about this a lot. I have to, because every single time I move, I must assess the value of my belongings. What's worth the effort? What's worth the expense?

The other night, Terence and I spent about an hour going through several boxes and bags he'd carted over from his house but had yet to go through, because they were an overwhelming jumble of essentials, gifts, junk, and emotionally-charged things that he'd been lugging around for several years and was none too sure he needed anymore. We all have that stuff. The stuff we're keeping for one reason or another, about whose necessity in our lives we're conflicted. The stuff we just can't bring ourselves to ditch, but when pressed, whose presence in our closets and cabinets we can't really justify.

It's much easier to be stoic about the things we buy or acquire ourselves. It's difficult to part with the things others have saddled us with, especially when they were given in love. Thanks in part to my mother's shopping habits, which clued me in at an early age to the dangers of hoarding, I, however, am pretty ruthless about it.

It started right about the time I was headed to college. My mother took it upon herself to go scouting for deals at discount outlets and thrift stores, on things I was going to need as an independent adult: home goods, bedding, kitchen items, etc. And while it was kind of her, and her heart was in the right place, I knew her - and the shopper's gene I inherited from her - well enough to know that she was feeding her spending addiction, as well. Calling out those two birds, one stone doesn't make me any less grateful - though as a teenager, gratitude wasn't my strong suit. Opinions were. And I had opinions about the silver flatware set she scored for me at Tuesday Morning, and the Pfaltzgraff serving bowls she unearthed in the shelves of Goodwill, and those opinions were basically, Ugh, do not want. Would rather pick out my own.

Still, I kept the things she chose for me, and I lugged them from my first apartment to my second and third and fourth and so on, until I earned enough money, and enough time had passed, that replacing them didn't seem like such an insult. But years of schlepping several dozen pounds of wares that I never asked for in the first place left an impression on me, and I vowed never to give anyone any thing, unless I was at least ninety percent sure they'd want it, or it was cheap enough to discard guilt-free.

I've penned a lot of silly, personalized birthday poems, for this reason. I've read long-winded toasts at parties, filled with inside jokes and sentiments intended to show their honoree that I know and love what makes them them. I've written and performed mini plays (one a few years ago with popsicle-stick puppets), invented games, created goofy graphics and flyers - anything to make the recipient feel special and understood as a person, without burdening them with a material good they might have no use or desire for.

I've done all this because I hate the hassle of the haul, not because I know for certain they do. And I've reached such master status at remorseless purging that I'm happy to oversee and advise on the efforts of others, including the boyfriend with whom I just moved in. Because it's a lot easier to raise my eyebrows at the fourth Ganesh idol he pulls from the carton than to direct my critical gaze to the bottom shelf of my console, where a sticker maker I've used once in the past five years sits laughing at my hypocrisy.

When we were finished, and while he was waiting for me to change so we could go grab a celebrate-the-decluttering bite to eat, he grabbed his ukelele and started strumming. "See?" I lit up. "Do you see how getting rid of actual physical stuff clears the way mentally, makes you want to create something to fill that void?"

I had no idea what the fuck I was talking about, and still don't, but it sounded true-ish and like a good justification for the donate/sell piles we'd rather hastily created, so I was definitely enthusiastic about the idea. So was he, I think, because he smiled and kept playing.

The ukelele is not going anywhere. The sticker maker, however, is living on borrowed time. I mean, no way am I carting that thing around to more than, say, the next four apartments...