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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Too Much Stuff

I currently live in a 2600 square foot home that I consider a mansion after five years on a 928 sf Sausalito houseboat. Mind you, I’ll probably never live in a more enchanted place than that floating, 2-story, light-soaked masterpiece. We had to walk two full city blocks straight into the Bay to reach our front door. We made our first son there. And our second. And enjoyed many a glass of rosé standing atop the roof at sunset. There was nothing boaty about the handsome grey structure beyond the barnacles and the fact that it moved up and down with the tides each day.

When I opted to abandon my San Francisco bachelor pad to join my then-girlfriend on her houseboat, I brought virtually nothing with me except my artwork and a beautiful hand-carved wooden chair I picked up on a canoe trip in Zimbabwe. Some Zimbabwean friends who later visited us explained that the chair was actually designed for fellatio on African royalty. Perfect! We placed it next to the fireplace (yes, the houseboat had a fireplace!).

One of the final days in my city apartment, as I was packing my clothes, Jodi held up a blousy long sleeve black button-down shirt. “What about this?” she asked with a “who farted” face.

“That’s one of my favorite shirts,” I said, slightly offended.

“It doesn’t even fit you.”

“What are you talking about? It fits me perfectly. I’ve spent many a night looking damn good in that shirt.”

“Maybe THAT’s why you’ve been single all this time.” Ouch.

By the end of our closet-cleaning session, she donated most of my clothing to Goodwill, citing my wardrobe tired and out of style. Frankly, I was happy to be rid of most of it. Clean break. New start.

The average size of a new U.S. home in 1950 was 983 sf; by 2011, the average was 2480 sf. Plus, in 1950 an average 3.37 people lived in each U.S. home; in 2011, that number had shrunk to 2.6. This means we take up more than 3x the space per capita than we did 60 years ago. (NYT  – Living With Less. A lot Less, March 9, 2013). That explains the $22billion personal storage industry. When is the last time you looked in that cardboard box labeled “winter stuff?”

With wealth disparity in America greater right now than ever before, I’m trying to be more sensitive to the less is more paradigm. As well as the notion of a “gift economy,” where valuables are given with no expectation of reward. In other words, give because you got.

Do my boys really need 15 puzzles and 50 matchbox cars? Of course not. But the kid with one beat up GI-Joe would probably have his year made by a shoebox full of shiny Hotwheels.

Less is more. More than ever.

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