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I have been sort of collecting oxymorons in the last few weeks and this punk marketing I just thought, what more needs to be said. Also I just out here in the west you have a kind of beverage which is spelt I-Z-Z-E, do you have that here in California? And it's a little thin can and it's comes in this beautiful color and it's like either Clementine or Pear or some other (fetishistic) fruit. It has it is completely, politically correct. There is nothing artificial in it. It is completely fair trade, it you know, profits go to something good you know, in the Amazon or something and it just strikes me as and I had one of them and I can attest that it's it actually tastes very good. Drinking that, sort of, to me, emblemized the dilemma that this book is about, which is one hand the consumer culture is just a font of wonderful delicious, exciting, inventive and gratifying pleasures. Let's face it and then on the other, so we actually like to buy things and it's not true that shopping makes you unhappy. I think. But on the other side of course, we have this very, very pressing necessity to restrain ourselves from consuming and particularly of disposing of things and you know, where maybe Tom will talk a little bit just later but we are way, way past our deadline to stop. And so you know, how do what do we do about that really to me is the question. It's not just a personal question, it's a political question, which and these two things, the personal and the political as we all know are very much connected. So that's the that's the dialectic and we will have a quiz of it later. I am just going launch right in and this book takes place in the whole year of 2004 and I will start with a little bit, it begins a little bit before in December of 2003, so I will start at the end of 2003 and read some from the first chapter and you can say whatever you want. December 2003 Panic: The symptoms of my materialism start to show two weeks before D, for Deprivation Day: panic attacks, anxiety, depression. That DVD player we've been thinking about? We decide to buy it quick. What about this magazine subscriptions? Better renew in advance so we don't run out. My niece is graduating college in May. Would you please stop - ? My niece is graduating college in May. Would it be cheating to look for a gift now? I worry, I grieve. My appetite for things gnaws relentlessly. I pass a Korean grocer with a bank of cut flowers outside. My heart is pulled toward the mini-sunflowers. They're so brilliant, so perfectly formed, so convenient for apartment use! I want them! Upstairs at Zabar's that's a food and house-wares emporium in New York. Upstairs at Zabar's buying Paul, my partner, a new coffee grinder for Christmas, the one he's got chews the beans only slightly more efficiently than I would. I am distracted, no, deranged, by the hundred-thousand housewares on display. My own kitchen and everything in it suddenly appear hopelessly shabby. Our cloth napkins are soiled. Shouldn't I pick up a half dozen? Or that nasty old teakettle with rust spots inside. Here's a Calphalon on sale for only $49.99! And isn't this a cunning and useful gadget? It's a...a...gilhooly! During the week of December 22, Paul and I go to four "must-see" movies. On December 29, I shell out $175 for a pair of "city" snow boots to wear when I'm not wearing the other "country" snow boots. On December 30, when I need a tablespoon of Grand Marnier for a recipe, Paul comes home with the largest bottle of liqueur I've ever seen. On December 31, we drive to Vermont. At 9 P.M. we light candles on the kitchen table and send off the old year with our traditional dinner of spaghetti restaurant and supermarket caviar. We toast the year without shopping with our second-to-last bottle of Champagne. At 10 p.m. I unearth a Red Envelope catalogue with a turned-down page featuring a small concrete baby elephant. When I found it more than a year ago, we had been looking for an ornament for our perennial garden. The elephant was just right, and Paul volunteered to make the purchase but never got around to it. "Oh well," I sigh. "I guess we can say good-bye to our elephant." "There are still two hours left!" declares Paul, surprising me with his enthusiasm. He leaps online and punches his way to the Red Envelope Web site. "They still have it!" he shouts, reaching for his credit card. A familiar frisson courses through me -- the thrill of the perfect gift, the unbelievable bargain, the hat or shirt that is absolutely me. Paul hits the Send button and a confirmation of our order appears on the screen. The elephant will arrive the day after tomorrow. And after that, 363 days will pass without the UPS man brightening our door. Even if we shopped without surcease for the next hour and thirty-seven minutes, there is only so much buying we could accomplish. The frisson turns to a chill. January Surplus. You can laugh out loud. We are on TV here so. Its funny all this, like a critical mass of people that you need for laughing its funny and so but don't feel pressured. January surplus. By the way Paul and I live in Vermont and in New York, so this next part happens in Vermont. Surplus, New Years Day I wake to fresh coffee and a forecast of snow, the wood furnace is hot, the window is frosted. As the snow melts the ice from the glass and the orchard and pond come into view. Last night's chill turn - starts to dissipate. If anyone can make it through a non buying year I figure Paul and I can. We are both self employed and work at home, conducting most of our business by phone and e-mail. We have no office rents, no payroll to meet. Our work outfits, pajamas and pajama equivalents require no dry cleaning. Although we lurch from deadline to deadline, hour by hour we make our own schedules. We are free to rise before dawn and put in our eight hours before knocking off to ski in the afternoon. We can take two hours to mow the lawn with a low fuel push mower or simmer a big cheap soup all day. Temperamentally we are suited to the task. Paul is a non shopper. A Vermont boy from a penurious family, he would rather spend a day re-twisting and soldering the coils of an ancient toaster than purchase a new one with a micro-graduated darkness scale and beagle sized slots. My own shopping enthusiasms are livelier and my aptitude for brand discernment better honed than Paul's. But in the scheme of things American I am a desultory and uncommitted consumer at best. When the market researcher calls I am an outlier in the sample. Yes ma'am, I own a television, yes, one television, I am about 25-years-old. No no electric hedge trimmer, no riding mower, no dishwasher, no cappuccino maker. Yes, you heard it right, no microwave oven. And no I am not talking to you through an orange juice can at the end of a string. I mostly buy what I need. I tell her politely other than that I don't want much. And yet somehow Paul and I have managed to amass what can only be described as a lot of shit. This fact will shape our strategy for the year. Besides those few pre-project panic purchases we have decided not to stock up. We will use whatever we have and if something runs out, decide if we need more. A logical place to start is an inventory. So with pen and a yellow pad in hand I wander through the house in my slippers, start with the clothes closets. These are thick with the jackets, their floors are stampede of work boots, snow boots, dress boots, barn boots and ski boots as well as winter shoes and summer shoes for business and for play in dry weather and wet weather, for running, walking, hiking, across terrain, mountain biking and road biking. In Vermont alone I have 12 pairs. Our drawers barely close for all the shirts and underwear mashed into them. The living room shelves bristle with unread books and barely listened to CDs. The bathroom is a cornucopia vegetable products crushed and gelled into potions, to heal and soothe, smooth and sedate, plus a closet full of remedies for ills that usually go away on their own. Together Paul and I owned a federal bureaucracy's worth of office supplies. This, it is agreed, fall into the must-have category but what about the sub-categories. Printer Cartridges, absolutely, yellow legal pads, probably, neon colored post-its and what if the dozen computers lying in state under various desks. There dead mice entered in nests of connector cable. Can't really throw these out, they have valuable data on them. Never mind the data are inscribed and forgotten computer languages on obsolete disks. I put on a pot of seven grain cereal and while it cooks I opened the kitchen pantry and count eight kinds or rice. Short grain white, long grain white, short grain brown, long grain brown, Tai sweet black, Chinese sweet black, basmati, arborio, six flowers, three grain grades of corn mill, two dozen varieties of peas and beans and an entire section of organic furrow. We have six oil, six sweeteners and nine vinegars. There are condiments to cheer any hungry homesick member of the UN General Assembly who happens by, ranging from dried Chinese black mushrooms to a can of Mexican huitlacoche fungus. I am not sure this last one is a food. The top shelf is our liquor cabinet, stocked for a prince's Bar Mitzvah and on the floor stands a case of prescription cat food for our diabetic cat Julius, plus a container of low ash high protein kibbles specially formulated for a feline of his age, weight and exercise level. Adding insulin, blood glucose test strips, regular wet visits, kitty caviar, cat nip and an endless supply of jingle balls and maintaining our companion animal in the style to which he is accustomed cost a minimum of a $1000 a year. Anna, a friend who grew up in Cuba describes feeling overwhelmed and a little sick the first time she walked into an American supermarket at the age of 15. What amazed me most, she says was that animals had their own food. January 6: Our friends are intrigued. Some regard us with a transfixed queasiness of viewers witnessing contestants eating slugs on fear factor. Others wish us luck, even thank us, communicating an attitude there is probably a German word for meaning admiration for an enterprise, you are glad omebody else is doing, so you don't have to. Soon their doubts surface, war shark like these reveal their own consumer ids, their fantasies and frustrations as well as their super egos, their ethics and guilt. The clue to the last is the word that keeps recurring aloud. Great idea says my agent Joey on the phone. She calls back an hour later. So, okay, let's talk about this, are you allowed to get hair cuts. What about hair gel enquires my hair cutter. To her it goes without saying that haircuts are in the necessity category and I agree. But she is stymied by the question of whether the hairs at the crown of the head must necessarily stick up just so. The pledge to buy only groceries resolves little. Allison, a cartoonist, wants to know if we are allowed to by mesclun salad or only unprocessed lettuce heads. We nix the mesclun. I serve kale with garlic and olives to Charlie and Cathy. "So Judith, olives", Charlie says, fixing me with narrow prosecutorial eyes. "Would you call olives a necessity?" To those who inquire Paul and I can offer no excuse for the designation of French of $7 or pound organic French roast coffee beans as essential. We cannot agree on wine, I am Italian, Paul argues, wine is like milk to me. I raise an eyebrow. Later he escalated his argument to say that wine was like water to him. Janice a sociologists mulls over the scariest prescription of all, movies. Contemplating a whole year without this nourishing pleasure she mourns with me for a few minutes, then she brightens having discovered a possible loop hole, but you can see documentaries can't you? (Vanillin), a video artist e-mails me from Chicago. Maude wants to know if you are allowed to buy paper towels or whether you have to use a sponge. She and her co-faculty member have become obsessed with our project. Her question is a slight variation on the discussion, Paul and I have been having about Kleenex versus toilet paper. Paul, who was turning out to be more of a materialist than I had expected, says nose blowing requires a ready box on the desk or beside the bed. Walk into the bathroom, say I. When I consult with Allison she suggests cloth handkerchiefs. Can snort-aversion be considered sufficient reason to buy paper? I would tend to rule in the affirmative but for the sake of arguments suppose we do buy facial tissues, less they be on the high, be the high quality anti-scratch variety or can we make do during ordinary non-cold periods or with this stiff cheap stuff. And while we were discussing paper goods, do we have to purchase the premium Scott toilet paper or could we settle for the store brand which, while cheap, is scratchy. Why not use newspaper quips Paul or leaves. America's embarrassment of consumer products and experiences is producing an embarrassing surfeit of trivial questions. January 16th. My lack of a hedge trimmer may qualify me as an enemy combatant in George W. Bush's book. But as I start to read about income, spending and debt, I learn that I am (J&Q) the typical American. I earn about the medium income for a New Yorker, a bit under $45,000 a year before taxes and business expenses. My perennially unpaid credit card balance about $7500 is average too. Even my attitudes about spending are normal. Research shows that just about everyone thinks she needs the thing she buys and considers almost everything she wants a necessity. A life of reasonable comfort appears always just a little out of reach. Surveyed in any given year, people peg the resources necessary for such an existence as $1,000 to $2,000 above the median income for that year. So if the medium income is $40,000, people say. Reasonable comfort, we need $41,000 - $42,000. Half of Americans and not just poor ones say they cannot afford all their needs. We are not greedy, we say; it's everyone else who is acquiring useless stuff. In one study conducted by Juliet Schor, the economic sociologist 78 percent of respondents stated that most Americans are very materialistic. Only 8 percent considered themselves very materialistic. How many in this room are very materialistic? None. You should that's about eight percent. This - typical of this attitude is a couple of Texans profiled in a book called "Trading up the new American luxury". The husband a real-estate developer named Charles owns a BMW 325 and a Jaguar X-type. His wife Judith bought a Thermidor six burner range and other premium appliances when they renovated their kitchen. Nevertheless, Charles and Judith say, they don't like to over spend, and don't believe in status buying. For instance, Charles scoffs at the idea of buying a fancy watch. I don't consider myself materialistic either. Like Charles and Judith, I don't like to over spend and I don't believe in status buying. I am a vegetarian; I eat at the low end of the food chain as the enviros say. I sneer at the New York Times travel section piece about retreats where people sleep on cots, rise at five, eat some gruel and apple and three almonds and pay $4,000 a week for the privilege. I buy generic tampons and $3 shampoo. And yet, I think nothing of forking over ten bucks to view any obscure French film that passes through New York or $15 for an hour and a quarter of Yoga instruction, half of which time I do little more than breathe. I buy the no name tampons, yet I unswervingly maintain that the 200 mgs of pure Ibuprofen in an Advil capsule cures my head-ache faster than the 200 milligram capsule of pure Ibuprofen in the bottle labeled Ibuprofen, which costs half as much. In the pantry, Paul and I have three kinds of salt. January 20th. What I want is what I've got. Unfortunately what Paul has got I don't want. Reader, it is time for a confession. Paul and I have two homes. Mine small but ample apartment in Brooklyn and his house shared in 40 acres in North Eastern Vermont. In addition; I have a cabin in birch grove of a 100 yards from the house. Together we have literally acres of space and yet we did not have enough. What Paul has got was spreading across our bedroom, down the stairs to the kitchen. A glacier of stuff carving out its own indoor geology, buttes of news papers, sedimentary layers of credit card receipts, archipelagoes of boxes, flyers, spreadsheets and every while you were out memo that has entered his life in the last two decades. For instance, see you Thursday, I kid you not. The landscape was so mature that it had spawned an eco system, spider webs knit together leaves of disintegrating paper, flies swarmed on window sills, inaccessible to swatters. The Spiders ate the flies, the paper turned to dust. The fly carcasses collected on the sills and fossilized. We fought, Paul called his stuff need. I called his inability to part with it, desire, neurotic desire. We had been fighting about it since before, since we started living together 14 years earlier. At first it seemed a room with a door would solve the problem. All I wanted to do was open the door, toss the stuff in the room and close the door. If the door became impossible to close Paul could rent a backhoe and shovel the stuff out. It would no longer be my problem, our relationship's problem. But as we measured and sketched there was no place for a room in our house's long narrow layout. The impossibility of a small change, morphed into the possibility of a big one. Possibility transformed into desirability and as these things go to necessity which became inevitability. I needed a winter office; our guests needed a private place to sleep and a bathroom of their own. Our boots were piled behind the kitchen door; our skies were waxed, balanced between a saw horse and a plastic garbage can on the back porch. We needed, a mud room and since Freud himself could not make of Paul's neurotic hoarding, a case of ordinary untidiness, besides an office for him we needed, desperately needed, more closets. Six months before we started downsizing we began to scale up. Our cute 1300 square foot house with curling cupboards of bedroom and a bath and a gravel floored cellar prone to flooding will become 1800 newly sited, feet of floor space incorporating a large living room and library, master bedroom, guest room, two offices, two baths, insulated mudroom and many, many built-in closets, shelves and cabinets. The renovation will add $25000 to the mortgage and a $1000 to the property tax bill. An additional $5000 will come out of pocket for furniture lighting and accessories for the rooms and after that these rooms will need perpetually to be heated, dusted, vacuumed, painted and repaired. All we wanted was productivity in work and tranquility and love, an end to the fight. Perhaps we should we should have sought counseling. Perhaps if we had known about him we could have engaged Ron Alford, the Disaster Masters Inc, provider of crisis intervention for people suffering from what he calls disposophobia. If we had had a name for the disorder maybe we could have found a less radical therapy. Instead we came up with a home remedy which alas was a homeopathic one. For the problem of having too much we self medicated with the American Cure-all more. January 30th. Visiting a country full of ancient emptiness, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that its January 30th. Visiting a country full of ancient emptiness, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that its inhabitants had humble tastes. They rejected the sumptuous depravity and splendid corruption of the aristocrats on the other side of the Atlantic. Still they had a penchant for physical gratifications among which he named a bigger house with a few more rooms. Could Tocqueville have predicted the average new home would grow a 150 to 200 square feet every year and this, you know, I have 2400 square feet average in 2004 and now we are reading about 40-50 and 60000 square foot homes. Could he have foreseen the empty spaces filling with Georgians, split levels and neo classical haciendas. Did I, a woman, of bird like domestic consumer appetites, imagine I would be feeding the collective obesity of the American home with a two person living space weighing in at over 4000 square feet? Also that one of those persons could have a room of his own. I want space, people say when intimacy strains. Did my beloved and I believe that given enough two by fours we could build a wall between ourselves and the stresses and disappointments of the partnered life? From design sketch to window trim the renovation is likely to take five years of our labor. We have been fighting about it since before the foundation was dug. You know you could have rented self storage units, I suggest one evening. There is one on route 14 you know, right next to the Knights of Columbus. Self storage Paul snorts. Store this. As we move into a year of defining our needs and monitoring our desires the house in progress gives cautionary new meaning to the term self storage. For we are for our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them wrote Thoreau. And the bad neighbor to be avoided is our own scurvy selves. Thank you.