What Is It About Americans and Excess

In some ways, Hannukah is a more American holiday than Christmas. Why limit a family to one day of conspicuous consumption if the family could instead enjoy EIGHT? There is nothing we obsess over in this country as much as excess. “Moderation!” cry the experts over and over again. We laugh in their faces and then order an entire large pizza to gobble down ourselves.

Then, of course: juice cleanse.

Binge and purge. Feast and famine. It never rains but it pours. We are a country of selfies and self-loathing, lottery tickets for the poor and mega mansions for the rich, and, of course, for the very lucky/self-righteous, Tiny Houses. Roxane Gay is now on record as hating Tiny Houses, guys.

I rage against tiny privilege, the luxury of declaring, “I am tired of all this space and want to be done with it.” The fetish to rid oneself of material possessions and live in a Post-It note is beyond my comprehension. I recognize that I am the problem here. I am from the Midwest. A woman named Dee Williams counts her belongings. She keeps a tally of her stuff. She has 305 things right now. She lives in a space that is 84 square feet. She built her home herself and she is clearly living her truth, which is lovely but… No. Also, if she injures herself, how will she get into the sleeping loft? On HGTV, I saw a show called Tiny House Hunters or something like that. This couple wanted to downsize from a 750 square foot apartment which, as a country girl, just blows my mind. Turn down for what? Anyway, they looked at some options but the husband was very intent on having a composting toilet. His wife was not having it. They have plumbing in their new home.

The original target of her ire is here, if you want to take a look.

A lot of this extremism is Don Draper’s fault. Indulge yourself, love your body, you deserve it, coo half the commercials. Everything about you is garbage, buy our product, it’s your only hope, coo the others. Is it any surprise that we have a disordered relationship to money and to stuff? As a Dame magazine indictment puts it, Are We Are All Becoming Hoarders?

Stuff must be purchased, and nobody has any idea whom they’re buying for. All the complicated, quirky people in your life are sorted into rigidly sexist and ageist categories, usually further subdivided by price: $25 and under tends to mark an object as a stocking stuffer, meaning you’d better buy five or six, you cheapskate. There’s no question of whether you’re going to gather and wrap all these tokens of the season, only what you’ll buy, when, and how much.

Then, as surely as the tree gets stripped and dumped on the sidewalk, the magazines are ready with an equally rigid January tradition: New Year New You. January is all about decluttering, organizing, or in 2014 terms: Let it go. Don’t call it a diet. Call it a cleanse, a “jumpstart,” a detox, to recalibrate an overloaded system. All that extra stuff you just unwrapped, all the extra pounds rounding out your holiday sweater, it all has to go. Throw it all into landfill, and get your life back.

Just don’t expect that life to be moderate. Not unless you do a lot of hard work to get the pendulum to stop swinging from one extreme to the other, contra every societal expectation, and somehow just … chill.

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