Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.

~ Bob Hope ~

Do You Have Happy Shopping Aftershock?

November 6th, 2011 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 42 secs

How much stuff is enough to make us happy?

I confess. I’ve done it. Lots of times. I have bought things over the years that are one step off useless. You know the kind of stuff. It breaks the moment you get it out of the box. Or you give it a workout for a week. Then it goes back into the cupboard for another time (maybe in 2049). Or worse, you think you are going to enjoy using your delightful new device daily. But you quickly discover it won’t fit and it won’t work. Instead it remains, sitting there on the shelf, staring mutely back at you. A constant “I told you so” reminder that you shouldn’t have bought it. You feel obliged to keep it of course. But thanks to it’s surprise “you won’t need this until hell freezes over” feature that’s unlikely. It now makes friends with all the other happy junk around the place that you ought to retain too. The house is full of it.

I had a treadmill once. The electric kind not the one for mice. But it gave up the ghost pretty soon after my first flush of determination and muscle flexing vigor. Well it didn’t die completely. Not at first. Like an old car it kind of kept running. Only in a dangerous way.

I would don my happy walking wear (usually a kind of lightweight version of my gardening get up – read: frayed T shirt, odd shorts, and beaten up cross-trainers), fill up a water bottle and hit the button. This produced varying results. Anything from an instant start, a groaning start in 3 seconds, a start and a stop, or a mysterious humming and buzzing (like the arcing sparks of a Jacob’s ladder from a horror movie).

It got more dramatic after that. Eventually, this happy apparatus would unexpectedly take off like a derby steer with me leaping into shocked reaction. Then all would go well for a few blissfully happy minutes. Then, suddenly, it would start racing.  Like a surprise conscript in a one-mile dash I ran for my life. Faster and faster it went until I, spluttering and puffing, could reach a trembling hand close enough to hit the kill switch. My treadmill experience reaffirmed a chestnut truth: sport is not for the fainthearted.

Then there was the bubbling vaporizer. Buying it I kept thinking it might demonstrate some dazzling Buck Rogers powers. But when I got it home it merely made steam. Lots of it.  So much so the kids were happy recognizing animal shapes from the clouds in the living room. That was fun. But when it actually started drizzling we had enough. So the following year we were happy to see the vaporizer carried off at our garage/yard sale.

Still, I fondly remember the fondue set I picked up at someone else’s  “I beg you, please help me get rid of this stuff sale.” I assured Ruth we would use it and one day. Probably when we have a huge assortment of old cheeses lying around and a happy 70s crowd of Swiss nationals dropping over for dinner. True, it’s unlikely, But you never know!

What else? Oh yes, I got a popcorn maker. Actually that was useful. Then it died. So we bought another one, called a “Cornelius.” This one is more entertaining than useful. Rather than making popcorn it was obviously designed to explode each corn seed into smithereens. The shattered fragments of popcorn merrily spray in all directions around the kitchen. So in a way, it probably could do double duty as a creative confetti-making machine. Before you ask, I’m keeping it as a conversation piece…

But no discussion about useless stuff could rightly ignore the home office. Tucked into recesses one should never go were stacked inkjet printers, faxes, and clunky devices that gradually conked out.  But because each had multitasking abilities we didn’t (okay, I didn’t) have the will to get rid of them. Worse, our happy hoarder, Ben, actually brought home a few more from a junk-collecting friend. So for a while these plastic contraptions looked like they were breeding. Stacked up like a confused pile of frown-inducing modern art, they posed both a threat and an opportunity (Threat: from them toppling down onto you. Opportunity: for our cats to see what would happen if they applied a little schmoozy push).

Being Dad, it looked vaguely like it was my job to get rid of these hi-tech wrecks. So I did. But it felt wrong. Surely someone could have held their cables in place, dodged the sparks, flipped the lid right back, kept pressing the reset button, held their tongue to one side, and milked the last few drops of ink from the cartridges to get a few more prints… As my father-in-law would say “It’s not right. It’s just not right.”

Which is completely right of course. You and I could do with a little less clutter to live a lot better. So I encourage you. Be brave. Skip the specials and just get what works when you need it. If anything looks like it’s going to break in twelve months don’t even think about it. Keep it simple and you will find yourself feeling happier a lot more often.

Now I wonder what I’m going to do with that super-footspa-blending-magnetic-ketone-separating-flossglosser Ben brought home last week…


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