When Brett retired from the navy in 1992, it was at the end of a three and a half year tour in Japan. He spent most of that tour deployed on an aircraft carrier; I spent most of those years shopping and accumulating stuff.
We had always lived fairly simply and had not acquired much because of the small weight allowance for moving our household goods, but at the beginning of our Japan tour our household goods allowance was upped by several thousand pounds. In the second year of our tour Brett received a promotion, and along with a nice pay raise he also received another increase in our household goods weight allowance. I, to put it mildly, went nuts.
Shopping became my primary form of recreation, a way to keep busy while Brett was gone and our son was busy with school and friends. I was teaching English conversation, making good money, and all I did was buy, buy, buy, especially antiques. We came home with 15 (yes, 15!) antique tansu (Japanese chests) of all types and sizes, loads of antique porcelain and other items that I convinced myself we had to have and couldn’t leave Japan without owning. I told myself these things were an investment. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t shopping somewhere for something. Looking back, it was obscene how much I shopped. The only good thing, if I can claim it, was that I paid cash for everything. We had no debt and actually had a decent savings account as well. And the shopping stopped when we arrived home in the U.S.
Our household goods were supposed to arrive back in the States about 4-5 weeks after we did in 1992. Four weeks arrived and no shipment. At five weeks we called to check on the status of our shipment and were told it could not be located, that it had been lost. Initially all I felt was panic, deep, deep panic that almost everything we owned was gone forever. But then something changed. As I began to think about having to start over, I also began to feel liberated, like an incredibly heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. As I moved through the near-empty rooms of the house we’d rented, I began to question why I had ever wanted all of those things. I felt deep, searing pain when I thought of the photo albums, the few items of our son’s I had kept from when he was a baby, the truly irreplaceable items that might be gone forever. But for everything else, I felt no attachment whatsoever.
I wanted our simple life back again.
Our household goods were eventually found, delivered, and squeezed into our small house, but they never held the same appeal for me they did when I bought them or when we lived in Japan. We spent the years after Brett’s retirement slowly divesting ourselves of most of our Japan things. Brett was unemployed for almost three years following his retirement, and the sale of several of those items saw us through some hard times, so maybe they were an investment after all. The sale of other items helped fund our adoptions, pay down our debt, and get us moved to Hawai’i. I haven’t missed even one of the things we sold, and never regretted that we let them go.
When we left Japan, our household goods weighed 12,500 pounds and filled five huge crates. Our shipment of goods to Kaua’i two years ago weighed just 4500 pounds, and barely filled half of a 20-foot shipping container. We live with much, much less now and manage quite nicely. The things we kept are functional, or like my bells or jubako, carry special memories that we’re still not ready to part with.
Shopping holds no thrill for me these days. The girls, of course, love shopping and love stuff, but even they have downsized. Brett, the former King of the Pack Rats, got bit by the downsizing bug, and made immense strides in reducing his hoard. He’s no longer in thrall to having or holding on to stuff.
Maybe it’s a function of aging, or just heredity. When I was young and stayed with my grandmother, she always let me go through her things and choose something to take home because she was “thinning things out.” She said she didn’t need so many things any more, even though she already lived very simply. My mother also divested herself of most of her possessions and downsized when she got older. She would rather have traveled than maintained or worried about a lot of stuff, which is where I’m at now as well.
Whatever the reason, it seems the older I get, the less I want as well.