Minimalism, The Powerball, and Many Funerals

My husband is obsessed with minimalism. In the evenings he sits on the back porch with a cigar and listens to minimalist podcasts. They tell him what to keep and what to throw away. They tell him to count his belongings. When he comes back inside he smells like tobacco and determination. Boxes pile up around me. They are filled with books and clothes. “I’m never going to read this,” he tells me. “When was the last time I wore this?” he asks. The boxes are packed up and carted off, and my possessions spillover seamlessly into the spaces his have left.

I collect things. I have two bookshelves stocked with books and journals. I have a third bookshelf for movies and CDs. I have a chest stuffed with extra pillows and blankets. I have two boxes of teacups in storage in my parent’s attic.  I have five shoeboxes of letters and postcards. I have nineteen spare lip balms. I have twenty colors of nail polish, five sunglasses, a drawer full of fuzzy socks. I have two back up shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and facial cleansers and scrubs. I have too many perfumes to count. I have fiesta ware, sketchbooks, pens, bags, and six blue dress shirts.

The minimalists say that you shouldn’t keep anything on hand that you could purchase if necessary for under twenty dollars. For example, a roll of duct tape. Why burden yourself with a roll of cumbersome duct tape that you only use once in a great while? “Jettison it!” they cry, and I can picture them tossing their half-used duct tape into the air, and celebrating their newfound freedom, and buying another roll of duct tape, and using half of it, and getting rid of it, and buying another roll, and using half, and getting rid of it over and over and over again in an endless cycle of waste. Minimalism strikes me as a folly of the wealthy.

In mid-January the Powerball reaches an all-time record high jackpot of 1.6 billion dollars. The entire country is manic. Kim K tweets about it. I hear about it on the radio on the way to work. My coworkers can’t stop talking about it. “My dad bought like sixty dollars’ worth of tickets for me,” my manager says. “What would you do if you won?” is the topic of the day. Most answers involve tropical destinations, private jets, and extravagant purchases. All I can think about is all the things I would be able to get rid of. I wouldn’t have to hold on to poorly made clothes because I couldn’t afford nicer ones. I wouldn’t have to stockpile every little thing for fear that if I ever ran out, I wouldn’t be able to buy more. I wouldn’t have anxiety about student loans or car payments or rent or emergency funds. I wouldn’t have to worry.

During my shift I watch customers heap items on my counter. They pick up odds and ends as they stand in line. Hair ties, combs, lip glosses, other things that they might need. A girl buys a bath sponge because it matches the sweater she has on that day. One woman buys camisoles in every color available. Another woman buys five pairs of black leggings. “I’m always losing these things,” she says. I can’t help but think that she might keep better track of them if she limited herself to only one pair. My lifestyle doesn’t look so appealing when I see it on other people.

When I get home I decide not to live in fear. I tear apart my bedroom and find six identical headbands. Why do I have these? In case something happens to the first one. I chuck them in a box. What else do I own just in case? A stack of spiral bound notebooks (in case I go to grad school) go sailing into the box. They are followed by a pack of basic white v-neck tees (in case of stains) and a large duffel bag (in case I take up a sport). I rifle through my closet and pull out a drab stone-colored dress.

In case someone else dies.

In the past four years I’ve worn this dress for four deaths. I wore it to my cousin’s funeral and my aunt’s viewing. I wore it to my friend’s memorial service and my classmate’s tribute. The fabric feels stiff and thick as though it’s been saturated by a buildup of repeated grief. I need this dress. Just like I will always need more bobby pins, or pairs of underwear, or toothbrushes, I will always need this dress, because someone will always die. It occurs to me that a dress cannot prepare me for death. I drop it into the box, pack it up, and take it to Goodwill.

The next day at work I discover that the Powerball has gone down. Three winners in California, Florida, and Tennessee have split the jackpot. No one seems disappointed or fazed. No one really counted on winning. On the sales floor, customers shop as usual. A woman asks for my help detangling a necklace. I focus on the task and hold it up for her when I’m finished. “Thanks,” she smiles. She’s wearing my dress.

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