Wednesday, December 15, 2004


I've been getting rid of a bunch of stuff that sits around the house un-used. Over the past 15 years I've accumulated an enormous mound of useless garbage. I received an impetus to start getting rid of major items when I checked out Material World: A Global Family Portrait from my local library. I first heard of this book back in 1998 or so on the documentary Affluenza on PBS - for an excellent website which organizes some of the ideas in those documentaries click here. I had to wait 2 months to get this book as there was a qeue of something like 10 people in Wake County looking for this book! It shows a spectacular disparity of possessions among various peoples around the world - it would have been even more interesting had the authors included many more countries. They were trying to get the "average" family in a given country to display their entire material possessions in front of their residence. I was trying to imagine what my family's possessions would look like displayed in front of our house and it was an ugly scene to imagine. It made me decide to get rid of all the little junky crap my wife and I seem to horde. I set up a seller's account on ebay and promptly sold 8 items over 2 weeks and netted a profit of $688 after paying ebay fees, shipping fees, and paypal fees. It was actually quite fun to sell on ebay and I may resort to this again. One interesting turn of events was that I was forbidden by email from ebay from selling any medical equipment. There is an enormous bureaucracy behind the selling and re-selling of health-care related equipment - an example of government control over a field of activity gone amuck. Meant to protect a patient from bad medical devices which could harm the patient thus resulting in the patient sueing the pants off the manufacturer and the government, this FDA branch prevents someone like me from selling a spirometer or a simple diagnostic equipment to another health care provider - a ridiculous waste of everybody's time and energy. I failed to sell a set of 5 Simpson's plastic dioramas with figures - an immature use of my money on a trendomatic, worthless waste of money and space - I guess everybody else feels the same way about the Simpsons now. In any case these are the 8 items I did manage to sell: old cellphone/PDA device (the kyo 6035) over-complicated multi-battery charging device which I've hardly used
3.a set of 5 Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are plasticine figures (too scary for my kids)
4.a cash register old credit/debit transaction terminal old fountain pen un-used nebulizer machine
8.a time-stamp clock

I also donated items with abandon to various charities in my neighborhood. To Dorcas Thrift Shop (Christian Communities in Action) I gave:
1.My son's 8-piece drum set (received from Santa Claus last year, he played with it 3 times)
2.A Sanyo VCR
3.Lamp Shade
4.A heavy steel trash can
5.A box of about 20 mugs/cups
6.A box of trashy novels/garbage books
Dorcas turned down my offer of several garden hoses and a Xerox XEfx90 all-in-machine

To GoodWill I donated:
1.that Xerox XEfx90 all-in-one machine
2.Component stereo system: Pioneer turntable, Pioneer double-cassette deck, Sony Receiver/amplifier, 2 AIWA speakers - remember these ancient stereo systems every "audiophile" had to have? Who needs them now?

To Guardian Angel Thrift (Alzheimer's research) I donated:
1.30gallon aquarium with top (this leaves me with still 7 more aquaria, a 5g, 10g, 20g, 40g, 55g, and two 75gs, only one 75g and one 40g is in use now)
2.3 Aquamaster 350 aquarium filters nicely cleaned and bleached out
3.Sears 3hp gas-powered edger
4.An abdomenizer (my one and only purchase from a TV-infomercial con-job - 1994)

To Habitat for Humanity I donated:
1.2 clean toilet seats
2.A brass chandelier
3.2 sets of black track lighting

I plan to call back Habitat for Humanity to donate: a large Pappasan and ottoman my wife bought from Pier-1 back in 1994 or so, my wife's old student oak kitchen table for two with 2 oak chairs, 3 black leather and chrome/steel stack-on chairs from Target, 2 butterfly chairs, 2 plastic out-door fold-up chairs, maybe a child's play table with 2 chairs (plastic), maybe 4 heavy office-wall dividers, maybe my wife's old Perception kayak with oar and skirts etc equipment. There is also a beaten up, run-down old ugly wooden rickety office chair and a rusty old metal two-seater porch swing which our former neighbor gave my wife 6 years ago which she absolutely refuses to give away now that he is dead (he was an old man) - I would do almost anything to get rid of these items.

My wife has been fighting me all-the-way to try to keep most of these items as she is a greater pack-rat than I ever was. My son is also a bit of a pack-rat like his mother. Therefore I've had very little luck trying to rid our house of toys. Last Spring I convinced them to sell off many useless large toys at our yardsale, but they are not budgeing on the remaining gargantuan stash of toys. They are actually adding on as I speak. My wife said tonight that my decluttering is creating a vaccuum which makes her want to purchase more stuff to fill in the emptiness. As you can see from the lists above all the junk I'm trying to rid are items I can't imagine us using any time soon. I also sold several dozen of recent sellable books to Edward McKay Used Books and Mr.Mike's Used Books - I got a couple of books in return as well as some money - the danger to trying to sell books for me is that I often end up acquiring even more books simply by going into a used book store. I've made a habit of acquiring vast collections of used books since I began frequenting an Edward McKay Used Book store in Fort Bragg and Fayetteville NC back when I was a middle-schooler. As I went through my book collections, most of them were books which nobody else would ever want - what I've found is that the used book stores in the area no longer want those old 1960s binding books. They all want the recent best-sellers or prize-winners which I'd tend to hold onto for a second reading sometime. I considered selling these books on which seems to sell well, but the thought of such hundreds of nickel-and-dime transactions is just mind-numbing. What I've found is that the thrill of selling and shipping off the items at my local UPS store becomes stale after about 8 transactions.

My greatest hope is to be able to get rid of most of my medical equipment. I own a $4200 EKG machine on a rolling cast-iron cart, a $2900 vital signs monitor on wheels, a $2800 portable spirometer, a $2500 cholesterol screening machine, a $1400 cryosurgery system with 20lb N2O tank, a ?$1000 autoclave, a $650 urinalysis machine, an $800 exam table with vag illumination system, a $700 audiometer, IV pole, instrument table, 2 exam stools, an orthopedic exam bench, exam light, also I own 4 cabinets full of medical supplies such as sutures, needles, syringes, bandages, ace wraps, KY jelly, scalpels, iodine, drapes, tongue depressors & cotton swabs, alcohol wipes, forceps and clamps, some very expensive (and expired) medicines etc. Probably >$16,000 worth of equipment which clutters up the house. I tried to ebay equipment as I mentioned above. I got fast bids on an item before ebay shut down my solicitations. Apparently I forgot to mention that I don't have the original boxes for my equipment - without the original boxes, the FDA forbids resale of the items - quite a silly rule for the type of equipment I was selling. I could try selling the equipment on labX at high cost, or I could just hold onto them as I will never get back the money I paid for them. I've already used these items quite a bit as a favor for family and neighbors believe it or not. How did I end up with this decadent stash of medical equipment? My father retired from practice around 1995 and left me with a bunch of stuff, then I closed my own private practice in 2002 and joined a group as an employee (as a scut monkey). Overall I enjoy being an employee more than being an owner - my personality was not suited to be an owner. As an employee, I can leave my troubles behind when I leave work - a priceless commodity. I believe I have a latent fear that I must one day work again self-employed, therefore I am holding onto all the equipment, but I think more and more that I'm better off as an employee indefinitely. It takes leadership skills and lots of self-motivation to own your business - alas I do not have such qualities. A decent movie, About Schmidt, addresses the pathetic notion of such mediocrity: especially the case with the no-good son of Kathy Bates who has his room wall plastered with "participant awards" from his childhood; not even a 2nd place showing in sight. I'm not quite that pathetic, but could probably sympathize with that kid more than not. There hasn't been a whole hell of a lot I've been "number 1" in - perhaps in my high school class I was not bad, but once in college, I've been simmering ever-since in the cauldron of mediocrity. My 3.2 GPA from my undergrad school, itself a mediocre Ivy-League school (Penn), attests to it, as does my showing in the bottom of the top third of my medschool class, as does my "competent" but not spectacular showing during my residency. Confucius teaches us to strive for the Golden Mean and I believe I have attained that quite well. Another movie (since I'm talking movies) which addresses mediocrity is of course Amadeus seen from the perspective of the mediocre Salieri - and I am Salieri.

In my mind, mediocrity and clutter somehow are entwined, but it's hard for me to articulate this principle precisely. Maybe it has something to do with my mediocrity causing a feeling of emptiness inside me and my attempts at trying to fill the void with something of substance, just as my wife said "to fill the vaccuum with more stuff." In which case then, why am I trying so hard to declutter my house? Maybe I'm trying to get back to the center of my void in order to understand it? Maybe I'm hoping that I can learn to accept and be happy in my mediocrity once I can see it clearly? It reminds me of something by Nietzsche, like his Human, all too Human. I think looking over that Material World book made me think that our possessions are helping us delude ourselves into thinking that we are better than others (or more superior). When once we are stripped of our possessions, we are naked and nothing but humans like any other person in the world, no better, no worse, just a "mediocre man."