A lesson on consuming simply

I am writing this as I return home from one of the most incredible displays of creativity…and excess…known to man: the International Gift Show held at the Jacob Javitz Center (and a few outlying piers) in New York City.

If you’ve never had the opportunity to attend, it’s quite something to behold. Thousands, literally thousands, of manufacturers and craftspeople descend on the city for four days to display their wares in small 10×10 or 10×20 booths to tens of thousands of shopkeepers and members of the press.

The first thing that hits you when you enter the cavernous building is the sheer volume of stuff that is available (or at least desperately vying to be available) to US consumers.

From the moment you step onto the trade show floor, you get a visceral sense of the importance of the “consumer economy” that talking heads drone on about on Sunday morning talk shows. It is immediately clear how your purchase decisions and mine directly impact the creative food chain, from inventors and artists to graphic designers and sales reps. Often the booths are staffed by the actual company creators, giving you an even greater sense for the impact your consumption habits have on the lives of real individuals.

The second thing that washes over you is a sense of awe at the unbelievable ability of the human spirit to create. Not only did most vendors figure out how to transform their cramped, dingy space into an inviting mini-store but many had created delightful, even ingenious products to boot.

It was enough to make me want to do my patriotic duty and get to buying!

However, after hours of winding my way through row after row, hall after hall, a funny thing happened. My feet grow weary and my eyes slowly glazed over. Vendors started to blend into one another, items I once thought original suddenly seemed banal. It dawned on me…you can have too much of a good thing. All that delicious eye candy slowly revealed its downside to me: clutter.

Yes, a significant percentage of the stuff on display at the show is going to wind up cluttering your space, and the spaces of those you love, in the not too distant future. Often in the name of kindness. For above all, this is a gift show. Where gift buyers go to stock up their shelves with items you’ll feel compelled to buy from them and gift to another…or yourself.

My husband, Gardiner, actually invented a term for this kind of clutter: ‘craplets.’ Simply defined, a craplet is something deemed too insignificant to command immediate attention, but too important to toss – like that doo-dad or notepad you thought was hilarious in the store, but don’t ever use now. The problem is, craplets and their companion, ‘giftlets,’ (those small gifts you don’t actually want, but feel too guilty throwing away or re-gifting), will quickly take over if you’re not careful.

Too much of anything, even cute, well-designed items, sap your energy, put a dent in your productivity, and start to negate the reason you bought them in the first place.

The answer is not to turn up your nose at all of this loveliness and eschew giftlet consumption entirely. There’s something so darn delightful at finding a witty little journal, beautiful dish, or other somesuch!

The answer: learn how to be a good curator

By far the most appealing booths at the show were ones with the least on display. The clean spaces offered a visual respite and focused your attention on a story, a feeling, or simply the enjoyment you knew you’d get from using one of the products that made the cut.

The same principle absolutely applies to us as individual consumers. Before you buy something just because it strikes your fancy in the moment, consider the impact that purchase would have on your overall collection of things. Will it crowd out another item you once cherished? Do you have anything else similar to it in your possession already? If so, hold off.

Only when an item has adequate breathing room can it be truly appreciated.

{Feature Photo Credit}