January 3, 2014
Day Three of "The Great 2014
What is it about trunks, these
beautiful wooden trunks, that I hold dear? Why must I feel compelled
to clutter them with the detritus of my life? Today, I withdraw from
my steamer trunk four boxes of checks dating from the nineties.
My children will not know the joy and
drudgery of check-writing, that neat allocation of funds here...and
here...and here. They conduct their banking with their phones, and
use their debit cards for all their purchases.
In response to the Target data heist,
my husband and I recently requested new debit cards. In anticipation
of the two weeks during which we'll be without cards, we withdrew a
substantial amount of money from our checking account. It's been an
interesting experiment, this temporary return to cash-only
transactions. We can see how easily the money slips through our
fingers: groceries...take-out coffee...movies...gas...Christmas
decorations...a hundred dollars we cannot account for.
With a cash economy, there's no
security blanket. You're forced to live within your means; within
your budget. And I find I'm more reluctant to part with cash.
Spending is easier with the false barrier of a plastic debit card: It
gives the illusion of not spending money.
But cash leaves less of a trail, so
going through the old checks this morning was like excavating the
past and what was important to my husband and me back then.
Fifty dollars a month was
allocated to my student loans.
Three hundred twenty-five dollars
paid my Cleveland-area rent. My DC apartment was double that.
Eight dollars and ninety-nine
cents paid our gas bill in 1993; That same year, nine dollars and
seventy-one cents paid for the electricity in an ultra-modest house
rumored to have housed two adults, two children and a monkey before
we moved in. We paid seventy-nine thousand dollars for that house,
making our monthly mortgage six hundred ninety-four dollars and
Forty-five dollars met the monthly
tuition for our daughters' dance class. This class, more tumbling
than dance, met twice weekly and committed my husband and me to
purchasing outrageously expensive dance costumes and sit through a
three-hour recital to watch our daughters somersault and hopscotch
through hula hoops set in a pattern on the ground before the "real
dancers" took the stage. I confess we were glad when our
daughters decided not to continue with dance.
One hundred and one dollars:
Preschool tuition for one month, two children.
Several checks ranging from forty
to two hundred dollars, written, I'm ashamed to say, to Wal-Mart, a
store I haven't stepped foot in in years.
Fifty-eight dollars took my
husband, my daughters and me on a train ride to the North Pole,
Polar Express style. Money well spent and we were there and back
within two hours.
Eighteen dollars and fourteen
cents made out to the Vermont Bean Seed company on January 8, 1999
was the beginnings of that year's garden.
Four dollars: A mysterious check
written out every month to a man named George. I have no idea who
George is and why my husband and I would write him such a negligible
check every month. Thanks to the internet, I was able to locate his
address (he still lives in the city where my husband and I bought
our first home) and his wife's maiden name and Facebook page. But
that's as far as the clues lead.
Thousands of dollars worth of checks
passed through through my hands this morning, hard-earned money,
parted with so carefully when we were first married and began our
family: After my husband got home from his full-time job at a bank,
he'd eat a quick dinner and go immediately to bed to catch a few
hours of sleep before rising at midnight to deliver the Wall
Later, we learned to spend with less
care, less deliberation, less thought. It's becomes easy to forget
where your money goes.
I go through the checks one final time,
before running them through the shredder. I find another check
written to George. Another. And another. Still another, the amount
always four or five dollars. I flip each check over, scan the
signature for some clue. And finally, I see one of the checks has
been stamped: The Plain Dealer. George delivered our Sunday
As I shred the checks and the mail, I
think about how much paper I've consumed in my lifetime, how much
waste I thoughtlessly generate.
I see my husband has added to my pile a
survey from the Arbor Day Foundation. I pick up the survey, the
accompanying offer for free trees (the enticement for completing the
survey) and the page full of return-address stickers and run it all
through the shredder.
Kelly Garriott Waite on Google+
Labels: 2014, Consumption, essay, Great 365 Day Purge, resolutions