Delete the Excess

Almost every experienced writer, when I’ve asked for books to improve my skill, has referred me to “The Elements of Style,” by William Strunk and E.B. White (Charlotte’s Web). It’s a practical little book, loaded with grammar tips, structure commands, and literary faux pas to avoid at all cost. In chapter V (they like the Roman Numerals) – An Approach to Style – the authors offer the following in a section titled simply, “Do Not Overwrite.”

“When writing with a computer, you must guard against wordiness. The click and flow of a word processor can be seductive, and you may find yourself adding a few unnecessary words or even a whole passage just to experience the pleasure of running your fingers over the keyboard and watching your words appear on the screen. It is always a good idea to reread your writing later and ruthlessly delete the excess.”

I was delighted to come across this passage while in the midst of rereading the writing of my life’s story. I’ve become a believer in the idea of a simplistic lifestyle, and I’ve noticed some excess in my life. Ironically, most of the excess exists as a direct result of an invention of convenience.

This is the cup cabinet in our kitchen, perhaps it looks familiar. I was inspired, so indulge me as I share its contents.

  • 31 Miscellaneous plastic cups
  • 24 Toddler cups
  • 10 Sippy cups
  • 9 Coffee mugs (only Jeni drinks coffee, and then only occasionally)
  • 7 Stadium cups
  • 7 Glasses
  • 6 Sport bottles
  • 6 Lidded, straw attached, grown-up, sippy cups
  • 4 Carnival Cruise Line, tall, curvy, frozen drink cups (minus the umbrellas)
  • 2 Milkshake cups
  • 2 Tumblers (I think)
  • 1 Glass with a white pig face on one side and a white pig bottom on the other (an absolute necessity)

For those keeping score at home, that’s 109 cups for our family of 6, or 18 cups per person. Who’s to blame for this abundance? Josephine Cochran. In 1893 that resourceful lady invented the dishwasher and in 2011 the Sprague family felt the need to own 109 cups. An invention of convenience that’s actually a seductress in disguise. Unfortunately, before anyone was aware of its intentions, it spawned an evil twin, the washing machine, and now we live with piles of laundry and sinks full of dishes.

Have you ever wondered why? These inventions were designed to make the mundane chores easier and more efficient. I’m sure the goal was to be able to spend more time doing more worthwhile tasks. But that’s not what’s happened. Instead, we’ve used these machines to justify owning more clothes and dishes. I’d bet my yellow shoes that Caroline Ingalls, AKA “Ma,” spent less time on dishes and cleaning clothes than my wife, and she had to build fires and stuff. That’s craziness, but it’s true.

We (Americans) tend to act irresponsibility with our possessions, accumulate unnecessary and redundant items, and procrastinate like there’s no tomorrow… wait a minute, that’s a paradox or something, but I digress…

My sister crystallized this principle for me while we were discussing potty training. She argued that, before the invention of diapers, kids were probably potty trained faster. Why? Because parents grew sick of having their clothes soiled by junior. With the advent of diapers, kiddos could wet themselves and barely inconvenience mom and dad. Now diapers are a multi-billion dollar industry and we have kids depending on diapers well into their childhood. I think she makes a valid point. It’s the same with our 109 cups.

It’s time we “ruthlessly delete the excess” in our lives. We can survive with much less than we think we can. In fact, we can still live quite comfortably with less than we think. Let’s imagine Jeni and I got crazy-radical and cut our cup collection in half. Would any of you mistake us for paupers if we only had a measly 54 different cups? Would we be unable to offer hospitality with our modest supply of LIV (a bow to Strunk & White) drink containers?

That’s a 50% reduction, and we’d still be living with the Jefferson’s. So, we are taking a step this week, and I wonder if you’d come along?

We are abstaining from the dishwasher.

That’s right, no dishwasher for an entire week. Each member of the family will use the same plate, cup, and utensils for every meal of every day. We’re even expecting our kids to clean their own dishes. At least for seven days, we’re resisting the siren’s call to drop our dishes in the sink or leave them in the dishwasher. We’re going to procrastinate our procrastination, and I believe we will have a less stressful week. I believe our kids will be more responsible and I believe we’ll discover other areas in our lives we could ruthlessly delete. I’m also quite confident our utility bill will be a tad less. Oh yeah, I said tad.

Leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think will happen. I’d love to know if you’re willing to give it a shot.

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