By Chris Field
The number stared back at me. It was cold, almost sneering. I looked at it in disbelief.
How did I let it get this bad? How had I let things go so far, so fast? Back when I played football–a thousand years ago–we had a phrase: The eye in the sky don’t lie. No matter how you think you played, how good or poor you thought your effort was, the game film was always there to offer an objective measure of the quality of your performance. There were no excuses, no gloss, no sunny interpretations, nothing that would allow you to recall events through rose-colored lenses. The camera was a harsh mistress, and didn’t care about flattering angles or perspectives.
But now, that objective measure was a scale. . . a scale that told me tales of excess, gluttony, and an insidious, creeping heft. Oh, I knew I was carrying around a few extra pounds. These things happen as you get older, get married and start having children. It was one of those natural cycles of life to which you resign yourself.
Things slow down, the nesting instinct kicks in, and soon you’re living a reasonably comfortable but largely sedentary life. You don’t have to leave your home to pursue your happiness, you can bring that happiness home to you. And had I ever…
There was no rationalizing away the number in front of me. I was seriously overweight.
Subconsciously, I probably knew it, and also knew that sooner or later, I’d have to pay the price. Just a few months prior, I thought I’d begun addressing my weight issues rather well. I’d been limiting my intake and thought I’d been actively shedding quite a bit of my bulk. But the brutal indifference of the scale told me otherwise. We weren’t talking just a few pounds, and not dealing with something that a 30-day, faddish regimen would fix.
We also aren’t talking about my bodyweight, which is itself an abiding point of concern. No, this wasn’t my BMI (body mass index) at issue here. The acronym that conveyed the degree of my obesity was HHG, my (or rather our) household goods. We were 1800 pounds over our allowed PCS weight limit, and we were informed several months after our last PCS that the government wasn’t going to let this one slide.
Based on a service member’s pay grade and whether the household includes dependents, Uncle Sugar will pay for a certain threshold of allowable weight that military households can transport when PCSing. Obviously, younger enlisted might tend to be single or have only a small family and a modest amount of material goods. More seasoned military members are more likely to have larger families or a more robust amount of possessions. And your PCS weight allowance accounts for that.
The rule of thumb transportation officers suggest is to estimate 1,000 pounds per room. And in addition to your standard HHG weight allowance, the DoD allows each military member 2,000 pounds of professional gear, and each spouse 500 pounds of professional gear (though I fully admit that I’m not John Q. Regs, so I’d check with your transportation office before your next PCS) for every move. But even with our pro-gear allowance, we were seriously overweight.
What we had was–literally–nearly a ton of junk. Worthless crap that we had been carting around for years under the pretense that it might ever get used or prove valuable. I consider myself a sentimental person, but I am no hoarder. I enjoy keepsakes from the joyous chapters of my life. I enjoy having physical mementos of wonderful years gone by. But for years I thought I had the discipline to shed the useless, organize the beneficial, and streamline the essential. But oh, how I now needed to purge the inconsequential. Sadly, I actually thought I’d jettisoned quite a lot of weight lately, and thought I’d purged a good deal of my useless, unsightly flab.
Oh, the delusions we allow ourselves.
Our HHG weight embarrassment was compounded by the excess weight penalty we were charged to keep our clutter in our possession. We’ve been slowly amortizing the surcharge penalty for several months, and though the payment isn’t crippling, it is a nuisance.
But what that penalty means is that these days, in addition to the physical space that junk was occupying, it was now costing us money. . . all over again. We were paying for the debris that made up our household girth not merely once, but twice, in the form of the excess weight reimbursement. And considering some of the useless items around our home, it wasn’t even worth it to pay for them once.
Home organizing experts have a variety of questions you might ask when deciding whether or not to keep some of your household items. “Do I love it?”, “Do I need it?”, “Have I used or worn it in the last 1-5 years?”, “Would I pay full price for the item again?” I suppose those questions are useful to a degree. But with respect to your furniture or clothing inventory, military living makes things tricky.
If we got orders to Germany, would this sectional couch or king-sized bed fit in an average German home? (Short answer, no.) If we were stationed in San Antonio, I could get away with wearing t-shirts and shorts 12 months a year, and only need a bare minimum of cold weather clothing. But there’s also a chance we could be sent to North Dakota or Alaska, where I’d probably need some of those sweatshirts and winter coats I’ve been hauling around.
Every single one of those 20 sweatshirts. All dozen of those cool or cold weather jackets. I’d need them all. Because I would only do laundry every six months. And I’d need all of the books I’ve been toting around, because there’s a fair chance I’d be marooned on a deserted island for five years and would need all of those boxes of dusty books to keep me entertained. All of them.
It’s this sort of thinking that got me into trouble in the first place. Yes, we need both everyday and fancy dinner plates and stemware. But no, we won’t ever be hosting a state dinner for 80 diplomats. Yes, I loved those books. No, I don’t need three different translations of each of them. Yes, I remember when we inherited that piece of furniture from our beloved Aunt Betty. No, I don’t think Aunt Betty would be bitterly disappointed in the afterlife if we were to donate it to Goodwill.
And though I’d like to share the blame a little with Ma’am, I concede that she is ruthlessly unsentimental when it comes to certain things and has an executioner’s detached cool when it comes to throwing or giving items away. No, this one is squarely on me.
My 2017 weight loss goal is to shed 1,800 pounds. For me, it starts with books. In a digital age, it is foolish to let an avalanche of books (or music or photo albums or whatever) become a burden. For you? Maybe Polish pottery, a wine collection, or an overflowing tool chest is weighing you down. Military living offers a wealth of opportunities to collect items that will be timeless keepsakes, stoke fond memories of a favorite duty station, and hopefully be passed down through generations. But if it comes to a point where, as Tyler Durden observes, the things you own end up owning you, you could be in serious need of a healthy, purifying purge.
Now, if only there were a simple Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem equivalent for household goods. . .