I live in Florida. Until recently, I would have said that I live in “sunny” Florida to distinguish my state from the cold places to the north. This year, however, cold weather came south for the winter along with all of the snowbirds who flock to Florida just after Christmas. Indeed, from about December 26, 2009 until early the first week in march when I wrote this, it was miserably cold in much of Florida, with temperatures regularly dropping into the 30′s on the Fahrenheit scale at night and often lingering in the low 50′s at the peak of the day’s heat.
I moved to Florida for a lot of reasons but the exhilaration of cold New England winters was not among them. No, I moved here in part to avoid the cold and I was so confident that I would not be cold during the winters that I donated all of my winter coats to charity. I kept a few sweaters, my winter cap festooned with embroidered whales and an over sized pom-pom, my balaclava and a few other things, but not my coats. I figured, why keep a bunch of overcoats that I would never be likely to use again and which were too bulky for travel and I was happy to donate them to charities that could put them to better use.
That was ten years ago. Oh, how I wish I had kept those coats, or at least one of those coats in my closet for the past ten years. Maybe then I would not have frozen each night when I took my dog out for his evening walk, and later, when seemingly every night at 1am he told me that he needed to go out again. Maybe then, I would not have had to wear sometimes three sweaters over my tee-shirt and shirt. Maybe then, I would not have gone numb from the waist down every night when I stepped out of my house.
Of course, I am pleased that for the past decade, there are four or five needier people who might have gotten use out of my overcoats. Nevertheless, I know now that I was foolish to have assumed that I would never need cold weather gear again. I should have kept at least one of those coats. Even if I never used it again, I would always have had it just in case I needed it. In reality, it is rare to be able to predict when we will never be in need of something again, just as it is difficult to predict sometimes whether we will need something we contemplate purchasing. That uncertainty makes it worth the effort and the storage space to try to keep at least one of everything even if we are getting rid of the rest.
I’ve gotten rid of a lot of things over the years and I regret a lot of those dispositions. I would love to have been able to give all of my concert tee-shirts and sweatshirts to my own children, but I turned those into rags for washing my car about 15 years ago. I sold my baseball cards to a guy who never paid me for a lot of them. I got rid of my 78 and 45 and 33 1/3 RPM records and a lot of CDS. I donated a lot of my books. I gave away my coats.
It’s true that sometimes we can replace the things that we have cast aside, but that is always frustrating for a person who tries to be cost conscious. I never bought a coat this winter because I always convinced myself that the cold weather could not last. Part of my reluctance, however, I know was because I hated the thought of buying a new coat when I knew that I could have had my choice of several if I had just been patient and left my old coats in my closet.
I did take heart today when I told my wife about this column. She was quick to offer comfort and reminded me that she thought that all of my coats had been really, really ugly and that her only regret was that I also did not donate my whale cap with the giant pom-pom…
What have you given up that you wish you had retained? Are you sometimes too quick to donate or to sell or to throw away?