Peace On Earth Good Will.Com

One of the biggest growth industries in America appears to be the storage facility. We've all seen them sprawling along the overpass or tucked into the back of an industrial park, long, low buildings divided within into locked cubicles. Hollywood suggests that these are being used by serial killers to store their homicidal trophies away from prying eyes, but in real life they are just places to put stuff. Stuff that's gone out of style, stuff that's outgrown the garage, stuff you don't want anymore but that your kids might want later. Instead of the catchy hyphenated names that most of these places have, they should all have a single phrase over the entrance: TOO MUCH STUFF.

Or, as a so-called clutter consultant once said, "Our homes have become landfills."

I've become a bit of a crank about the hyperconsumerism of the American holiday season, and I get into high gear as soon as December looms. (In late November I am hopelessly focused on the belief that any nation that builds its annual harvest feast around a dish as lame as turkey should be paying less attention to Hawthorne and more to Marcella Hazan.) This year I have more grist for my mill than ever before. The news footage of snarling shoppers shoving one another at the entrance to a mall in the predawn hours of Black Friday was amply supplemented by warnings that shopping hubs were vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Our enemies apparently believe that you can find the soul of America at Old Navy. Sadly, it often seems they are right.

Now here come the good tidings of great joy: opting out of the stuff brigade has become easier than ever before. A brand-new Web site called whatgoesaround.org is dedicated to the proposition that we all have more stuff than we need, more gloves and scarves and perfume and potpourri and scented candles. (Did I just stumble upon a precise list of what you gave and/or received from friends and acquaintances last year?) Whatgoesaround is not so different from a wedding registry, except that instead of telling friends what flatware and tumblers you'd like, you tell them what charities you'd most like to support. Then when someone wants to give you a gift, she can go to the site, go to your "givelist" and make a donation the point-and-click way.

The idea that personal philanthropy is more satisfying, more necessary and more in the spirit of the season is not a new one. Stuff fatigue has swept America in tandem with the increasing ugliness of knee-jerk acquisition. A growing number of brides and grooms have asked for contributions to charity rather than the requisite Cuisinart. One girl in New York City recently requested book donations to the school library rather than bat mitzvah gifts. The season of joy is also the season of need; that's why there are giving trees in the back of so many churches, asking for toys or clothes for kids whose own personal at-home Santa is out of work.

But too much of the holidays has become tussling meanly with other human beings in department-store aisles to score unwanted stuff on sale, stuff that winds up in storage lockers or on the top shelf of closets, pushed to the back. How good it would be, instead of buying the third-grade teacher a novelty sweat shirt appliqued with an apple and the alphabet (because, trust me, she already has one, or two, or three), to have her register on the whatgoesaround Web site so parents could support her favorite cause. Sylvia Stein, one of the founders, worked in more traditional product development for years and feels as though this is the zenith of her marketing experience. "Every time I tell someone about it," she says, "a light bulb goes off. The enthusiasm is overwhelming."

So much of what is written about cyberspace is about the evil that awaits there, or at least the annoyances, and as a person who has already received two messages this morning offering me Paxil by mail, and one suggesting I work at home (already done), I understand. Sometimes it seems as though the greatest technological revolution of our time resulted in little more than a blizzard of worthless and annoying debris.

But not always. E-mail may not be as rich or as tangible as the epistolary communications of half a century ago, but it's sure more lasting than the decades of evanescent telephone interactions. And online shopping is easier than being walked over at Wal-Mart or body-checked in the Barbie aisle at Toys "R" Us.

Cybercharity is my new favorite use of the medium. I have too much stuff, and so does my family. But Women In Need and the York Street Project, which support homeless women and their kids, do not. Neither do Literacy Volunteers, Planned Parenthood, Bottomless Closet or thousands of other worthy groups. Here's the difference between the mall and whatgoesaround.org: In one, everything they have I don't need or don't want. In the other, I can't stop browsing because there are so many great groups that could do so much good with the cash. And if you get an e-mail that says, "Your best friend has just made a gift to your favorite charity," you don't have to find a place to stash it later, or pretend it was just what you wanted. Because it really was.