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Friday, October 23, 2009

My Stuff Has Stuff

I wouldn't call myself a pack rat necessarily, in fact I hate clutter. Our house is always tidy, but I do have a desk I can barely see the surface of because it is covered with piles of paperwork and our garage has way too many plastic storage containers of God knows what. The bottom line is I have too much stuff!

I keep movie, concert and sporting event ticket stubs, thank you cards, wedding invitations, restaurant business cards and other little mementos. I used to put these things lovingly into scrap books, but then I had big bulky scrap books and no where to store them. Plus, they were a pain-in-the-neck to move. Now, these are keepsakes are stuffed in a drawer. I started collecting Christmas decorations back in high school and I haven't even put up a tree in over five years. That will change, now that I have a child, but you and I both know I don't need that much holiday cheer. I have more tank tops, pajamas and pairs of jeans than I will ever wear and more books than I will ever read, but I just keep buying more because I love them.

Now that I have a baby, I have baby stuff and lots of it. My latest stuff dilemma is whether I should get rid of the clothes you have outgrown already or keep them in a - you guessed it, plastic storage bin for our next child? And what if I keep them all and we have a girl? Will be be so lucky to have a third and there's a 50% chance that she'll be a girl too.

I have so much stuff that my stuff has stuff! I have always known this, but it became a lot more clear when my parents died and my sister and I had to go through not one, but two of their homes full of their stuff. Initially, it was difficult to decide what to do with all of their belongings. We wanted to make sure that everything was carefully sorted through and that the items neither of us wanted were donated to the appropriate places. During this process, which we are still in the middle of, I realized that their stuff...books, photos, dishes, clothes, wall hangings, school supplies, nick knacks, etc. was just that...stuff and it didn't define them. It wasn't who they were, it wasn't what I would remember or carry in my hearts now that they were gone. After having this epiphany, it made it easier to let go of the inanimate objects and in most cases downright junk! After all, how many water bottles, beach towels, or hammers does one household need anyway?

I know I'm not alone, I think most people in America have too much stuff. We are painfully addicted to buying new stuff and with each new purchase we consume more non-renewable resources, pollute the planet, and create lots of garbage. Why?

Over the years, stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven't changed correspondingly. We overvalue stuff.

The worst kind of stuff is the stuff we own that we consider "too good" to use...our fine china, overpriced perfume, expensive pearls, good linens, Tiffany wine glasses, all the stuff we save for when family comes to visit or special occasions. What are we saving it for? It's just sitting there collecting dust and it's all replaceable if broken.

The better question is, how did this affair we all have with stuff get started?

Orion magazine’s excellent article by Jeffrey Kaplan, titled, The Gospel of Consumption, sheds some light on the problem’s history. In the late 1920s, after the war, America had excess manufacturing capacity. We began to invent needs rather than fulfill them. Kaplan writes:

"In a 1927 interview with the magazine
Nation’s Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called “need saturation.” Davis noted that 'the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months’ operation each year' and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year’s supply of footwear. The magazine went on to suggest, 'It may be that the world’s needs ultimately will be produced by three days’ work a week.'

"President Herbert Hoover’s 1929 Committee on Recent Economic Changes observed in glowing terms the results: “By advertising and other promotional devices...a measurable pull on production has been created which releases capital otherwise tied up.” They celebrated the conceptual breakthrough: “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.”

"Our modern predicament is a case in point. By 2005 per capita household spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) was twelve times what it had been in 1929, while per capita spending for durable goods — the big stuff such as cars and appliances — was thirty-two times higher. And according to reports by the Federal Reserve Bank in 2004 and 2005, over 40 percent of American families spend more than they earn. The average household carries $18,654 in debt, not including home-mortgage debt, and the ratio of household debt to income is at record levels, having roughly doubled over the last two decades. We are quite literally working ourselves into a frenzy just so we can consume all that our machines can produce."

We know our unsustainable rate of consumption impoverishes the planet; it also does the same to our souls. All the “stuff” we lust after does not tend to make us happier.

"We have impoverished our human communities with a form of materialism that leaves us in relative isolation from family, friends, and neighbors. We simply don’t have time for them. Unlike our great-grandparents who passed the time, we spend it. An outside observer might conclude that we are in the grip of some strange curse, like a modern-day King Midas whose touch turns everything into a product built around a microchip."

Kaplan reminds us that time is also a non-renewable resource. Perhaps, by conserving time, we’d have time enough to realize what makes us truly happy.

Read the full story in
Orion magazine by clicking here.

Call it keeping up with the Joneses, an insatiable need to have the next big thing, the latest and greatest, or simply trying to fill a void, too much stuff, is too much. I believe that it's the people we surround ourselves with, the meaningful conversations we have them, the places we travel to, our life accomplishments and the books we read that are the elements that make us happy, not all the stuff. I don't know about you, but it's time for me to purge.


The best is yet to be.

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2 Comments:

Blogger mamacoreenie said...

My advice for the baby clothes LMW has outgrown is make two piles:
1. the things you can live without (the non-designer brand name stuff, the non-sentimental items and/or the generic tees and onsies that are inexpensive to re-purchase).
2. the things you might want to save for a second child.

Donate pile one to Goodwill or take the items to a second-hand place like Mother's Secret and sell them or give them to a friend who is expecting a boy.

Keep pile two in a tidy storage bin until you get pregnant with your second child. If it is a boy, great, you are ahead of the baby-purchasing game but if it is a girl, go through the pile again and save the sentimental pieces to give your son when he has a son. And then donate the rest to goodwill or another friend who may be having a boy.

A friend of mine got the best gift from her mom at her baby shower (she was having a girl). Her mom had saved some of her baby clothes so when she found out she was having a grandaughter (the first), she went old photos and found pics of her daughter wearing the baby clothes and pinned a copy of the picture on the outfits and gave them as a gift at the shower. So cute and so sentimental.

October 23, 2009 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Leah said...

Going through mom and dad's house definitely showed me just how much stuff was in their lives. There was stuff EVERYWHERE!
While I may have a lot of stuff, I am constantly purging and getting rid of things. I have gone to a goodwill center near my apartment lots!! And as I look around my room, I think the most important things in here are the pictures that I have. I love pictures of my friends and family. I don't think I would care if anything happened to any of my other stuff, but if those pictures were destroyed, I would be crushed! Oh, and my music collection too is important to me! Haha

I guess the one good thing about moving is that it forces you to get rid of a lot. I look forward to doing that in February.

October 24, 2009 at 5:17 PM  

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