ODE TO STUFF
There was a time back when I was a kid that I desperately wanted a new bicycle. I had inherited a hand me down bike from my brother which was a wreck. It was so bad that I couldn’t even use it on my paper route, and I was convinced that alone should justify a new one. In spite of all that I did not get another bike, and I never got over it. I was envious of all my friends with their shiny new bikes with basket in front, carrier in back, horns, lights, and some even with whitewall tires. That same feeling occurs yet today when a Porsche 911 zooms past me (I never got one of those either).
That bikeless childhood I hold responsible for my lifelong quest for stuff, a small portion for which I actually had some pressing need. I have been rather successful in my quest for I now find we have a mountain of stuff. This does create some problems as the few things we need are frequently buried somewhere amidst all that stuff. In order to counter that problem we always look for a special place for important things, and promptly forget the location of that special place. The result is that we never lose anything unless it is important.
CONFESSION IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL
My addiction to stuff is little different from other types. This desire to procure stuff is fueled by the expectation that its possession will make me joyful (what Freud called the pleasure principal); however I soon learned that whatever good feeling results will be transient. Of course this explanation is not some wondrous insight, but such understanding did little to affect my need to accumulate more stuff until a few years ago when I realized that stuff was not like money as in the more the better, but at some point it became a liability rather than an asset.
With this understanding of my problem, I decided to go cold turkey, and vowed to cease and desist from accruing any more stuff unless in dire need. In spite of my best efforts, I must confess that I have relapsed on several occasions and succumbed to those same old primal urges to possess more stuff. To my credit, after a brief period of remorse I have always been able to renew my pledge, and now have been free of frivolous purchases for over six months. Barb may question that statement for she is aware that I recently ordered a soap dish for the shower from Amazon for $3.24, but I defend that purchase as a definite need to prevent me from using a bar of soap as a mini skateboard.
Unfortunately the accumulation of stuff is only part of the problem. After one is in recovery one must cope with the problem of undoing what has been done, by finding a way to dispose of the clutter. Recently, my otherwise charming wife defied me by agreeing to partner with a friend to have a garage sale. She did this without consultation and in clear violation of a solemn vow we had made more than thirty years ago to never ever have another garage sale. Since her commitment had already been made, as an all around good guy who is aware of who does the most cooking here, and in the name of marital harmony , I threw myself into the fray. The upside to this debacle was that it forced us to dig into that mountain and decide of what we could rid ourselves.
TOIL AND TROUBLE
As the saying goes this is the point at which the rubber hits the road. Decisions prove to be more difficult and the resolve to disinfect is tested to the fullest. There is the pull of sentiment connected to useless items, the “one of the kids might be able to use this” rationalization, and the infamous always fatal “I might need this later” betrayal. Barb and I collaborated on the mission to ready ourselves for the grand opening and were able to counter many of each other’s objections to letting go of particular items, and in the end the garage was wall to wall stuff.
The sale as expected was not a rousing success, but Barb had an opportunity to socialize with a variety of potential customers which allowed me to hide from the operation. We had been able to dispose of some stuff, but by the quantity left behind it did not appear we had made a great deal of progress. The idea of finding holes in which to stick the left over merchandise was anathema so we were able to find a charitable organization who mercifully agreed to pick up all the left overs.
IT’S NOT ALL MY FAULT
There are outside influences that encourage our collection of stuff. Advertisers have long known about that pleasure principal thing Freud talked about; however television added a new dimension. Everything from kitchen gadgets to condominiums were shown by the beautiful people and the inference was that you too could have a happier and easier life with the help of this latest tool, furnishing, item of clothing, or automobile etc.
Our economy is based on consumerism. Its health is measured by the Gross National Product i.e. the total amount of goods and services produced by a country in a year, and of course there is a direct correlation between production and consumption. Consequently; shopping to buy more stuff is the patriotic thing to do. As a matter of fact that is what our president asked us to do in the aftermath of nine eleven.
Our younger generation consume without accumulating a lot of stuff. They generally are not as interested in Grandma’s silver as were previous generations. Brides often prefer to be registered at Walmart for their gifts. They preside over the “throw-away society”, and are more interested in function and cost rather than form.
THINK OF THE MONEY I COULD HAVE SAVED
The latest iteration of this philosophy are the minimalists whose gospel is that possessions take up time and effort that could be used in other pursuits more meaningful as in relationships and other activities which will promote a calmer and happier life. They posit that materialism is largely an ego thing (catching up with the Joneses). More extreme is the “tiny house movement” where houses are built usually with less than six hundred square feet of floor space. Such a house would certainly solve the problem of too much stuff.
Although these guys may be a bit extreme, I can appreciate their ideas every time I open a closet, go to my basement, or even worse open the door to my attic. Where were they when I needed them?