Monday, February 8, 2010

So. Much. Stuff.

Where did we get all this stuff?

A rather probing question from the 3-year-old perched beside me on the couch, analyzing her panoramic view.

Toys and appliances, pictures and curtains, books and shoes, food boxes and furniture, papers, papers, papers. Each item is the cover image to its own story – origin, journey, and acquisition.

Some of these stories are very short, contents thickened only by bare facts: The couch was made in Canada, sold in Madison. We bought it with our Obama money. Two men delivered and set it up. The end.

Other narratives read longer, imbued with meaning and memory: The wooden box by the door, home to our hats and mittens? My mom stenciled the sheep on there. She used to collect sheep knick-knacks when I was a kid. She was also really into stenciling. She used some fabric from our old living room couch to upholster the box's lid. I remember jumping on those couch cushions, using them as "rocks" to cross the hot lava that was the living room floor. I can't remember when I asked if I could have the box, but it was probably one of those scenes Mom is famous for – you casually compliment a shirt she's wearing and she sends you home with it.

Sometimes useful, sometimes pretty, sometimes just clutter, stuff fills our living spaces. We use it, we look at it, we shuffle it around. But mostly, we hardly consider it – our stuff blends into the backdrops of our lives.

But what will happen to all of this stuff? Much of it will be used up or handed down, grown out of or grown sick of. Much of it will disappear as today becomes ten years from now, purged into the landfill or given over to Goodwill.

And we will get more.

Whole to replace the broken, fashionable to replace the outdated, sized up to replace the too small.

But what if we had to take it all outside and pile it in our front yards? Would our personal mountains elevate or embarrass? Then add to that pile all the stuff we ever owned, even if disappeared long ago into the great void of oh, we got rid of that. We'd each have our own chain of mountains.


I feel proud to say that we work hard for what we have. I feel privileged to say that we have everything we need.

And I really like getting new stuff, too.

But I'm not proud of our use it up, throw it out society. Of the more, more, more mentality that inevitably envelopes our kids.

Unethical? Irresponsible? I think so.

And I think we can make some changes.

I'm not proposing that we buy nothing, but I think it makes sense to think harder about every purchase. Do we need this? Can we use something we already have in a more creative way? Do we have to buy this new, or can we find it second-hand? Can we create a memory or honor a special day by doing something rather than getting/giving something?

Because really, our stuff illustrates stories that have little to do with the solid state.