Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Burden of Stuff

I read recently that people in our society today tend to have more belongings than ever before. This was pitched in an “evils of materialism” sort of way. But I believe there’s a truth behind this that is not evil, just part of the fact of living.

See back in the post World War II era, the government deliberately encouraged us to become a nation of consumers, for the benefit of the economy. Material goods were made available in abundance, and advertising generated the desire for those goods. Our parents and grandparents bought those items and accumulated them, and now they are dying and leaving all that junk for us to deal with.

I recently visited the home of a middle-aged woman who has an entire room full of boxes, lamps and furniture. She’s having a hard time getting rid of it all, because it’s stuff she basically inherited. Anyone who has ever had to go through the belongings of a deceased loved one knows how painful that can be.

So my point is that the reason we are burdened by so much stuff is not just because we are mindless consumers, but because we have so much old stuff from our ancestors to process. If anything, I’d guess that today’s young people are even less enthralled by material possessions than ever. They can buy books and music digitally, and the majority of their social life and entertainment is on their smartphone or laptop.

Ultimately the real problem isn’t the stuff itself, but our attachment to it. Well, there’s the landfill problem of course, but that just takes someone with my daughter’s interest in making art from garbage to figure out.

I asked her what this is and she said, “I know exactly what it is, but it’s hard to explain.”