Thursday, June 25, 2009

Too much stuff

When my husband and I were first married, quite poor, and unemployed, there was no "plastic" money. If the money wasn't in the wallet, it didn't get spent. We went to a couple of sales and found a few items to sit on or at for our little rental house. We had been given money for a bed and some linens for wedding presents, some kitchen items, so we were all set. The really nice thing was that we weren't burdened with a ton of stuff when we were able to move to a nicer rental place a year later.

Now we own too much stuff. I suppose many of us do. Will anybody else admit this? Raise your hand. We still own too much stuff after making some considerable effort to clean out, give and throw away stuff. My biggest motivator in this effort is my mom's old house, which my grandmother moved into in about 1916 and which my mother inherited in 1973. Neither woman nor their families ever threw out anything. Guess which generation now has to deal with this? Things that could have sentimental meaning, but were relegated to a drawer for years, just don't mean that much. I'm thinking of my father's baptismal dress. I'm not going to frame it and hang it in my house.

If you want to see the ultimate in TOO MUCH STUFF, you could come to the huge sale that will start tomorrow at our local school. The local branch of an international charitable organization puts on this annual sale, using the school facilities to display the goods. Each year more has been donated and now the goods have outgrown the space. The smaller items such as baskets, dishes, kitchen ware, decorations, more books than a used book store, and smaller tools fill the gym, wall to wall.

There are three outside tents and three hallways with lots of used furniture, appliances, wood stoves, and grills. Another tent covers a number of bicycles. There are enough Nordic Trak ski machines to allot one to every 100 people in town. They are priced at only about $2 - 10. And if you added in the rest of the exercise devices, there'd be one for every 30 people. There are boats. Not toy boats; real boats. True antiques are priced high, but everything else must go and the prices reflect this.

If I were starting out again, I might be able to furnish a place even cheaper than we did so many years ago. It is hard to imagine that the people in this small town could donate so many items, but I think it reflects the excesses we have these days and the desire for new things that our culture instills in us. That leaves plenty to give away. The money collected from this sale will probably be over $25,000, based on past experiences. Most of it will benefit local causes.

Too much Stuff? How is it that so many of us get so much stuff and still think we don't have enough to donate more money to our churches or save enough for retirement or give to other good causes? The one thing that I think has happened is that impulse buying is now the norm, using plastic, so we just are able to buy without thinking of money or space. I am reflecting on the contrast to what we saw in Uganda where the people own so little. They own so little that they lock their doors to prevent thievery if they are poor, and if they are rich, by contrast, they surround their little home with a concrete wall topped with sharp glass. It is pretty easy to take either a spiritual or political lesson from that!


  1. My home was built by my Grandparents in 1903 and when they died, it became my Mom's home. As the only child, I then "inherited" the old place and my kids and I moved in here in 1979, shortly after my Mom died. I can definitely attest to the accumulation of things from my Grandma and my Mom. Add to this the fact my Mom was as close to being a total packrat as one could be. I moved my furniture in, ditched some of the old furnishing that were beyond use, beyond repair and began my own tryst here then as a new generation of packratedness. In 1991, the attic finally got cleared out thanks to the fact my son accidentally caught the house on fire and it destroyed one bedroom, heavily damaged the other two and the attic's contents were rendered very useles, beyond salvage. I joked that I'd always wanted to get it cleaned out and the best way to get around to doing that is probably if there is a fire. Now, my daughter, her husband, their two little ones and his 17-year-old daughter all live with me and guess what? That attic is stuffed to the brim, virtually to the point of overflow, really. Clothes, baby things, toys, books and yes, even a few odds and end pieces of furniture have managed to make their way up into that area. And we don't have that much, by comparison to what a lot of other folks have but still, it's way more than we needed or need now, for sure. It does seem being a packrat is hereditary though because my daughter is probably an even bigger hoarder of things than my Mom, Grandma and me all put together!

  2. Fortunately our house doesn't have an attic, but the garage does. It seems to me that area is in total disorganization, but I blame my husband for that...and I let him know whenever he says something about an area I'm in charge of. :-) One conclusion I've come to is that if I can't deal with the stuff when I'm still semi-energetic and semi-limber, I'm sure not going to be able to deal with it when I'm old. I think that my mom just gave up and ignored her stuff. But if we said anything about "too many rocking chairs" she couldn't envision what we meant, even as we tripped over the rockers. She was definitely imprinted by the depression. But, OTOH, you could be affected by that era and come out more generous and want to give stuff to other people.

  3. We went through the thing with my parent's home and Betty's parents home. We are determined to leave our children very little to get rid of other than the furniture. Our rule now is if it wasn't used in a year out it goes.

  4. I have been thinking about this, about myself, and generally about "us" for a loong time. we have too much stuff.

    I think my husband is pretty careful about using plastic for new "stuff", but because we married later, we both came with a lot separately.

    I'm having some trouble feeling claustrophobic amid the "stuff."


And what do you think?