By Seana Sperling
I don’t have a car and I don’t need one for the most part. I don’t have a house and I don’t need one (although I would love to have a real home). What I really need is a safe place to sleep, eat and take care of my animal friends. I need food, water, love, clothing, bedding and time to think, but I don’t need a lot of stuff.
What inspired some of my musings on “stuff,’ was a 1970’s routine by Comedian George Carlin. The gist of it was that people had a lot of stuff and needed a place to keep it. If we look at the expectations of average Americans, we all expect to have a certain amount of stuff. In comparison with some societies our amount of stuff is truly excessive.
I don’t need a TV, but I like to watch DVDs, so I have one. I don’t have cable and I don’t need it. I had cable briefly and it was far too distracting. There is a vast array of films that I can borrow from the library for free and I also have Netflix. I don’t need a computer, but it is helpful for editing articles, so I have one. I don’t have an active cellphone. I bought two cheapos a few years ago, but they are not activated. (There is scientific evidence that cellphone frequencies are harming our Bee population.) I have a landline, which for the most part I do not need either. I don’t have Internet. I can use the Internet for free at the library or pay for it at a café if I need it.
For a while during the 1980s I didn’t have a phone, a car, a TV, much furniture, but my life was very full. I rented and had work, school, my friends, the anti-nuke/anti-war group I belonged to and two bicycles. Some of my friends would get so frustrated that I didn’t have a phone. Then my mother bought me a TV for Christmas (even though she knew I didn’t want one). They all felt I needed more stuff.
In the new millennium there are even higher expectations in our society about stuff. It is unusual for a steadily employed person of my age not to own a car. It is also unusual for a person in my circumstance not to have a furnished house. “Where’s your stuff?” people ask, “That’s downright un-American!” Oh, I get by.
In the past when I have had to move, I’d think, “Where did I get all this crap?’ (It’s only crap when you have to move it otherwise it is still stuff.) Then comes the separation anxiety when you have to release some of the stuff. “These yard sale dishes with the chickens on them could come in handy someday.” “Of course I need four wrenches.” Thus I end up moving stuff that I won’t use.
I am trying to train myself to release stuff occasionally. I have to. I am an indefatigable yard sale hound. Last summer I began by donating the contents of my storage unit to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for their rummage sale. Letting go of stuff felt really good. However, trying to round up a vehicle to pick up that stuff took some doing, but the Sisters found a driver willing to do it. (One of the few times owning a car would have come in handy.) I was able to unload quite a bit that day last summer, but alas, it is now winter and I have filled the storage unit again with more stuff.
Why do we need so much stuff? Why do I keep filling my storage unit with treasures from yard sales that I may never use? Why would any person need more than one car? Why does John McCain need seven homes? Why did Imelda Marcos need so many shoes? Why was Marcia always the popular one?
Is it greed, a deficit in character or self esteem? Why does our society put so much value on what we own or what other’s own? Are we trying to compensate for a lack of something else?