stuff



We have too much stuff.

By 'we' I mean me. Us. North Americans, Europeans, Aussies and middle to upper class members of any other first world nation.

A friend recently moved back to Montreal from L.A. She managed to fit her life into six boxes. The essentials, she said.

The only good thing about moving is the purge. I plan one of gigantic proportions the next time around.

I grew up in a house where everything was saved. Every yogurt container, every plastic bag, every art class painting, Christmas card and macaroni cardboard statue. Every notebook, elastic band and used birthday candle.

My parents' basement is still filled with stuff. There are boxes of unused Avon products under the pool table, pennants from family vacations, transistor radios, a filing cabinet (full of papers, maps, and research), a guitar, cupboards full of board games, a lot of paperbacks, an old stereo, a few coffee tables, old winter coats, puzzles mounted with glue on plywood, spare chairs, extra pillows, a bar with shooter glasses, ashtrays and a jar full of bottle caps. There are spare blankets, old laundry baskets, too many towels, and five kinds of shampoo in the guest shower. Their freezer could very well have bags of perogies and raspberries in hiding from the 1980's. It's too full to tell.

The garage is also full of stuff. Fishing rods, tools, tennis rackets, cross country skies, pails, lids, bits of wood, scrap metal, bikes, golf clubs, a minivan, two cat beds, tackle boxes, baseball bats, badminton rackets, a barbeque, lawn chairs, a fridge, boxes of old blankets for the Humane Society, a tarp for the boat that was sold ten years ago, a tent, spare tires, flower pots, and a bunch of gardening tools.

Behind the garage sits a camper van, a rain barrel, garbage cans, chicken wire, containers and a few buckets.

And there's a shed out back in the far corner of the garden that houses various rakes, a fence, more lawn chairs, a pair of crutches, a garden hose, floor mats, rubber boots, oars, some carpet, a watering can, a spare gas can, another hose, a lawn bowling set, and some iron stakes.

It's how things go. It adds up over time.

I don't want a big house because I lose enough crap in the small two bedroom apartment I currently live in. Why? Because there is too much of it.

A trend is upon us where thrifty, green folk are opting to live in smaller spaces. I mean 600 sq' places. Google “tiny homes” and you’ll see what I mean.

It is our obsession with stuff that allows shows like A&E’s Hoarders get produced. It’s how companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK exist. It has allowed Value Village to have a 54 year history and they continue to evolve. It’s why Toronto ships its garbage to Michigan.

Nineteen years ago I went to Europe with a backpack. It too, was filled with too much stuff. I took a detour and ended up living on a kibbutz in Israel for a while. From there I went to Egypt for three weeks and took only my day pack, leaving my large bag in storage. The small pack filled with very few items of clothing and sunscreen. It was enough. Granted it was March in the desert, but still.

I’ve read that a woman only needs a few essentials in her closet. The list runs anywhere from six to twelve things that could include the following: a good suit, a crisp white shirt, jeans, tee shirts in black, white and one “fun” colour, a leather jacket, a trench coat (neutral in colour), a little black dress (LBD), boots, black pumps, ballet flats, jewelry, and a medium sized handbag.

I've got a lot more than twelve items in my closet. But I have also been doing a test. Since February I've stopped buying clothes. I don’t need anything more. I caved and bought a top at a second hand shop and in July I bought two pairs of sandals. (A change in job description meant I needed some functional, comfortable shoes.) I still have too many boots. I just bought a new pair ⎯ flat, functional yet stylish ⎯ because I just gave my flat functional yet stylish black boots (along with a second pair) to Value Village. I also bought two pairs of pants at Value Village while looking for a Halloween costume ⎯which I never ended up getting.

So my test failed. But I bought a lot fewer clothes than last year.

You don't realize how many cars are being produced until you end up doing a video shoot on a factory line at a GM plant. This was a few years ago. I'm sure they've slowed down, and it's about time.

How much do we really need?

We need food, shelter, clean water and clothing.
We need love, warmth, light and purpose.
We need health and laughter and kind words.
We need peace, understanding, compassion and education.
We don't need more cars.

But we do like our stuff. Our collections, souvenirs, decorations and electronics. Our gadgets and doodads and chuchkas and lucky charms.

We like our stuff and we are conditioned to want more. We think we never have enough.

And then we hear about people like Allen and Violet Large. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2010/11/04/ns-allen-violet-large-lottery-winning.html.

The world stops in shock to stare at them because they won over $11 million and gave all but 2% of it away. They didn’t buy a new car, take a trip or get a microwave. They have everything they need.

They have enough.

What it comes down to is this:

All that stuff you have…is stuff you can't take with you.