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Is Anybody Else Tired of Buying and Owning Stuff?

We are suffocating in stuff, physically, psychologically and spiritually.

Economy and Finance

Is Anybody Else Tired of Buying and Owning Stuff?

I know this is a sacrilegious question, but is anybody else tired of buying and owning stuff? Is anybody else tired of dealing with all the junk cluttering up every corner of the room/house/nation?

Has anyone else noticed we have surplus stuff coming out our ears? And that therefore we don’t really need any more stuff? Has anyone noticed the psychological consequences of constantly buying and managing possessions? Here is how correspondent B.D. recently put it:

Kids have a melt-down when they don’t have the latest iteration of the (insert trendy electronica here) or if they are asked to tidy up the gargantuan collection of “stuff” they are slowly suffocating themselves with. Most kids these days don’t have bedrooms anymore … they have a small warehouse of goods in which they have a sleeping space.

Everybody has a warehouse of goods, even “poor” households. Of the four households on my block with one-car garages, we’re the only ones who actually park a car in the garage. Everyone else’s garage is jammed with stuff. And this is not an upscale neighborhood, it’s working-class/renters.

Have you been to one of the many gigantic swap meets recently? You know, the kind with hundreds of sellers hawking everything under the sun. Our young friends (newlyweds renting one bedroom in a house, they don’t own a car, both seeking fulltime work but currently living on one-part time job) recently described their visit to just such a sprawling cornucopia of over-consumption.

People are selling any and everything to raise some cash: birds, snakes, used iPhones, laptop computers, clothing, furniture, you name it. A guy was selling a guitar for $15. Our friend offered $5. The seller took $8. $8 for an acoustic guitar. Granted it was a cheap one, but $8? Was it even worth hauling it to the swap meet for $8? A set of strings costs $4.

“Almost new” bicycles–again, cheap, poor-quality versions–were being sold for $35. You can’t even buy a replacement bicycle wheel for $35.

Were these stolen goods? Our friend asked the seller how he could sell bikes for so little money. The seller replied that he buys the contents of abandoned storage lockers for a few dollars and then sells the contents. (Apparently there is a reality TV show based on this process of acquiring the contents of abandoned storage lockers.)

This raises an interesting question: why bother stealing stuff when it is basically worthless? Smash-and-grab burglars are only stealing electronics (and jewelry if it is laying around in plain sight). Nothing else is worth stealing. Bicycle thieves abound, of course, but they’re picky as well: a rusty made-in-China bike with a cheap (and easily snipped) cable lock will be left untouched; only the expensive bikes will be ripped off.

As I keep saying: what’s scarce is not stuff, it’s cash and reliable income streams. People are trying to convert stuff into cash, but it’s tough because there is a surplus of stuff.

No wonder organizations that promote giving stuff away such as Freesharing.org are so popular. People are giving up trying to get any cash at all for old TVs, etc.; they are delighted if someone hauls it away for free.

Is anyone else sick of the “buying experience”? No wonder online buying has become so ubiquitous–the experience of shopping to acquire stuff is a form of torture, at least to some of us. Getting there is a nightmare (unless I can bike to the store), parking is a hassle, clerks generally don’t know much, and the selection is often limited or skewed to the high end. The “fun” is in leaving empty-handed.

I suppose other people can’t wait to get a new mobile phone; I live in dread that my old “dumb” phone will expire and force me into buying another one. Ditto for everything else we own.

There is so much stuff floating around America that we end up with stuff we didn’t buy or even ask for–old laptops, bicycles (abandoned on our property, left by neighbors moving away, left to us by elderly neighbors who passed on, etc.) and clothing, to mention but a few of of the things that we have “inherited.”

I make a point to be a “good citizen” by taking outdated printers, modems and other electronics to the recycling yard; others aren’t so civic-minded, as proven by the piles of high-tech detritus that litter street corners and dumpsites around the nation.

When the university students leave town in May, dumpster after dumpster is filled with broken Ikea furniture and old mattresses, many of recent vintage. It isn’t worth hauling any of it home. They will buy more future-landfill at Ikea when they settle down somewhere else.

My new mantra is “please don’t give us anything we won’t consume in a few days.” What with all the insecurity in the world, a lot of people have assembled stashes of precious metals. Quite frankly, I don’t want physical wealth I have to store, manage, protect, etc. I am not at all sure I want any “wealth” at all other than the “wealth” of productive land, a functioning infrastructure / civil society, and the “wealth” of freedom of movement and choice.

I just want to get rid of stuff, not acquire more. I welcome the digital age because “entertainment” no longer requires physical collections. I have already accepted that most digital stuff will be lost with time, just like physical stuff. Who wants to lug around 50 years of digital files? Yes, it might fit on a small drive, but who will sort through it all or even look at it/listen to it?

The clutter of all this stuff, physical and digital, clouds the mind and spirit. I think it was Sartre who noted that our possessions own us, not the other way around. I am tired of being possessed by possessions, of any kind or nature. I would be delighted if the can of WD-40 in the toolshed lasts the rest of my life. If it doesn’t, then I will replace it, grudgingly.

More than likely, I will find an almost-full can in somebody’s trash, along with everything else anyone could possibly want. The only thing missing from sorting through all that’s been abandoned is the drug-like “hit” of the purchase. Sadly for a consumerist society, some of us are immune to that potent drug.

Many others will suffer consumerist withdrawals as the cash and credit needed to complete the purchase become increasingly scarce.

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Contributed by Charles Hugh Smith of Of Two Minds.


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