People Have Too Much Stuff
By Cam Mather
People have too much sh*t. And by “sh*t” I mean “stuff.” I debated using that word, but that’s kind of the way I feel about it right now. Stuff is too cheap and we all have too much of it.
I’ve mentioned previously about our recent de-cluttering blitz. It started in the fall when we decided to have some of our books shipped from our printer’s warehouse to our much smaller “warehouse” here at Sunflower Farm. We had been storing them at our printer in Altona, Manitoba, which is just across the border from our U.S. distributor in Minnesota. This made it easy to move our books from our printer to our distributor. But they charge us for warehousing so we decided it was time to save some money and store some of the smaller quantities here. This meant I had to clean out the room in our guesthouse where we store our books and prepare them for shipping. I also needed to build some new shelves for the boxes of books that would soon be arriving. So the de-cluttering started slowly with recycling some extra cardboard boxes that I had saved and then I ramped it up to a full-scale war on clutter.
Around the time that I began to work on my de-cluttering project, we got some extra cable channels and I watched a few of those shows about hoarders. They showed people who couldn’t even walk through their homes because they were piled so high with “stuff.” They made me feel better about my own de-cluttering since my house looks nothing like those ones. But they also inspired me and after every show about hoarders that I watched, I picked another room and went at it with a newfound zeal.
I finally tacked my collection of clothing. I never throw anything away. I had old jeans that were full of holes. I kept them because I figured there was enough material left to use them to patch up other jeans in the future. I had t-shirts from concerts that I attended while I was in high school, probably 1978 or so. How could I throw away those? But I did and we ended up with bags of my old clothing. One day while Michelle was in town she tried to drop them in to one of those charity collection bins but it was full to the point of overflowing.
A few days later we were in Napanee and The Salvation Army Thrift Store had a big sign out front that read, “Not Taking Donations.” Really? The Salvation Army isn’t taking donations? Turns out that their store and trailer outside were filled to bursting.
Why is this? It’s because stuff is so cheap that people can afford to buy way too much new stuff. And then they end up with trunk loads of the old stuff to get rid of when the styles change next year. It’s an epidemic and it’s gross.
Over the holidays I read the book called “The Value of Nothing” by Raj Patel. There seems to be a number of books right now that discuss the idea that we don’t pay the true cost of things. If you factor in the environmental and social costs and all the “externalities,” stuff would be much more expensive. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to watch the documentary movie “Manufactured Landscapes.” When you see how goods are produced in China, you’ll probably feel physically ill the next time you’re in a dollar store and you realize the human cost of all of that cheap stuff. I don’t deny it. I have shopped at dollar stores and have often found the most unbelievably complex product on sale for a buck. It’s an economic miracle, but it comes at a cost to someone else.
It’s early in the new year and apparently everyone is decluttering, hence the inability to find a donation box that is not stuffed to overflowing. And why not? After Christmas many retailers put those great plastic storage containers on sale so that we all have a place to store our new loot. But if you run out of space in your house and have to declutter, just send it off to The Salvation Army Thrift Store. No wait … they’re not taking donations right now. I wonder how the landfills are looking these days?
I’m going to try to be a better “conserver” and a worse “consumer.” If my wardrobe looked old and tattered before, this is a scary proposition. Maybe if I iron my high school t-shirts they’ll look better. Regardless, I’m going to buy even less “stuff” than before. Especially now that I know what a challenge it is to get rid of your old, excess stuff!
Photo of charity collection box by Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons