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I’m the bass player for a local old time string band and we had a gig last night at an auction house that’s located in Kingsport. There was SO MUCH CRAP there; it lined all the walls, and spilled over onto the porch area of the auction house, then on into the parking lot and a couple of large trailers as well. No, this wasn’t nice, resellable stuff folks, it was last week’s leftovers. I give serious effort to buying used when I do need to buy something, so yard sales and thrift stores are my go to source for almost everything. But it turns out this place holds auctions every Friday and Saturday night, and occasionally on Tuesday evening as well. It’s just one small little auction house, but I’d venture to say there are similar ones in practically every town in the US. I’ve always felt personally offended that our society is referred to as ‘consumers’ now, rather than the much nicer sounding ‘citizens’ that we used to be collectively called. But seeing all the stuff that had somehow ended up at that auction left me no doubt we’ve earned that title. It left me with a feeling that I can’t quite explain, but there was a profound sadness that stayed with me through the whole evening. Seeing the once-treasured items at the auction house, cast aside now for newer things, made me realize anew how many resources are used and disposed of, how much money is earned and spent, and how much of our life energy is spent working to purchase stuff that begins to lose it’s shine almost immediately.
Our society seems to identify so strongly with our stuff. But is anyone ever, truly, satisfied? I’ve spent over a dozen years trying to decide for myself, “How much is enough?”. Many days I feel completely satisfied with all that I have. But then that new book comes out, and I find myself yearning for it. Or a new seed variety is introduced, and suddenly, I’m questioning my old tried and true heirloom beans! I suppose some of that is simply human nature, but much of it is due to marketing by the brilliant, creative minds whose very paychecks depend on appealing to my sense of deprivation or feeling of need. Studies have shown over and over that it would take about 5 planets to provide everyone on earth with the same things that we U.S. ‘consumers’ consume. We Americans long ago crossed the line between need and greed.
I’ve found that by staying away from as many forms of advertising media as I possibly can helps tremendously with squelching the flames of desire that they’re designed to create. Even so, I’m forever seeing new forms of it slipping into my stream of consciousness: it’s on the back of doors in women’s bathroom stalls, printed on airline airsickness bags, and stamped on fresh fruits and eggshells! I wouldn’t be surprised if there is advertising on condoms, bars of soap or toilet paper. Nothing is sacred or safe from the pandering. By staying out of stores, not watching TV, and by opting out of unwanted catalogs, I manage to avoid the temptations those media offer-a lot of it anyway. But when I do succumb to the lure of ‘something new’, I’ve found that if I can practice ‘delayed gratification’ for a week or so, the thing I was lured to is no longer as appealing and I’m often able to resist the siren call to own it.
After having lived in homes with lots of rooms and extra storage, I found out just how easy it was to fill all those extra spaces with stuff-stuff that was often bought on credit. But just like an alcoholic trying to find happiness in the bottom of his bottle, my happiness wasn’t found in the bottom of a shopping cart. There will always be yet another ‘pretty thing’ or good deal to replace it.
After hearing several times about the television show ‘Hoarders’, I saw it during our recent trip to California. I felt so saddened by what I saw, that I could only watch about 20 minutes of it. I was saddened not only for the poor folks that are drowning in their crap, but I felt like a voyeur, as sick as the hoarders themselves.
By choice, I now live in a modest (by most standards) house and refuse to go into debt for anything. Yet I still have to be ever viligent about having ‘too much stuff’ and periodically have to declutter-again! I look at the downsizing and decluttering as a spiritual practice; giving away my excess to hopefully help someone in need, and conserving the earth’s resources for future generations is pretty powerful for me. And of course, I regularly ask myself: “How much is enough?” I think I know the answer now.
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