I’d say people in the future will be laughing at how silly our society is when it comes to stuff, but then again I don’t know that people in the future will be any better. We have such a love/hate relationship to our stuff, spending lots of money and time and energy acquiring more stuff, and then spending more time and energytending to our stuff, and spend more money and time and energy disposing of our stuff every so often. I have a growing ound of stuff right now in my living room, as I work my way through the current apartment weeding out the stuff I won’t be taking with me to the next apartment. If this pile of stuff were instantly transported to some impoverished part of Africa or Bhutan, the materials all this stuff represent would not be allowed to go to waste. By their standards this pile of rejected stuff represents my wealth, that I can afford to discard so much useful stuff. But, by my standard all this stuff just is more weight to drag along as I move to someplace new. I can’t just leave here with the clothes on my back, and my cat, because the landlord would have a fit if I just left all this stuff here. I spent all those hours, too, acquiring all my stuff, and invested some of this stuff with memories, so maybe it is worth bringing along some, but not all of the mass of stuff I ‘own’ with me, while rejecting ownership of the rest and conveying it to someplace where other folks might find and adopt it all.
This is maybe the point in my rant where I ought to go off on a tangent about materialism and greed and how terrible our society is because we are so materialistic. Well, the very fact that we do leave piles of our stuff behind says that maybe our ‘materialism’ is a bit complicated. In fact, I’d say that our problem lies not in our lust for stuff, but in our lack of community. I am moving ~200 miles away to a different town, to try once again to make a decent life for myself. I have hundreds of friends here, and really do feel like I have been part of a community to some extent, but I am leaving because this community is only on the surface, and there is not much under that surface that really binds the people here into something sustaining. I recently read a book series about a fictional town called Mitford (the Mitford series, by Jan Karon) in which the people of Mitford (or at least a few of them) had a community. They were actually involved in each other’s lives, and knew their neighbors and had a sense of shared history. Actually, if you think about the size of Mitford, and how few of its residents were actually involved in the story, maybe not everyone in Mitford enjoyed the same sense of community, but reading those books, you could at least get the idea.
Where I live now, no one knows their neighbors, and even among my friends, few of them know where my apartment is. Some of them know I have a cat, and a few of my friends half-heartedly try to watch for potential tutoring clients for me. If I moved without telling any of them I was going away, it might take months before many of my friends here really knew I was gone. And, for most of them all this is business as usual. Our society is all about being independent and having one’s space. So, we each collect piles of stuff that give us the illusion of a full life, while creating and maintaining barriers to keep out all but a select few friends.
We keep kitchens full of pots and pans, enough kitchen ware to cook enough food for a block party, yet most of the time we only use a tiny fraction of all that kitchen stuff. We keep piles of extra blankets just in case it gets cold, but we are increasingly terrible at finding and building warm, lasting relationships with people who might help keep our blankets warm. We collect stacks of DVDs and CDs and video games and keep some sort of artificially supplied noise going throughout the day, but in so many of our houses if those TVs and computers were turned off, we would be left in silence. All the noise of life- the noise of animals and children and friendly conversation and companionship- all that is kept to a minimum so we can enjoy the noises of actors pretending to live such lives as we avoid. The problem is not that we crave stuff, but that we crave companionship and community and use stuff to help us forget that we need people.