We Are Consumed By Our Stuff

While I was flipping through a BrainQuest card deck with Chase today, I came across the card shown here. At once, I became speechless. It’s supposed to be a learning tool for 2-to-3-year-olds, yet it’s already trying to indoctrinate them with capitalism, consumerism, and materialism. How devious.

But we adults in the Western world have already succumbed to this. Recently my wife witnessed a family packing up their stuff in preparation for an overseas move, and she found stuff upon stuff all over their house. It took almost a week of constant packing, with people constantly visiting the house to take away free and unwanted stuff, yet still there’s lots of stuff left over. Among all the stuff, my wife found 7 rolls of aluminum foil paper and 100 mugs for that small family.

Mind you, I’m not trying to point a finger at this family, because it’s really just the same story for all of us living the suburban life. Personally, I dread the day that my family would move, because we too have been stuffed up with lots and lots of stuff. Most everyone I know are “stuff accumulators” to a certain degree, and some are even obsessive about getting stuff. I found this great quote from an article entitled “Possession Obsession”, which aptly sums up our stuff-oriented lives: “I spend far too much time buying stuff, maintaining the stuff I’ve bought and getting rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff. A friend suggested I need a bigger house. What I need is less stuff.”

An extreme case was a news story in which a 77-year-old British shopaholic died under a pile of her purchases. It took a search team 2 days to sift through all her possessions before they could find her body buried under a pile of suitcases and stuff.

Clearly, we fail to grasp the extent to which our stuff controls us. Westerners are well known for being “consumers”, but most of us have horrible spending habits. In fact, I think that, instead of us being consumers of our stuff, it’s our stuff that’s consuming us. We are tricked into equating the ability to buy things to a feeling of success, prosperity, and comfort. In a thoughtful BBC News column, Matt Frei wrote:

So much of the prosperity we took for granted was based on consumption that was conspicuously conspicuous.

We did not need most of the things that we bought on credit and that were produced cheaply for us by China, Vietnam or India.

We were, if we are being honest, perfectly comfortable without them. We are living in a saturation economy in which demand was fueled by a combination of superb advertising, peer pressure and easy credit.

So, be honest, and look around your home. What are those things you possess that you can feel comfortable being without? After all, why do you need all that stuff? Why do we feel we need so much stuff?

Highly Recommended Additional Reading:
Making Spiritual Sense of the Financial Crisis by Dr. Paul Yin
The Hole In Our Gospel by Richard Stearns