Have we reached peak materialism?


Image: toppixgallery.com

My housemate Katarina is moving to a new place. Which means she has to organize and move all her “stuff.” She tells me she notices that she feels “disgusted,” when she looks at her piles of stuff. I tell her that I just read an article that dovetails with her feeling —

If having more no longer satisfies us, perhaps we’ve reached “peak stuff”

— and I let her know that when I was a kid we didn’t have so much stuff. None of us did. It wasn’t what motivated us. At Christmas each of us got a tiny, neat pile of presents to open, mostly stuff we needed, sweaters, pants, socks. Books, for the ones, like me, who loved to read. Instead of moving stuff around, we loved to play with each other, and make forts in the woods, and ride horses, and bikes, and swim in ponds, public pools, streams, lakes, climb trees, jump coolees, explore caves in the desert north of Twin Falls, Idaho, my home town.

Fifty years later, near Boston, I remember wading through all the “stuff” that my grandkids got at Christmas time when they were little. Huge amounts. Big, colorful, usually plastic “toys” with moving parts that made awful noises when you pressed buttons or squeezed furry “animals”. The kids loved to unwrap their presents, and of course, were initially entranced — but then soon gravitated back to the kitchen cupboards, to bang on pots and pans. I had the distinct impression that the lurid primary colors of their plastic toys were designed to desensitize them. Was I wrong? Was I just “being paranoid?”

Remember when “going shopping” was a big deal? My mom loved to “go shopping,” and with eight children, she could be forgiven for always needing to go out and buy something new for someone.

But now? Me and my friends are more motivated by free stuff, borrowed stuff, swaps, second-hand stores, or just plain “doing without.” Simplifying. Down-sizing. And as permaculture teacher Peter Bane said once, during a meeting in my home: “We don’t need more stuff. We could go for 30 years without making any new stuff!”

I only rarely “buy something new” Underwear. Shoes. And for years I’ve made it a practice to have something leave the house if I decide (after careful thought) to bring in something new.

And now transport ships with Chinese goodies bound for Dollar Stores made by former villagers who’ve transmogrified into slaves are mostly stuck at sea. As of January 11, 2016:

“Nothing is moving,” Baltic Dry crashes as insiders warn that “Commerce has come to a halt.”

And even when they manage to get here, they don’t get where they used to go:

Retail Apocalypse brings empty shelves and store closings all across America

Is this just because people don’t have money anymore? Just because their credit cards are maxed out, and they still can’t get decent jobs? Or is something more profound happening, a transformation of values, of what makes Life on Earth worth living.

LIFE: “Instead of calling it work, realize that this is play.” — Alan Watts














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