The Story Of Stuff

Stuff. What is it really? Where does it come from and where does it go when we are done with it? According to the experts, stuff moves through a system, from extraction, to production, to distribution, to consumption, and finally, to disposal. Altogether it’s called the “The Materials Economy“.

That’s the simplistic view we’ve been led to believe, but this view is incomplete. In reality, this system is in crisis because it is linear in nature; we live on a finite planet, and you simply cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely. All along the way it is bumping up against limits that are not readily apparent on a simplistic diagram. The hard truth is that we are using too much stuff. One-third of the earth’s natural resource base has been depleted – gone – and as U.S. citizens, we are responsible for the bulk of this destruction and consumption. Although we have only 5% of the world’s population, we use 30% of the world’s natural resources and create 30% of the world’s waste. There is a fabulous 20-minute film available on the Internet at The Story Of Stuff. It is a thought provoking look at our country’s out-of-control consumerism and the detrimental effects of our cravings.

For the past few years, I have been keenly aware of this propensity to consume in my own life. I lived in a big house and had lots of ‘stuff’ that I really didn’t need. Interestingly, the more stuff I got, the heavier and more trapped I felt. I finally realized that to be truly happy, I needed to cast off a lot of this useless stuff. Gradually, I have been moving in this direction. I sold my house and all the furniture in it, keeping only my personal possessions like my collection of crystal rocks, family photos, etc. I moved into a very small apartment, which I furnished with only two chairs, two end tables, a TV, a TV table, two bar stools, a small desk, and a bed. This ‘casting off of stuff’ has been tremendously cathartic for me. I feel freer, less burdened, lighter. I feel an inner peace and contentment such as I have never before experienced. Previously, I had glimpses of this contentment; now I exist in that space most of the time.

I am not the only one who is touting the death of our society of consumption. There is “a guy named dave” (David Michael Bruno, actually) who has started the 100 Thing Challenge, which he describes as follows:

The 100 Thing Challenge is a personal project, a way for me to fight consumerism. What’s behind it? My belief that material possessions can be good when they serve a greater purpose than possession alone. We should make better use of our things than just owning them. My hope is that by living a year with 100 personal things, I’ll be able to show that an average American guy does not need tons of stuff to live the good life. And also I hope to shed some light on the nature of consumerism in our culture.

Dave’s challenge has caught on and bloggers, especially, are talking about it and accepting the challenge. The rules seem to be a bit liquid. What constitutes a thing? Is a pair of socks two things? Dave states up front that it is his challenge and he makes the rules. In the case of socks and underwear, he lumps them all into one thing. I suppose a set of dishes could also be considered one thing. Frankly, I haven’t counted how many things I still have, nor do I have any intention of doing do. Somehow, I think I will just feel it if I ever again get to a place where I have too much stuff. But I doubt that I will ever go there again. I really like this lightness and simplicity in my life.

2 thoughts on “The Story Of Stuff”

  1. Barbara:
    I am reminded of that quote from Thoreau who found that if he had too many things, the “stuff” started to own him instead of him owning it. The “stuff” only led to great fears about losing it or it getting stolen.

    Do you own your stuff or does it own you? That then becomes the question. It somehow becomes much easier to let go of many more things as we age, and hurrah for that!

    Laura Lee


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