Thursday, April 14, 2011

#101 - Some Stuff About Stuff

"I want an iPod. What's an iPod?"

Those words were uttered recently by our son. Yes, we were proud. While humorous, these words also point out what is one of the problems with the mass consumerism mentality some have warned about for years.

We are bombarded by commercials for the latest and greatest this and the new and improved that. The commercials sometimes convince us to buy things because they sound really great and not because we need them. I would not be at all surprised to find that some people buy things not having a clue as to what to do with them.

This 2004 article from National Geographic suggests that consumerism may actually be doing more harm than good in terms of the overall health of our planet. I can't speak globally, but I don't think it does all that much good from an individual perspective.

Jocelyn K. Glei asks "Is Consumerism Killing Our Creativity?" It's an interesting hypothesis that, whether true or not, should make us stop shopping online for a moment to think. I certainly think an argument can be made that stuff is not good for our physical or mental well-being.

Think about it, You buy a house. You buy a car, maybe two cars. Then you buy a bunch of stuff to put in the house. Pretty soon, you've got a lifestyle to maintain, one that might be pretty expensive. So you work. Long hours. Maybe a second job. All to maintain this lifestyle you've "stuffed" yourself into. Long hours lead to increased stress. Perhaps an ulcer. Or worse. Now, you have medical "stuff" to take care of in addition to the stuff you bought.

I'm not saying stuff is inherently bad. I have stuff, lots of stuff. However, I seldom aspire to the latest and greatest stuff, and I almost never aspire to the most expensive stuff. Case in point: I recently bought a new laptop. Did I buy the most expensive one I could find? No, I bought perhaps the cheapest one I could find that would do what I wanted and felt right when I used it. The other thing I seldom do is get caught up in the stuff that other people have.

When I was younger, I tried to fill the many holes in my life with stuff. I never went for expensive clothes or fancy cars or anything like that. Instead, I bought lots of books and records (later, CDs and DVDs). I had plenty of great music and movies, but the holes in my life were still there.

These days, we are working to rid ourselves of some of the stuff we've accumulated over the years. We are finding it is easier to get rid of stuff if you don't have it to begin with. We may be worrying more about what we have than what we don't have.

There is an old saying that money can't buy happiness. It can buy lots of stuff, but stuff will not make you happy. Unless, of course, you approach it with the right attitude.

What is that attitude? If I were defining it, I think it would go something like this: enjoy the stuff you have, don't worry about the stuff you don't have, define your stuff but don't be defined by your stuff. When the stuff gets to be too much, sell it, donate it or, if necessary, throw it away. Think of it as freeing yourself from another chain.

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