Sunday, January 11, 2015

#180 - It's The Little Things

It's a Sunday morning, and I'm waiting for the day's NFL playoff games to begin. At the moment, I'm sitting at my desk and looking around at stuff, lots of stuff and clutter. It seems there is no end to all of the stuff we possess.

Several months ago, we began trying to de-clutter and downsize. We made some progress, but it seems for every thing we get rid of we obtain two or find two that we can't yet part with. On my desk are 3.5-inch floppy disks (anyone remember those?) from 15 years ago, dozens of them. The plan is to dispose of all of them, but I first have to go through them one by one to see if there are any files we need to keep or want to save. No wonder we can't ever seem to make much headway.

My son like to make things out of paper and draw different things on paper. From time to time, we have made him go through his collection and get rid of some of his creations. We've tried to put in place a rule that each time he makes something new he must dispose of something he'd made previously. That effort has met with limited success, and I suspect if I were to look in his bedroom closet I would find shelves filled with his paper creations.

My wife has a box of textbooks from her college days years ago, and I have numerous books I've acquired over the years, many of which I will likely never get around to reading. Yet I have kept them - just in case. Over the past few years, we have disposed of perhaps a few hundred books, yet it seems new ones grow to take their place. It's as if the old books left seeds behind from which new books sprouted.

Aside from a few hundred albums (remember those?) and the necessary stereo on which to play them, I didn't have a lot of stuff as an adolescent or a young adult. Perhaps that is why it later became so hard for me to get rid of things or why I began to accumulate so much. Then again, perhaps that is the true definition of "the American way."

We work hard to make money to buy stuff which we then trade in for newer stuff, bigger stuff, more expensive stuff. Many of us immediately had to have the new iPhone 6 when it came out, even though our iPhone 5 was still perfectly serviceable and likely better than most other cell phones available. Or maybe it was a need to replace a perfectly nice 42-inch television with a 60 or 72-inch screen because we bought into the marketing that says bigger and newer is better.

The indoctrination process began early for most of us, with commercials on Saturday morning television and colorful Sunday newspaper advertising inserts. Those who are much younger may have escaped some of that but were instead influenced by ads on websites, by their friends, and perhaps worst of all, by their own parents who rushed out to buy the latest in technology, home entertainment, transportation, fashion, etc.

Children do indeed learn from their parents, but what are we actually teaching them? In many cases, we are teaching them to be good and dutiful consumers, which no doubt is exactly with the marketing people want us to teach. What do we want?

As we get older, it gets ever harder to get off the consumption train, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. I am not suggesting people stop buying stuff, but perhaps we can learn to be more discerning in our purchases and even learn not to throw away things every time a new version comes out. The environment will no doubt stay cleaner; our landfills will last much longer; and who knows, our children might one day thank us.