April 11, 2018

Piles Of Stuff

Photo from "Material World" by Peter Menzel.

I think one reason that garage sales are so popular is not just because you can get good things you need for a fraction of the price of new, or that it is a more efficient use of materials. Such sales feed deeper needs.

Perhaps even more important, is our ability to get a glimpse of someone else's pile of stuff, or at least a good portion it. We like to see what other people own, and how that compares to our own possessions. 



Photo from "Material World" by Peter Menzel.
It may also make us feel less guilty about all the "cool stuff" we own, compared to the "obvious crap" that other people own. Garage/yard sales are an interesting, and possibly useful, activity when seen this way. 

How else, but by comparison, can we ascertain whether our pile of stuff is too much, or too little? We can begin to wonder what a pile of "just right" proportions might look like.



Photo from "Material World" by Peter Menzel.


To look into another's hearth is something we seem to be innately drawn to. 

American photographer Peter Menzel's 1994 book called,"Material World: A Global Family Portrait", does just that. It takes a peek at participants posing with all their possessions in front of their homes, representing 30 nations in all. 



Photo from "All I Own" by Sannah Kvist.

Menzel's book is a mind expander that helps one develop gratitude, as well as a certain scale towards balancing out how much stuff is necessary for a full and happy life. 

Unsurprisingly, given the mesmerizing subject material, I found other similar possession pile picture projects.



Photo from "All I Own" by Sannah Kvist.

There is a smaller photo project called, "All I Own" by Swedish photographer Sannah Kvist. In it, she takes pictures of her 20-something friends posing with their piles of things. 

As one might expect, they tend to have small piles that may reflect their desire for a lighter, more mobile and carefree lifestyle. 




Photo from "Family Stuff" by Huang Qingjun.


Another interesting look at possession piles is the "Family Stuff" project by Chinese photographer Huang Qingjun. In China, he photographed mostly rural people and their things, but also included some shots of middle class subjects.



Photo from "Family Stuff" by Huang Qingjun.
While getting North American families to put all their possessions in one place for a photograph might be too much work, it might make an interesting project to take pics of garage sale stuff, which is already laid out in an enticing manner for full display.



Photo from "Family Stuff" by Huang Qingjun.

What if you gathered together and piled up everything you own in one spot? How would it compare to the piles of other people in your community, and around the world?

How big (or small) would that pile be? Would you need to photograph it from space, or would from the top of a ladder be enough? Would it look like too much, too little, or just enough?


17 comments:

  1. Always love each and every post. The first photo gives me the heeby jeebies ;)

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    Replies
    1. Franny and Danny,

      Stuff galore. More stuff. Preferably plastic.

      Delete
  2. I just had to occasion to visit a friend's second home - they are moving out all the furniture to rent it. I have to be honest, I was in the "compare and despair" place for a day or two afterward. It took talking to likeminded, simple-living friends to get my brain and emotions back on track. No, I do not need to keep up with those who buy very large homes and fill them with designer furniture. Nor do I need to have a home with room for a family of six, not two. As a dear friend reminded me: we always have enough - more than we need. And how much is enough, anyway? I also remembered that compared to the world's population, I live like a queen in my cozy, 2-bedroom apartment. I have all the essentials, and much of what I want. Plus, I want very little, when I really think about it. Good food, books, movement, love, and meaningful job, and more love. Oh, and my dog! -Erin

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    Replies
    1. Erin,

      Wanting very little is the way to go. Rejoice in the little things. Sounds like you are on to that.

      Delete
  3. I love Pete Menzel's book. Definitely eye-opening and helps build gratitude. I hadn't heard of the China project previously, will have to check it out.

    Our pile would be embarrassingly big and I'm not sure it would fit on our little front yard. It's amazing what you can cram in even a small house. It's a work in progress, but I'm not sure I'll ever get to the minimal level I'd like to be at.

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    Replies
    1. Candi@minhus,

      Yes, Menzel's book is one of my favourite non-fiction books ever. The China project is very interesting considering the big changes occurring there since their economy took off. They still aren't all in on the consumerism, though, which I think is great. They continue to value more important things than stuff, and continue to be savers.

      If you'd like to be minimal, you WILL some day get there. Baby steps.

      Delete
  4. I love this post! I shared it on Facebook. Hope that's okay.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. We don't mind sharing.

      Delete
  5. This post is great timing...I was AGAIN going through closets and drawers and getting rid of stuff and was thinking how can I continue to have so much stuff even after going through it all just recently. It's frustrating and embarrassing. It is inspiring to see the "small" amount of things these people have, but the big smile on their faces. I quoted "small" because who knows, to them, it may be living like a king. I've put the Material World book on hold at the library. Thanks for the great post, and now I am off to go through a closet or two! - Mary

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    1. Mary,

      I consider it to be a life long activity. We are finally getting down to what I consider an optimum amount of things, but still have a way to go. We have never been closer to our goal. Next step is to get it all down to a shoebox by the time we pass on.

      Enjoy "Material World". It changed our lives.

      Delete
  6. The photo of the family with the donkey is gorgeous - look at the love between father and son!

    These photos do make you realise how incredibly rich your life is, even if by average western standards your possessions are quite minimal. Although I have cut back seriously on my books, I cannot imagine ever being a minimalist in this area, as living in the country we don't have access to a great library. Also stored on my shelves is all of the piano music by the great composers - this is quite a lot of music! To be without my piano would truly be like being without a limb.

    I have many pots and bowls in my kitchen, indicative of the rich variety of food available for us to buy, grow, prepare and eat. I have a small collection of antique China - and a wonderful collection of friends who enjoy coming for tea and cake! Dog leads hang by my front door along with hats and coats - again, I am wealthy, I can afford to feed and look after companion animals.

    I don't, on the other hand, have lots of clothes, toiletries, knick knacks or technology and the children never had many toys (and didn't notice!) Thanks for sharing the photos, it really is good to be reminded how rich I am in the arts and education, which many, many people will never experience.

    Madeleine.x

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    1. Madeleine,

      Oh, yes. Music and an instrument are vital, as shown by several of the photos. You are right about those smiles. So simple, so joyful.

      Delete
  7. Album cover in fourth picture spotted and immediately identified. Strong cultural identification.

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    1. Onevikinggirl,

      What is the band?

      Delete
  8. Sitting here amongst what feels like 40,000 boxes and other extraneous stuff in bags and actually in tears at how much we have. And I decluttered massively a few years ago!! Always prided myself on not having much but man, was I wrong. Choosing to move to a rural town is the right decision for our family but I'm so stressed out right now being surrounded with all this crap, I'm really ready to just leave it all behind and start afresh (with second hand stuff as I need it I mean). Absolutely has been an eye opening and horrifying experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Karen,

      I left Sydney for a rural town more than 20 years ago, and can honestly say I have never looked back! How exciting for you to be on this journey.

      I felt for you as I read about your stress about your stuff. If you can afford to, maybe you could leave behind some of the 'stuff'? When we had a major house fire 18 months ago we lost most of our 'stuff'. Quite honestly, other than children's art work and my favourite tea cup I didn't miss one single thing. Not one.

      As the house was being rebuilt I purchased things as and when I needed them - beginning with toothbrushes and towels - fairly essential! I was in the very fortunate position to be able to question each purchase - do I really need this? How much do I actually need (eg dishes, sheets etc)? Is it ethically made/second hand/non-toxic etc...? In this way I have ended up with exactly 'enough', and not a bit more. It is a LOVELY feeling :-)

      In order to keep just 'enough' you have to keep a gate at the door for stuff, especially from well-meaning friends and relatives, otherwise it can build up again!

      All the best for your move,

      Madeleine.x

      Delete
    2. Hi Madeleine. It's heartening to hear of how successful your move was for you. We feel a strong calling to this town that we're moving to, so are very much hoping our decision is the right one!
      I do remember your house fire 18 months ago. You handled it so well yet I can imagine the most precious losses would have been anything your children made. That would have made me very upset.
      I think now we are one day out from The Big Day, we will have a massive purge once we get there as I completely agree with what you wrote about having just énough'. I think my biggest problem is that I SWORE we got rid of so.much.stuff three years ago when we moved here. I know we did. And we've continued to do so. We do have a number of young kids and I know that clutter seems to be drawn in a bit more than in my childless days lol but it's definitely not just all them. Having said that, I do also wonder if it's because I did most of the packing alone and really got to physically handle every item we own. I'm happy to say my husband has made several donation runs to the op shop today plus we have filled a large bag to take to waste (unfortunately). Moving forward, I will remember your wise words and what we're REALLY wanting to achieve with this life change. I love the NBA community for their wisdom and compassion. Thank you xx

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