January 11, 2012

The Weight Of Things

As people accumulate wealth they tend to acquire more and more things. We have been conditioned to believe that this unprecedented accumulation is good for us, but it does not take long before we begin to feel weighed down by our things.

It takes a lot of space to store this avalanche of heaviness that flows into our lives. The stuff doesn't just take up space in the mind, it has to be physically stored somewhere. This probably has something to do with the average house size doubling since the 1950s.

Why would we need such large homes? To hold the mountains of things, of course. And once the basement, garage, garden shed, attic, and closets are stuffed full, we increasingly rent places to put the seemingly uncontrollable overflow.

The self-storage industry - which, not surprisingly, is mostly a North American phenomenon - blights almost 2.5 billion square feet of the planet with a lot of unloved, unneeded stuff. Providing this service brings the industry $20 billion in revenue per year.

I wonder if this huge amount of money, being spent to store stuff not important enough to be kept at home, could be better spent?

The Global Fund, which provides AIDS treatment to 2.5 million poor people worldwide, calculated in 2010 that it needed about $6.6 billion dollars per year for its programs. It only received $3.6 billion/year in funding due to the global economic downturn. The difference means people will die.

But we remain blissfully unaware of the harsh realities just outside our borders as we continue to collect more and more stuff in bigger and bigger houses and storage facilities.

How we live with all our extraneous stuff, and simultaneously fail to appreciate global realities and the finite nature of our planet's energy resources and raw materials, is not even the worst part. The most insidious thing about high consumption lifestyles is how they can smother us under the weight of things.

It may appear that everything is fine, but something has gone wrong. Consumers are suffocating, and the lack of oxygen is affecting our thinking. I can feel it myself, even though over the past decade I have downsized dramatically. Despite this, I still have things I don't really need.

This year I am getting out from under the rest of my accumulation, which by now is more of a mole hill than a mountain. But still, it is time to implement some rules for the new year.

Rules for my Anti-stuff Campaign:
Rule 1: If it hasn't been used in over a year, get rid of it.
Rule 2: If it is not adding to my life, get rid of it.
Rule 3: Implement Rules 1 and 2 ruthlessly, while throwing all emotional attachments to the wind.
Here is to a lighter, unfettered 2012 where there is space to breathe, time to think, and freedom to act.

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