Ringing in 2017: a treatise on “stuff”

January 1, 2017 · Posted in Personal stuff 

I had a vacation day left over from work last week, so I did what a lot of people do and took it in the dead period between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

So as I sat in my chair as I often do when writing, I took a look around. We still had all the Christmas decorations up and many of the presents we received remained under the tree in the gift bags we got them in. Obviously we appreciated the sentiments and the thought, but there was also a part of me that saw it as just so much clutter that we had to find a place for, either cramming it in with all the other things we already have or getting rid of the old. That weeding-out process seems an appropriate way to close out one calendar year and begin another: the thing I think people like about New Year’s Day is the clean slate and fresh start – never mind you will likely fall back into your old habits before the first robin of spring shows up.

And the same may be true for me, but then I wondered about all the other people out there whose mindset anymore is that “he who dies with the most toys, wins.” I don’t have the retail sales numbers handy, but I’m sure most of them had plenty of floor traffic and online sales to make their Christmas season brighter. As far as that goes for keeping people gainfully employed and shareholders happy, that’s a good thing. But what does the newest electronic gadget really add to one’s life, especially if it replaces one that’s still functional but perhaps slightly outdated as far as technology goes? (As an analogy, it’s like replacing a 2016 model automobile with a 2017 model because it was “redesigned” – the old one still achieves its purpose just fine.) I asked for and received stuff I found useful: sweaters for a chilly office at work, gift cards to Wawa for the days I don’t pack a lunch, and things like that. But I still need more hangers in my closet thanks to the sweaters.

On the other hand, the things I gave to family were at least no more than a couple degrees of separation from experiences: our daughter likes hunting so I got her a gift card she can use to further that which she enjoys, while Kim got a place to store all the photos she takes when we go away or have memorable events. I also gave her something where she can have her own rather unique experience with people of her choosing. Those are the kinds of gifts I like to give when I can.

It may be a facet of my personality but I do not like clutter and prefer order; on the other hand, I also have the tendencies of a pack rat when it comes to certain mementos. But I had a time in my life when I needed to purge a lot of “stuff” and it was among the most liberating things I did. And, if you are on social media, have you ever considered the meme that shows some desolate one-room cabin in the woods and asks something along the line of “would you stay in this place with no internet for a month for $100,000?” More often than not, people say yes. But you better believe they would want some of their stuff to take along. I’d rather have the internet and live with just the basics.

Unfortunately, over the last several years we have seen what conspicuous consumerism has wrought for some people. Certainly there were those who, a dozen years ago, used the equity on their home to buy a boat, a motorhome, and the latest in electronic equipment – only to have to dispose of these things at fire sale prices (or less, such as losing all they had paid on the big-ticket items) when everything about the economy went to hell in a handbasket. Even a lot of people who otherwise did things the “right” way (as they were told) fell victim to overextending beyond their means when the rungs on their economic ladder were sawn off by a job furlough. And they were layoffs caused in no small part by people who wanted all the “stuff” they could get and borrowed the money to acquire it. In one perspective that boom period of a decade ago had a great system: letting people have everything their hearts desired, making profits for bankers, and goosing up production at thousands of factories around the globe, enabling them to hire more people or invest in devices that increased production – but it only lasted until the fiscal house of cards we had built on derivatives collapsed under its own sheer weight.

So imagine what it would be like to have less “stuff” by your own choice and not the force of external events. Would it have an effect on the overall economy? To hear the corporate shills tell it, they would be mortified at the prospect and would sell you on the siren song that gloom and doom awaited as thousands would be laid off and we would have a depression, not a recession. But, once we divested ourselves of the excess and that which was salvageable found its way to those who could better use it, I think we would see our standard of living improve from a spiritual and societal standpoint. Perhaps we would treasure fellowship over frivolity, enjoy the slower pace of life, and turn our backs to the world to some necessary degree. It doesn’t take retreating to a Spartan cabin in the woods to get closer to your true self. But ponder as I have during the time that I wrote this piece whether you are living to acquire things or to enjoy life’s rich palette of experiences, and plan your 2017 accordingly.

As this is posted our family will be in church and will soon enjoy the fellowship of a pork and sauerkraut New Year’s lunch afterward. Perhaps a good resolution for readers who haven’t made that decision would be that of setting yourself right with our Creator?

Just remember: you can’t take “stuff” with you.

But if you insist on the political, I went back and looked up my thoughts as the economy bottomed out after the 2008 financial crisis. While I still agree with what I wrote in a political sense, this eight-year period sure has seen a lot of change in my life otherwise!

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