Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Most American New Year's Resolution of All

Human beings the world over want to lose weight, get trim and fit, improve their looks and well-being, improve their education, increase their reading, spend more "quality time" with friends and family, and accomplish a fairly predictable array of life goals.

But the most American New Year's resolution of all?

What do you think it is?

I'd say it's to "get organized," aka "reduce clutter," "get rid of stuff," "unload junk".

After spending the holidays buying and accumulating stuff, you may have noticed, if you have entered most any big store this week, that the plastic storage containers are prominently displayed. Target's got them on sale. The Container Store is having a field day. Or should I say a "How Do I Put All This Stuff Away Day"?

'Tis the season.

Just as gym memberships are a hot buy in January, so are ways to store stuff. But as a New York Times article points out, in the wake of the December onslaught, ours is not so much a storage problem as it is a widely occurring personal problem, indeed a phenomenon of human nature and First World Culture, nowhere more evident than in the good ol' U. S. and A.

Actually, hoarding and accumulating so much stuff was not a very American problem until this culture really started to ratchet up, if not perfect, advertising, affluence, and the spread (some would say "sprawl") of an insatiably materialistic middle class, soon after World War II. The shift from Great Depression to Storage Unit Suburbia deeply and pervasively ingrained in most of us Americans the desires for new and more things more than ever before. 60 years later, the urge to consume and hoard is on the verge of becoming an officially recognized and defined mental illness. Americans didn't invent materialism, but as a culture, we have been crested a hoarding wave at a particularly precarious time for the health of the planet and ourselves.

The rich have always accumulated things. It's not that the rich are different, it's that they are the same as the rest of us, of every class, except that they have more money. We are no different than the rich; given the chance to get more, bigger and best, most humans jump at the chance. The monastic rich are rare. The tread lightly affluent are rare. With human nature being what it is, self-imposed deprivation is never going to be a dominant trend. Thus, the limits to greed and growth do generally have to come from the top down, not the bottom up. We can't expect the poor to lead the way. We don't envy the poor (or ourselves if we are poor, as I am, no matter how much humility or righteousness we might at times feel). I myself don't envy the rich, either, except for their money.

We might think, oh, if we had that kind of money, we'd do it differently, but of course history shows that most of us would do it the same. Swimming pools and 42" televisions and Hana Montana tickets and Nintendo and SUVs and luxury cars and room additions are quite popular. They always will be.

But they will never seem very mature, much less wise. Wise people see the big picture and the far-reaching consequences of certain desires. The wise ask themselves more about need than want. Fads are for kids. And no matter how stylish or elegant, putting desire and immediate gratification before long-term good just looks goofy. But people are what they are, acquisitive busy-bodies, and no matter what country or culture we live in, this is majority rule, and so most stack up stuff and pile it up all around us.

It's all going to the landfill. It's just a matter of time.


TOMORROW: Another take on this acutely American orgy of materialism, a take both more familial and personal. Be there.

In the meantime, get out a cardboard box, and start putting stuff in it to give away -- or to sell on eBay!


At 1/02/2008 11:28 AM, Anonymous sallysim62 said...

Good one! And remember alot of our junk is a treasure to someone else. Spread the love, especially to those in need, here and overseas.


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