It’s remarkable how much of our time goes into finding a place for our stuff. Wake up in stuff. Move stuff to get out of stuff. Open stuff, shuffle stuff, and put on stuff. Find stuff to clean stuff with stuff. Put stuff back where we had previously, thoughtfully organized stuff so that we can find the stuff when we return to look for the stuff. Ignore the piles of stuff as we walk by it in pursuit of that other stuff. Use stuff to make stuff. Collect stuff to put our arrangements of stuff into, onto, beneath, between, and about.
We begin at the earliest age. Even before we are born, our parents and relatives are busy gathering stuff that we are undoubtedly going to need for survival, you know, like infant shoes and hair accessories. Soon after we come into the world, we are managed with stuff such as pacifiers, tiny bathtubs, and infant washcloths (since the conventional version simply will not do). While, as infants we only needed breast milk and warmth for survival, we were provided with more blankets, burp-cloths, outfits, socks, bedding, bottles, and toys than we’ll ever have at any given moment in adult-form.
We grow, forming a reliance on stuff that we know will always be there for us. And, as in our relationships, we desire intimacy with stuff. Over time we compile an arrangement of things that help us find solace from the cruel world. We strive to take for ourselves from the harsh reality to secure our own little piece and make it right again, the way it was supposed to be. We create an alliance with our blankies, stuffed bears, matchbox cars, radios, televisions, phones, shoes, and the most vital things from which to make and consume food stuff.
Eventually we graduate our parents homes and as a requirement to move out, we must throw away, donate, or else box up all the stuff we had accumulated. We filter and claim only the most important of stuff. Perhaps we save some stuff, like our 2nd grade journals, and require our parents to hold onto them until the day we decide we have more important stuff than that stuff. The subconscious fear of leaving our childhood home is stifled as long as we have our boxes of the most important stuff. This is stuff we would never leave unattended and will continue to lock up in our home-of-stuff so that no body will walk in and steal our stuff. That is all true, until we leave that stuff at home, locked up, to go out and buy more important stuff.
We are singletons with what we think is a little bit of stuff, until we form ranks with another singleton. We partner up, conceive more individuals, adopt animals, conspire circles of people, and provide for others as well as our selves. Gradually, our stuff amasses and we need more, bigger stuff to keep our stockpile of stuff in. Our demand increases the supply. Stuff gets made; stuff get cheaper. If someone else has that stuff, we want that stuff, and our attitude toward stuff becomes of a higher respect; much higher.
Visual culture (visual events in which information is passed between producer and consumer) tempts us with eye candy, material culture provides the sweet addiction we crave, and it is in our own consuming that we feel the high. Once we come down off the high, we flip on the TV only to begin the process over again. Who but only a few can foresee the trouble in this paradise?
In 2001, a study called “Life at Home in the 21st Century” was the first to document the resulting effects of stuff in the lives of 32 middle-class, duel-career American families. The most prevalent finding was that the managing of stuff, and sometimes just seeing the stuff, raised the stress hormone levels of the mothers in the homes. It took a team of anthropologists, archaeologists, and social scientists to allow these families to see their misuse of materials, time, and relationships at the expense of familiarity. It happened before this study and it is happening now. People are beginning to understand that the stuff they consume is in turn consuming them. The stuff owns us, instead of the other way around.
So what is the approach to reclaiming your identity (minus the material stuffing)? Respond below with your suggestions. And, click here to view our post about reducing your stuff-level and revealing a more fulfilling version of yourself.