Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers

Discover Something New Every Day: The Challenge

My friend Silas House posted this challenge yesterday (August 12, 2009), and I’m going to take it up. Here is his original post:

I don’t know what I was thinking, but I decided to challenge myself to not only discover something new everyday–which a writer should ALWAYS be doing, every single day–but to also WRITE a little piece on it everyday for my blog. So I’ve just done the first one. I hope you’ll follow my progress. I’m not sure I’ll be able to do it every single day for a month, but I’m sure going to try (I’ll always DO it, the problem will be getting it posted). Anyway, I hope you will follow my progress and tell other people about it and send me good vibes, prayers, energy, whatever-you-got to help me out. You can follow my discoveries (and post your own if you want) at

This morning my discovery is about stuff. I have too much of it. I share a life and a home with a man that has more stuff than should be allowed by law, and often, we cannot even get into our daughter’s room when she is at home from college.

We’re overrun with stuff.

I “discover” this every day, but this morning it was reinforced when I flipped on the TV during breakfast and saw a feature on “Extreme Superstores” on the Travel Channel (just one example of the “stuff” on TV these days). “Extreme Superstores,” I’ve discovered, is just one program in the Travel Channel’s “Extreme” series: Extreme Bathrooms, Pig-Outs, Hotels, Truckstops, Bars, Pools, Resorts, etc. In fairness, there is one episode called “Extreme Ways to Go Green.”

“Extreme Superstores” featured retailers who have massive structures jammed with all manner of stuff: Jungle Jim’s International Market, Archie McPhee, Bonanza Gifts, Daffin’s Candy, the San Jose Flea Market, and two outdoor/adventure megastores, REI and Cabela’s. I was appalled; then immediately guilt-stricken. Although my house is not large, I could easily set up a store inside. The walls are crowded with bookcases holding books, record albums, CDs, DVDs, vintage toys, knick-knacks, and dishes. My closet is stuffed with clothes I never wear, pocketbooks I’ve had since 1975 and never carry, fabric for quilts I’ll never sew. My cabinets and closets sag with the weight of crap I’ve gathered and kept over the years. And I am too embarrassed to even discuss my garage, laundry room, and the space under my bed. I’m surrounded in an Extreme Home of my own making. No wonder I often feel like I will suffocate if I don’t get outside onto my porch.

When my father died in 2007, I was amazed at how little stuff he had. Apart from a shed full of tools and washing machine parts (which my brother-in-law gladly took to his own shed full of stuff), my father had only a half-dozen shirts, a couple of suits (one of which we buried him in) and jackets, and three or four pairs of shoes. He had a wedding ring and a gold necklace, a pair of glasses, a magnifying glass, a few maps, and only a very few toiletries. It only took us a few hours to clean up and distribute his earthly belongings. My father was always stuff-free, and he raised me to be that way too. So what happened?

Some blame our consumer-driven culture and the proliferation of Wal-Marts in our communities who encourage the consumption of stuff we don’t need; others blame our lack of spiritual or religious devotion; still others say it’s part of our competitive natures (“the one with the most toys wins”) or the notion that we pay too much attention to celebrities who have everything that we want too. Just pick up any issue of any popular magazine to confirm this argument. There is even a recovery program for pack-rats called “Clutterers Anonymous” based on the 12-step programs of AA and NA.

I don’t think I need a recovery program, and I don’t know exactly what, if anything, I will do about all my stuff, but I worry about the poor people who may be charged with cleaning up all my crap if something happens to me. I also fret that my stuff-filled life is in direct contradiction to my commitment to be a better citizen, to be greener, to be less dependent on coal and oil, to be free of purchasing anything from the Wal-Mart store, to not be so lazy and lackadaisical about others who need food, clothing, shelter, or even some of the stuff I’ve hoarded away for years.

Wordsworth warned us 200 years ago: We need less stuff and more connection to nature and to others.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


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