A Future of Craplessness

Posted on June 12, 2012

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This past week, I introduced my parents to the idea of unloading stuff on Craigslist.  That, and Kijiji are sites akin to a never-ending tour of a 1970s basement full of kitsch suspended in the netherlimbo of unwantedness and wantedness.  It is fascinating!  And it was an immediate high: we managed to sell a foosball table for $150 within a day!  But even more amazingly, we managed to give away an ungainly Trudeau-era plywood coffee table that had crept its way into our lives from a curbside in the neighbourhood.  The psychology of how it got into our house in the first place pokes at some underlying theories:

  1. perhaps my parents saw it as a poor beast abandoned by cruel home-décor-updating Italians
  2. maybe in their addiction to value and thrift, mom and dad found space in their hearts and house to accommodate this thing of “potential value”

Whatever it was, after almost a decade of dark-brownly absorbing much of the already feeble light in the basement, at best holding some CAA road maps in its side cupboard and weathering mild scorn from my sister and I, this thing was, by all accounts, just taking up space.  When two dudes came to cart it off today, the purge was the single most curative thing to happen to my family of un-diagnosed hoarders!  And it effectively ended the decades-long ritualistic dance around these toad-like monuments of our unedited lives (at least in the basement area).  Aliens watching from above are going to have a lot to discuss around the watercooler on Monday!

My parents were really troopers to do this at all.  While they are not exactly ripe for Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC (as there is still discernible floor space in our house), the idea of white-knuckling onto material things for some sort of assurance of security or value is quite a psychological reality in my family—and perhaps for many of us.  It’s been a lesson in Editing.

There are some case studies on that TLC show as to WHY we might find ourselves swimming in stuff:

Sentimentality

There are some complex sentimentality or attachment issues that hoarders have, like one woman who kept a 9000 sq. ft storage space where, for 20 years, she’s been quietly taking all the stuff her husband thought he’s thrown away.  She seemed to be sentimentally “rescuing” these relics of their past as a couple or family, that he too easily relegates to the junk pile.  As the camera pans, these somehow seemed to include old sweatpants and stacks of plastic ice cream tubs!  Ironically, her holding onto the past in this particular fashion had made their relations worse.

The Tangibility of Material “Wealth”

Another man had lost a family fortune, and to compensate, he accumulated junk mattresses, old freezers, stuffed toys and tomato sauce altogether in a muddy heap on his property. It was as if he were trying to reclaim his self-esteem and estate.

Hyper-“Environmentalism”

One woman crusaded against throwing perfectly good things out in the name of Environmentalism.  She actively scoured curbsides and dumpsters to retrieve “still-usable” things that just ended up being crushed and useless under the weight of other ever-incoming “still-usable” things she’d find next.  She seems to have adhered to the refrain that it is virtuous to recycle, upcycle and reuse.  Except, the mantra was chanted only half way through—she certainly got the saving of stuff down, but not what to do with all of it (or any of it) or what this stuff meant.

Plain Old Bad With Money / Shopping Addiction

Flagrant wasters of money were actually rare, like a woman who admitted to compulsive shopping driven by a commanding voice in her head, burying all rooms of her house with new purchases piled several feet high.  That voice must be quite the salesman!

People who live at this front end of the bell-curve in our Society of Stuff are like the first to bloat and catch fever in a pandemic.  They are the litmus (litmi?), the frontline Civil War soldiers in that unfortunate killed-first formation against the enemy*.  And when they are, the rest of us are shoved up to the fore.   At which point, we will have seconds to load a weapon many of us have never held, to aim and shoot at an enemy we cannot see for the smoke.  We are approaching a weird crux in our collective economic history where we will have too many things, but are too conscious to just throw it all away.  We will become a race of mini-hoarders, depressed in our cave of stuff, powerless to save us from ourselves.

Back to what I was saying:  I suggest Editing.  Not just vicious purging, which just leaves room and excuse for eventual replacements; not the sudden overwhelmed declaration that all things past are gangrenous, but the exercise of reflecting about the few things that actually have meaning in our lives (chances are, they are not handbags!)  The rest of the stuff not directly related to these will need our time and dedication to be allocated good homes.  This last point is important: without the pain-in-the-ass of having to handle all our unwanted stuff, we miss out on the cathartic smack-in-the-face of self-realization that we’ve got too many goddamned souvenirs and skinny jeans that have nothing to do with “wanting to spend more time with a loved one”.  With practice, we would never again frequent shopping malls with zombie-esque purposelessness!  We would be fiercely focused on spending quality time, procuring healthy meals or doing something socially redeeming.

In this context, Shopping would then be whittled down to a fine fit form, where entrepreneurs selling truly useless crap will have to scrap the old paradigm to provide experiences or solutions in response to our less tangible, more evolved sense of “consumerism”.  Criteria for those entrepreneurs:

  1. How can time, and health be maximized?
  2. How can expense, stress and environmental impact be minimized?

Uh, I call it my THESE Analysis for a worthy consumer offering from this moment forward!  I’m thinking that in the future we would save a lot of money and hours of our lives from the mindless acquisition of crap that’s so pervasive nowadays.

By the way, I should say that free online classifieds sites are a double-edged sword of course.  There is the danger of rooting around for stuff to BUY, too.  Thankfully, I’ve been doing all the actual interfacing with Craigslist: uploading ads, emailing buyers etc. for my parents and have artfully avoided mentioning that the acquiring of more $#!& aspect even exists.

Oooh!  Just checked, someone wants our 48-pint dehumidifier! 🙂

My hero, Craig Newmark of Craigslist

* This is what I meant!  We’re next! :

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