Since January, in preparation for the move, we’ve been going through our stuff and donating or tossing the items we no longer want or need. “You know what would be fun?” I thought. “It would be fun to keep track of what we’re getting rid of!”
You may have noticed my concept of “fun” does not exactly fall within the bell curve.
I counted to 640 before I gave up. Small to large stuff. I’m talking tubes of lip gloss to cups to pants to electronics. Each individual item.
I gave up counting towards the end — it was too much to keep track of. The final number is likely somewhere around 800. If you’d have asked me before I started, I’d have guessed our entire house contained around 800 things.
If I were to assume we gave up one fifth of what we owned, which doesn’t sound like an unreasonable estimate, then that would mean we started with 4,000 things.
How is this mathematically possible? How do two people require 4,000 possessions? How do two people require more than 800 possessions? What is even happening?
I don’t wish to turn this into some kind of moralizing gut-check about mass consumption, but… here is a moralizing gut-check about mass consumption. Just like you’ve probably seen on the pages of other privileged bloggers. It’s all the rage, you know, especially since Caring About Our World and all the various buzzwords associated with that (green! eco! organic! fair trade!) has become a trend; a sort of status symbol of its own.
It’s not like I didn’t care about consumption before, but there was something about watching the stuff I was eighty-sixing stack up over the last few months. I was struck by the enormity of my actions, I guess. I was forced to acknowledge where all that stuff had come from, and where it was going next.
The thing I can’t seem get my mind around is that it all feels so useless, and I feel so helpless. Sure, I can donate what I no longer need to a thrift store, but there’s a chance that instead of those goods helping people in my community they’ll help perpetuate poverty1 in third-world countries instead. Sure, I can vow not to give my money to companies that manufacture clothes in South Asia under deplorable conditions, only to be lured back by the unbelievably budget-friendly deal of a $4 tank top or a $11 sweater.
I can try to only buy locally, and sustainably, but there’s a good chance I might not find what I need inside of those parameters. I can try to make my own stuff, or repair the stuff I have, but I only have so much knowledge and so much time in which to learn new things. I can keep tabs on every company that’s ever done, said, or donated against my ethics, only to find there are no more companies left to buy anything from.
Every time I consciously make an ethical decision, there is some unethical result. With almost everything you choose, some individual or group is disenfranchised or exploited, some resource is depleted, some aspect of the environment is impacted.
Every good deed is counteracted by bad, bad, bad.
At some point, it gets to be too much of a burden. I start to get resentful. “I didn’t create this convenience-based world, why do I have to carry around all the guilt for it?”
I don’t. Well, I can’t — I have to be a moderately happy, functional human being who doesn’t cry every time I have to toss something in the trash [YEAH, THAT HAPPENED].
But I can’t do nothing, either. There’s nothing any of us can do save for doing what we can — within our budgets, within our bandwidths, within our abilities. I can prioritize what I most feel passionate about and try to let go of the rest. No wallowing in what I cannot do, or what I’m not quite ready to do.
There’s a certain point where saving the world negatively impacts your sanity. The trick is figuring out how to pay due diligence to both “self” and “other” without aggrandizing either of them.
I’m not sure I’ve got that down, yet.
Tell me, what’s your take on stuff? How do you manage your own?
1 Thanks to Jacqueline of The Hourglass Files for this link.