Argue With My Stuff?

The last couple of days I was up to my armpits in stuff. Last weekend I started cleaning out the basement. Then I read a DailyKos diary about “stuff” and I started to think a bit more about stuff, and how we spend so much time accumulating stuff, then managing our stuff, dealing with our stuff. Mrsbrown1 quoted George Carlin

That’s all your house is-a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it, and when you leave your house, you’ve got to lock it up. You wouldn’t want to somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. That’s what your house is-a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. Sometimes you’ve got to move-got to get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.” George Carlin, A Place for My Stuff 1981

Yes, but who would want to just walk around all the time? We live in a stuff-based society. We love stuff. We use stuff to project social and economic status. Stuff makes us sexy. Stuff comforts us, protects us. Who am I to argue with Madison Avenue? Or with my stuff?

So, I stood in our basement, surrounded by the stuff we gathered in the last ten years. However, none of this stuff did any of these things for me. Piles of kids clothes, a purple crib, toddler shoes, a high-chair. All this projects is PARENT and PACKRAT. The old sleeper-sofa, the dot-matrix printer, the old laser printer and two gutted 486 computers are neither comforting nor particularly protecting. There’s more, let’s see: five cans of old paint, an old NordicTrack, a pile of well-used suitcases, the purple, old futon, a couple of ShopVacs, several plastic bins full of clutter, a rat’s nest of power adapters and power cords, and so on … nope – no sex appeal associated with that either. So I started two piles: Goodwill and recycling/trash.

Sorting through this old junk was an odd experience. All this stuff that used to be new and nice and pristine, now that it is worn and old it triggers all these memories. Well at least some of it does. That old jacket I used to wear a lot. When I bought it fifteen years ago in Germany it was cool, urban chic. I wore it eleven years ago (today, coincidentally) when I arrived in America. Soon I realized that the “cool” jacket was just a plain, old college baseball jacket, just without the logo.

I remember typing papers for grad school on the 486 and printing them on the dot-matrix printer. At least the first couple of papers. Pretty soon we sprung for a laser printer. In 1996 that was a slick piece of computer equipment. Today it’s a big doorstop. And don’t get me started about the pile of coffee makers! That little Krups did so great for many years. Then a couple of years ago it started to leak, and we figured that after ten years it would be time to replace it. We got a cheap KitchenAid coffee maker for $25. How bad could it be? It worked fine for a year, then it auto-destructed. So we got this MrCoffee POS. Most of the time it pours the coffee anywhere but in the thingy for the coffee. How hard could it be to make a simple coffee maker that does not cost $120 and just makes coffee reliably for more than 12 months?

Yet they make you think your coffee maker has to have 12 LEDs, 8 different “modes” to brew coffee, and, of course, an atomic clock. Never mind that the damn thing spills the coffee all over the kitchen counter while you’re in the shower! (I told you not to get me started on the coffee makers!) Of course, I could have gotten the $175 coffee maker/grinder/toaster/bagel-slicer combo. But our 20-year-old toaster works just fine. We have a coffee grinder, and I can slice my bagels by hand, thank you very much.

It’s Marketing that turns stuff into a problem. These people who come up with ever weirder contraptions, that are ever more cheaply made in order to maximize profits for their Mega Mall Wart Corp. They get into our heads and tell us what we’re supposed to want. They define our needs for us – at least they try to. To me it’s no to much about the stuff per se, but about who’s in control. That is what I try to teach my kids, too. You’re in charge. Don’t let them get into your head. So, a few weeks ago, I had a “proud parent” moment, when my 7-year-old daughter sat down at the table with a sharpie and the bag of cookies we had just opened, and meticulously crossed out all the cross-promotion for a kid’s movie called Robots on the bag: see daddy – I crossed out all the advertising! she then proclaimed. That’s my girl!

So, I think that I may just clean up the old Krups coffee maker, fix the leak, and get rid of the other junk.

One Response to “Argue With My Stuff?”

  1. Laura Says:

    Hey – I thought you were sexy before all the stuff and you still are even when your burried under all the coffee makers. And the toaster is A LOT more than 20 years old.