01 August 2007

Getting un-stuffed

Paul Graham has an enjoyable short essay up on stuff: why we accumulate it, why it's bad for us, what to do with it, etc. A couple choice bits:

Stuff has gotten a lot cheaper, but our attitudes toward it haven't changed correspondingly. We overvalue stuff.That was a big problem for me when I had no money. I felt poor, and stuff seemed valuable, so almost instinctively I accumulated it. [...]

I've now stopped accumulating stuff. [...] I'm not claiming this is because I've achieved some kind of zenlike detachment from material things. I'm talking about something more mundane. A historical change has taken place, and I've now realized it. Stuff used to be valuable, and now it's not.

In industrialized countries the same thing happened with food in the middle of the twentieth century. As food got cheaper (or we got richer; they're indistinguishable), eating too much started to be a bigger danger than eating too little. We've now reached that point with stuff.
This is true, obviously, but hard to implement. Back when postmodernism was cool, Don DeLillo wrote this about shopping:

I shopped with reckless abandon. I shopped for immediate needs and distant contingencies. I shopped for its own sake, looking and touching, inspecting merchandise I had no intention of buying, then buying it. I sent clerks into their fabric books and pattern books to search for elusive designs. I began to grow in value and self-regard. I filled myself out, found new aspects of myself, located a person I'd forgotten existed. [...] The more money I spent, the less important it seemed. I was bigger than these sums. These sums poured off my skin like so much rain. These sums in fact came back to me in the form of existential credit. I felt expansive...
(For the full passage, which is exquisite, go here. Or better yet, read the book.)

I myself have moved almost once a year since leaving home for college, which is an excellent way to avoid accumulating stuff. Some other, less disruptive ways to get rid of stuff:

  • Yard/garage sales -- for those with way too much random stuff, accumulated by living too long in the same house.

  • Ebay, for valuable and/or easily shipped stuff, and craigslist, for stuff that is marginally valuable, or is easiest to sell locally.

  • Salvation Army, Goodwill, Vietnam Veterans of America -- for large items and large amounts of stuff that need to be picked up.

  • Freecycle -- for individual items that aren't quite valuable enough to sell, but still might be useful to someone, somewhere.


galt2112 said...

Is postmodernism no longer cool? Seems alive and well to me, though perhaps not as shocking as it might have been at one time.