“It was the room of a woman without taste or moderation, who refused nothing and surrendered nothing, to whom the fact of possession had become the one steadfast reality in a world of loss and change.” — Dorothy L. Sayer character in “Strong Poison” upon seeing a rich woman’s expensive clutter.
I’ve always had a gypsy heart, yearning to be mobile and unencumbered. I’d rather rent than own. A lot less trouble. And at this stage of life I want a nomadic RV rather than a still-life home. As for owning a vehicle, that freedom is becoming more and more an illusion. By the time you get through siphoning cash from your pocket to the tank, where can you afford to go? I was never more free than when I could hop a bus. And I once loved blue sky, hiking, camping out, and backpacking. Though I’ve never been averse to creature comforts, I’ve always felt that possessions owned me, not the other way around.
The post World War II economic boom that gave ordinary people discretionary income, also gave birth to that oddly American phenomenon, the storage unit, in the 1960s. Somewhere in the 90s, the demand began to exceed the supply as possessions threatened to DISpossess their owners. According to Wikipedia, there is more than 2.35 billion square feet of self storage in the U.S., or a land area equivalent to three Manhattan Islands under roof. Thousands are added every year. Television shows have exploited the growing mania to hold on to everything, and the new age philosophy that he who dies with the most stuff wins. Many people keep every gift anyone has ever given them, not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, or because they think of the gifts as physical manifestations of how much they are loved. And that’s not just me talking here. That’s what real people have told me. And isn’t it a heartbreaking turnaround that there are now so many homeless, we are seeing people living in the places where they once stored their possessions.
I think of unconstrained collecting and hoarding as the outer face of an inner turmoil. It’s a dichotomy of spirit and a contradiction. It is an active rebellion against a world we can’t control — a backlash against the lie that we ever could.
But the worm may be turning. Because of the economy world-wide being in the pits, possession as obsession may either fade into an odd blip on the radar of history, or make it worse. There are people from the Great Depression who never threw away anything because it might be needed again. Or who obsessively stockpiled canned goods against the day of hunger. And who could blame them. Certainly not me.
But in today’s economy, people are finding it harder and harder to maintain even the simple standards of living, much less piling up more and more stuff. Anyone who keeps up a home and a vehicle soon wonders who owns and controls whom, or what. A big chunk of income goes toward the care, maintenance, and feeding of these possessions. I know people who never go away, even for a few days, because they can’t bear to leave their home unprotected — out of their own visual control.
But it is this very economy that is causing a marked change in some of our country’s culture, beginning in big cities, of course. I first learned of it in an NPR (National Public Radio) article by Zach Brown entitled “Why Millennials Are Ditching Cars and Redefining Ownership”.
There is a trend among young adults, who are putting off, or opting out of, owning homes, or even cars. Says Brown, “They’ve watched their parents struggle with financial insecurity no matter their education level . . . They’re much more likely to find value in experiences than they are to find value in things . . . spending [their] spare cash less on things and more on experiences” like eating out with friends, going to movies, traveling. Instant contact through technology with others in their social sphere and beyond — as well as an upsurge in public transportation — has helped promote this cultural trend. (Note the string of comments at the end of the following linked article; they’re as eye-opening and interesting as the article itself).
You might ask where “married with children” comes into this picture. For a while now I’ve been reading about some families downsizing for the very purpose of giving their children more life experiences — like travel, museums, theater — while they can enjoy such things AS a family, together. There’s nothing wrong with possessions — or wanting them. The problem comes when they become a virtual god, or a ball and chain that get in the way of living.
I like the quote from the King James that aptly and beautifully says:
For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content . . . [and] charge them that are rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy. — 1 Timothy 6:8 and 17