Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rhys Muses On Stuff

Since our theme this week seems to be stuff, stuff taking over our lives, or the organization thereof, I started to think about the importance of material things in our present world and how disquieting it is.

We all have too much stuff. Yesterday I spoke to a class of eight year olds. I asked them who had an iPod and nearly all the hands shot up. The kids across the street from us all had their own TVs, computers, cameras, and anything else you could name by the time they were ten. They had nothing to yearn for or work for.

Advertisements on TV lead us to expect everything material that we want. All those Christmas ads that urge us to put a Lexus under the tree and then our spouse will love us forever. I find it worrying that our economy is based on consumers buying things. When we get scared and cautious and don't buy, the country falters. Is this any way to run a planet?

Yesterday also I was in Michael's craft store and was pleasantly surprised by the long line. That store is always busy. In spite of the fact that one can buy anything ready made, people still want the satisfaction of making things. I've just taught my two little granddaughters to knit. They love it(even though I have to pick up a lot of dropped stitches for them) I believe we are programmed to work, to create, to grow our own food and we only get real satisfaction by doing that.

When I was a child we were not poor but we expected so much less. Christmas for me meant a new sweater, or at the most a new LP. We only ate turkey at Christmas, only saw tangerines and nuts around that time. Which made them all very special. I saved up for a couple of years to buy my own bike and I was so proud of it when I finally bought it. So another thing I believe is that humans are programmed to strive for something. We need goals. It's good for the hunan character to have to work and wait and dream.

I look around our house and I see a TV in almost every room and four computers and iPods and stereo systems and I realize I've become as bad as everyone else. I'm surrounded by stuff. My husband loves to buy the latest electronic gadgets. And yet in my imagination I picture a cottage in England, walking down the lane with my basket over my arm to buy eggs from the farmer, growing my own veggies, maybe spinning my own yarn, baking's an ultimate fantasy. Won't ever happen because I'm tied to all this stuff. I can't live without my computer (it's coming to Europe with me tomorrow).

So I don't know what the answer is. There is no way I can get the world to give up money, to trade services instead, to stop buying rubbish and to become craftspeople instead. But I may rent that cottage in England one summer and see how I really like it.


  1. This is so insightful, Rhys. We were talking last night about the TV shows Dallas and Dynasty--some people think those shoes--when were they, in the 70's?-- were part of the impetus of the rise of the cult of acquisitions.

    That people saw the glitz and shoulder pads and cars and caviar and champagne and dresses and just--stuff--and decided that stuff was what you needed to be happy.

    I like my stuff, I've got to admit. I feel comfortable in my office surrounded by books and belongings.

    I have this fantasy, though, about walking into a mall, all Hermione, and proclaiming "ALL JUNK DISAPPEAR!"

    I wonder what would be left?

  2. Oh, gosh, Rhys, you're singing my song.

    Hank, interesting observation about Dallas and Dynasty, and don't forget Oprah, and her "favorite things" shows. Followed by scoldy shows on people with too much debt.

    My oldest daughter had tons of relatives, and was the only grandchild for a long time, so she ended up with way too much stuff (and still has too much). When my next two came along, much later, I kept the brakes on, and didn't succumb to pleas for video games, etc. We also did not allow them to watch TV, except on weekends. But it's harder now. My nephews, still in high school, both have iPhones, for heavens sake.

    The "too much" stuff is the electronics. Books obviously don't count in that category! Can't have too many of those.

  3. Rhys, I'm totally with you on "too much stuff".

    Motivated by the blog topic this week, I've been trying to de-clutter a bit of the house every day, in order not to overwhelm myself.

    This morning, I spent nearly 30 mins. cleaning out a corner of the den & behind & underneath a couch so we can reposition the treadmill. I'm embarrassed to admit that among the plethora of pens, pencils, CD packages, papers & old tissue boxes, I found envelopes and magazines dating back 5 years!(We've lived here for over 20 years, and who looks behind their couches, is what I reasoned!)

    On the bright side, I'll just keep taking baby-steps and maybe have my Spring Cleaning done by next spring.;)

  4. Great topic. I am cheered by the fact that neither of my sons (22 and 25) want smart phones. I don't have one, either (although I do lust just a tiny bit for one).

    If we want to, I think we can have part of both worlds. Sure, I love my netbook and am borderline addicted to my email and facebook.

    But I also grow as much of my food as I can, get local fish and eggs delivered weekly, and buy the rest from farmer's markets (with my basket on my arm!)in season. I hang my laundry on the line every day the weather permits. I don't watch television. I don't have many electrical kitchen gadgets.

    Teach the grandkids to use a sewing machine next, and how to shop for clothes and toys at a secondhand store.


  5. Love the comment about "making stuff". When I taught sewing, about 20 years ago, it never failed to surprise me how many kids pestered their non-sewing moms to let them take my classes and summer camps. Where does that drive to create come from?

    It's very sad that schools rarely teach sewing any more (who the heck is going to make our clothing in the future, is what I want to know), and art and music classes are also getting cut because of budget constraints. I truly worry about the upcoming generations, who will simply not be exposed to so many wonderful expressions of creativity.

  6. Karen, you're so right. DH & I were recently lamenting over the "country of origin" on the labels of our mostly 100% cotton clothes (which I hang on the line like Edith, and only tumble-dry to take out the stiffness of some items.)

    Nearly everything we own clothes-wise lately is made in foreign lands, such as Ecuador, Indonesia, Mexico, even Jordan!(Let's don't even start on everything else made in China!) And most of the clothes were bought or catalog-ordered from reliable companies where most everything used to be American-made. A real eye-opener!

    I think we have to get back to teaching kids to appreciate creativity. And, begin making/manufacturing things again, or this country will be in big trouble! And so will the kids who follow us. Rant over.

  7. I think one of the reasons I so like hotel rooms and rented London flats is the absence of stuff--or at least MY stuff. And I've often given my characters very small living spaces (I LOVED Gemma's garage flat) and when I was writing about narrowboats in Water Like a Stone, I had fantasies of selling up everything and living on a narrowboat. Hubby was not impressed.

    My brother and sister-in-law do, however, live on their 54 ft sailboat, so it can be done.

    Truthfully, though, I love my house AND the things in it. Not because they're high-tech or expensive, but because they provide warmth, color, character, and atmosphere. But I would like for there to be a lot less stuff, and for the stuff to be organized.

    Happy medium, somewhere?

  8. Ok, you inspired me - did a clear out of my office and all those papers, books, and etc. that I HAD to keep in the basement.

    Hardest things to throw out award, for me, goes to the artwork and poems and essays my kids did when they were little.

  9. I feel your pain. My grandson had a cell phone in grammar school. Now in Jr. High, he has every electronic gadget there is, including a laptop which wouldn't bother me if he used it for school but he plays games on it. I will confess that Hubby and I refused right from the start to be that type of grandparent. We keep our gifts small and add money to his college fund.

    We have almost 44 years of 'stuff' and are trying to downsize like everyone else. Why? because it takes so long to clean and it's exhausting doing it.

    I know think twice or three times before we purchase anything. However, there are some things I just can't part with. What to do? I don't know the answer. That sailboat idea sounds wonderful to me.

  10. Rhys,

    I think that's the real pleasure of a summer home - a familiar setting WITHOUT all the stuff.

    I think we spend a lot of our time trying to get away from their stuff.

    We have a dumpster ordered for this weekend!! So some major purging of stuff going on here.