Stuff It

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I grew up in a dichotomous environment. My mother loved stuff. She spent thousands and thousands of dollars on innovative gadgets, most of which she never learned how to use, most of which we had to dispose of when she moved from the big house. The best of these was a knitting machine, an elaborate and expensive device that took hours to set up, but promised huge savings by allowing the owner to quickly knit three-foot wide swaths of wool and cotton yarn.


Mom never learned how to use the device, but I did, discovering that if one stitch failed to catch, the piece would unravel, and that the knitting machine wasn't a replacement for knitting, you still had to hand knit the pieces together. but the thrill of having a knitting machine was worth it to Mom.


My dad wasn't into stuff. He grew up in an agrarian community where things were constantly being salvaged and reused. I don't remember my dad ever buying anything that didn't have an immediate and vital purpose. How those two survived together for so long is one of the miracles of nature. Their secret was, from my understanding, they didn't talk much.


I'm like my dad. I rarely buy anything that isn't a response to an immediate need. I live so cheaply that my dad once told me that the world economy would fall apart if everybody lived as I do, so frugally. But I'm not frugal. I just don't like being controlled by stuff and there is truth in the saying that what you own owns you.


My brother and sister are hybrids. They aren't as completely idiotic as my mom, buying all kinds of labor-saving devices that end up requiring labor disposing of them unopened in the original packaging, but they have areas where they store things that might come in useful if Armageddon happens. Don't we all?


I was in the business of helping people downsize for a while and I was shocked at the amount of stuff people have, stuff they don't even remember having. I imagine that they're like Mom, getting pleasure out of the idea of a thing, even if they never use it. Purchasing something can be more valuable to a person than using it, like a gun. Psychologists call this psychic value, like a purchasing placebo effect.


So much of the stuff we buy appears to be for that purpose, to make us feel better, not live better. Or do you believe that feeling better is living better? What did Mom feel when all of her idle purchases were being tossed? The impression I got was that she felt like an idiot and she made it known that she would have preferred that these things be given a home where they would be useful. I didn't have the heart to ask her why she hadn't thought of that before buying them.


I know a kid who takes medication just for the purpose of making him feel better. A doctor gave him a prescription. I thought it would be better and cheaper for all involved if he was just able to grow some pot and smoke a joint when he felt down, but the government doesn't agree. They only want pharmaceutical companies to be in that business of stuffing people full of chemicals. Normal folk who want to use natural remedies need not apply. That's democracy at work, stuffing our medicine cabinets full of crap we don't need, but might make us feel better, and if it doesn't, here's another pill, and another, and another.


See, the American government works to keep the stuff flowing for the enrichment of their benefactors. 


Stuff it, I say. To all of it, I say stuff it. Thanks Dad.


mark henry smith Added Apr 20, 2017 - 12:44pm
I started out thinking I was going to write a piece about cars having more rights than people. Think about it. You can park your car in a parking spot on the street forever, but if I set up my tent in that spot and stay there overnight, it's a violation. I'm loitering or something. Strange, but true.
mark henry smith Added Apr 20, 2017 - 12:49pm
Wait, I just remembered that my sister bought a self-cleaning litter machine, that after the cat used it would rake all the waste into a little chute. Really clever, but the device terrified the cat and it wouldn't use the box anymore, so my sister turned off the self-cleaning function. 
George N Romey Added Apr 20, 2017 - 12:53pm
Mark this is the corporate state that is impoverishing Americans then selling them "solutions" that are anything from opiates to pay day loans.  This is by design to hook people or to alleged answers that doing nothing but further impoverishing them.  Corporate America has learned over the past 30 years just how profitable the poor can be and that is why there are so many more of us.
John Minehan Added Apr 20, 2017 - 1:25pm
Really nicely written, although I 'm not sure why I think so.
That might be a good operational definition of good writing.t
Mircea Negres Added Apr 20, 2017 - 1:29pm
Mark, my possessions are disposable assets and I treat them as such, but there are indeed all those folks who buy for the sake of buying and those who hoard. It seems to me we have two prevalent mental diseases created by society- the need for retail therapy in response to the emptiness of the modern life and insecurity due to uncertainty about the future. Perhaps the second is a lot older, but it has made a lot of news of late, what with TV shows about hoarders.
About the car business, in South Africa a car is considered abandoned and impounded if it's been parked for more than two days without being moved on city roads, and seven days on rural ones, if I remember correctly. I don't know what would happen if I erected a tent in a parking spot, but it's possible one of those rarely seen Port Elizabeth traffic cops (they work for the city to monitor traffic, while SAPS cops work for the national government and handle crimes) might give me a ticket for impeding road traffic because I'd be depriving a car of parking, but arrest is unlikely unless the cop's order to move on is ignored.
Nice post, as usual.
Dino Manalis Added Apr 20, 2017 - 2:11pm
Your junk may be useful items for others, so don't hesitate to sell it or donate to the needy!
Stone-Eater Added Apr 20, 2017 - 3:58pm
Guess I'm like your dad. I hate stuff. Makes moving and changing places difficult.
mark henry smith Added Apr 21, 2017 - 2:17pm
Thanks for the comments, all.
Stone, I don't hate stuff, I just don't understand why we're doing this to the world, trading a healthy environment for stuff. I'm sure you see it Africa, the mountains of waste that are a result of our throwaway mentality. There's something sociopathic about this behavior that moves from objects at first to people. How can it not be so? Once you determine that everything has a cost, people soon follow inevitably. Once you determine that throwing things away is the first step towards a better life, can relationships be far behind?
I have never abandoned a relationship. I have left them, but always with the caveat that if I'm needed, really needed, exclusively needed, needed for a skill that only I possess, I will happily rekindle. I don't know if it's a good approach to life or not, since it hasn't happened yet.
Dino, we tried! No one wanted any of my mom's books or other stuff. Thrift shops declined to take them. Libraries. Consignment shops. Unopened, brand new, and all we were told was, sorry.
Mircea, it's not that way here. You can park your car on the street for as long as you like as long as the registration and inspection are current, but you cannot camp out anywhere. Not in public parks. Not in parking lots. Not on the streets. Not even on private property, but if no one complains, and you're not visible, you can get away with it.
John, thanks for the weird compliment. We think things are what they are because we think they are what we think they are. So there. Ha!
George, yeah. It's a mess we're in that will only get messier, because no one wants to tackle the basic, fundamental problem of unfairness. The people who run this show are ramming stupidity in all areas of cultural development down people's throats. I was reading a friend's story of when his father first heard rock music, and what he said was, "This is a message about giving up." Isn't that the message you hear behind all the hoopla? Just give up on making a better world and accept the crap we offer you.
I will not and I get the impression you won't either. We'll fight the good fight to our last breath, or our last brain cell, whichever dies first. We deserve a good life just because we're good, kind, caring people. And I have been amazingly fortunate in finding my current situation. It wasn't easy to keep going when everything was falling apart, but tell me, what was the alternative? Give in to the motherfuckers? NO WAY, Jose.    
George N Romey Added Apr 21, 2017 - 2:20pm
Mark goodness and kindness has been distorted by the corporate state. It used to be the person that looked after the unfortunate. Today its having the most likes on FB.  People took care of each other in the Great Depression and that is one of the primary reasons this country held together for more than 10 tough years. Today all of that is out the window. 
Stone-Eater Added Apr 21, 2017 - 3:30pm
You're right. Even down here things are meanwhile considered more valuable than humans by more and more people. Our decivilized Western "culture" makes it possible.
Lee Webster Added Apr 22, 2017 - 8:41am
Nice writing.
Quotable of you is - " I imagine that they're like Mom, getting pleasure out of the idea of a thing, even if they never use it. Purchasing something can be more valuable to a person than using it, like a gun. Psychologists call this psychic value, like a purchasing placebo effect."
Stephen Hunter Added Apr 23, 2017 - 9:09am
Right on Mark Henry! So much of what is consumed is not for any immediate need. It is to satisfy an emotional need, driven by the ego. Which is never satisfied. 

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