Friday, December 22, 2006

You Don't Need That

My wife, sons and I live with less stuff than a lot of Americans but Christine and I often reflect that we still have way too much stuff. The boys, so far, don't share these concerns and are currently spending a good bit of effort pointing out how much better our lives would be if we added a Nintendo Wii to our existing collection of stuff. So far, the Peterson household is Wii-free but I'm quite sure that state will not last. The boy's both have jobs and the Wii is far niftier than anything as mundane as cash.

I've written about this before but the stuff keeps rolling in. Joel Metz states it this way:

"in the endless cosmic game of rock-paper-scissors... desire is greater than need."

And perhaps that is what keeps this all spinning along. I do know that I accumulate stuff at an alarming rate and my particular weakness is for the better thing. Voltaire referred to this when he wrote (in French) that "the better is the enemy of the good." Perhaps I was happy with my 700c wheels, but now I will wonder if I'll be happier with 650B wheels. My Swiss Army knife has been fine but perhaps the Leatherman will be better? And the game of rock, scissors, paper continues...

I'm not alone in such thoughts and there is also the desire to support good folks doing good things. But if we support all the good folks doing good things, we can sure wind up with loads of stuff. Perry Bessas mused quite eloquently on this subject over on the iBOB list in this post:

I have no solution to this and we all do what we can in life. I know that I am happier now that I work for a non-profit and mostly what I sell to people is the idea that a bicycle can be a valid and fun way to get around. It's a good fit for me, better than when I worked at a bike shop. Don't get me wrong, I loved working at the shop, but when I told Mark I was leaving to go work at the Bicycle Alliance he said, only half-joking, "It's the $7,000 Serotta's that pushed you over the edge, right?" It wasn't really that. The Serotta's are lovely bikes and if someone wants to spend that on a bike and loves it, that's great. But my nickname at the shop was "You Don't Need That." Various times folks would come into the shop saying "I need a new bike." I'd get to talking with them, trying to find out what the have for a bike now and seeing what they like and don't like about it. And sometimes in talking with them I'd find that they really like their existing bike, but they'd get a stiff neck if they'd ride for more than an hour. And we'd chat some more and look at them on the bike and they'd walk out the door with a $30 stem instead of a new bike. Or if they would get a new bike I'd just instinctively turn folks towards a cheap, rugged and versatile Surly Cross-Check or Bianchi Volpe instead of one of the gleaming jewels from Colnago or Serotta.

Mark Thomas isn't just the owner of Sammamish Valley Cycle, he's also the president of RUSA, a friend of mine and he's also on the board of Directors of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, the place where I now work. So I still see Mark all the time. A few weeks ago he stopped by the Alliance and I asked how things were going at the shop this year. "Great," he replied, "sales are up 20% since you left!"

One of the many things I like about bicycles is they are about balance. You keep moving to keep your balance. OK, some of you are really good at track stands, but in general bikes are about balanced motion. If you go bike touring you quickly learn that too many luxuries aren't really all that luxurious. Hauling all the comforts of home with you is a certain way to be uncomfortable. On the road, you will find your balance.

And so we roll on. We weigh our options. We balance our needs and desires and play the endless game of rock, scissors, paper. Some times at the end of the day, we hear a little voice that says "you don't need that" and other times we hear a voice that says "life would be better with X."

On this blog I often talk about this or that cool thing I've found. And I'll still do that. But mostly, I'm still trying to balance. I do have too much stuff. I'll be spending part of this holiday season packing some stuff up to give away. After all, I have to make room for new stuff!
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