Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Story of Stuff

My son Eric loves to rant about my being a "a damn hippie" when I post links to anything that even remotely suggests that our consumptive habits are having dire effects on the planet. Well, Eric, this disclaimer is for you.

Don't watch this 20 minute video. It'll just piss you off:

Like pretty much every American, I've got way more stuff than I need. My wife will enthusiastically attest to that fact. And I have way more bike stuff than I need, even though I try to pare it down and I really don't buy into the "ten-speed is great, nine speed sucks" or "I can't believe you're still riding steel" mindset.

My scrounging tendency often works against me. While I may make fenders out of old campaign signs or rework old bikes to suit my purposes, I'm a sucker for tools ("I can use that to fix old stuff!"), parts ("I can use that to keep old stuff running!") and nifty gadgets ("that jacket with zip-off sleeves can replace my jacket and my vest!") and the next thing I know I have lots of tools and parts and not only a jacket and a vest but a jacket/vest and wait a minute, don't I have something like four other jackets here? And don't get me started on t-shirts. How the hell did I wind up with so many t-shirts?

Living in a small place and being car-free helps keep me conscious of my stuff. Almost all the stuff filling our place was lugged here by my wife or my kids or me under our own power. Of course, it's really to easy to click on something at Amazon and have that guy with the brown truck show up a few days later with the latest bit of niftiness. And of course, I'm part of the problem. I've got Amazon links on my site, I tell people about nifty things I've found and heck some of those damn t-shirts spilling out of my dresser drawers are things I myself designed and sell.

But you've gotta have some stuff, right? Well, yeah, you do. But it's a balancing act and some days I feel more out of balance than others.

It's a lesson I keep re-learning, one that often seems the clearest when I'm out on my bicycle, going up a hill. Everything I have with me gets weighed, maybe not on a scale, but with each pedal stroke as the grade goes up. The stove and fuel that I brought for comfort in camp do not give me comfort on the climb. So do I take them with me or not? It's a calculation that can be made both ways.

The video I linked to at the top of this post talks about the environmental costs of all this stuff but it's not just the big environment that's polluted, it's the local environment that's polluted. My apartment, my desk at work, my mental spaces are all filled with too much junk.

I don't need a shed for all this stuff, I need to get rid of many sheds worth of stuff. What I need, what I really need, I'll keep. Right now, I need to go on a stuff diet. For every item that comes in, at least that much has to go out.

Quality wins out over quantity. The TV just lost out to 1080 pages of Thomas Pynchon's latest novel. Stuff I've kept "just in case" for too long are going away. Books I won't re-read will go to the used book store, good clothes can find some other man to wear them. The almost-right jackets can keep someone else dry. At least one more bike needs to go.

I may still get that shed. I will probably by the next great bike light that comes out.

I'm not off the treadmill, but I'm trying to think about my steps.
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