Drowning in Stuff

Drowning in Stuff March 24, 2008

The house we are moving to this summer has a pool, and we have been educating ourselves on the importance of pool fences to protect our children from the drowning dangers pools pose.

Alas, no fence exists to protect us from peril confronting us at the moment: We are drowning in stuff.

Beginning before Halloween and ending at Easter, our relatives have fallen victim to society’s exhortations to buy stuff for our kids. In October, the stuff was candy (junk for the body). In November, the stuff was stickers, thingamabobs and whatchamacalits related to Thanksgiving (junk for the mind). In December, the stuff was Christmas presents (junk for the soul). In January, the stuff was STILL Christmas presents, this time from people we did not see over the holidays (junk for the already-junked soul). In February, the stuff was a mix of Valentine’s Day candy and stickers. In March, the stuff was the double-whammy of St. Patrick’s Day doohickeys and Easter (what else?) candy.

You’ve heard the expression “Up the river without a paddle”? Well, we don’t even have a boat. The torrent of stuff washes over us and threatens the stability of our day-to-day existence. It is so hard to get our children to eat nourishing food when jelly beans are sitting in an Easter basket in the next room. It is so hard to find worthwhile uses of our family’s time when plastic toys demand our children’s attention and crush their spirits when they break, often on first use.

On the one hand, we feel guilty and ungrateful for reacting this way to our relatives’ kindness. But we didn’t ask them for the stuff, and, really, it’s not their fault anyway.

Americans can’t go out to stores without being pummelled by the urge to buy something — anything! — that they didn’t have (and didn’t know that they even wanted) before they saw it, sitting there, marked with a sticker that says “70% off”. Who can blame anyone for wanting to buy something for 30% of its value? Of course, its “value” must not be the number that you’re paying 30% of, because otherwise it would have sold at that price and wouldn’t be marked down at “70% off”.

It would be one thing (and still not a good thing) if people had tons of disposable income to spend on stuff. But, as we’ve been told over and over again recently, credit card balances are rising, mortgage payments are being missed, and we have probably not even seen the worst of the economic crisis yet. No worry — the government has proposed a solution: It is going to send us all money, and it has told us that we should use it to…go out and buy more stuff. (It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Read on.)

What’s more, the people whom the government has decided have enough disposable income to spend on stuff aren’t getting the money; instead, it is going to the people who don’t make enough to have disposable income and whose buying of stuff without having the money to pay for it helped get us all into the mess in the first place.
And when we say the “government” is going to send us all money, what I mean is: Our elected officials have decided that it is a good idea to redirect tax receipts from those who make too much to qualify for its largesse and to give the money to the other people, so they can spend money like the people who make too much to qualify for the government’s largesse.

Back to our four walls. We are raising five little people who, in the blink of an eye, will work to earn bread for themselves and their families, and they will have to make choices about how to spend their money. We may make enough for the government to decide that we have enough disposable income, but we don’t make enough to afford to let our children learn bad lessons now. Society is trying to teach them that stuff can make them happy, that buying something — anything! — can make a bad day good.

Sending them out into the world having learned such lessons would be tantamount to our eschewing a pool fence and taking our chances that they won’t be tempted to creep to the edge of the pool when the weather gets warm.

We need to be rescued. No less than if we were drowning in a backyard pool.

Help. Please, somebody, help.

[Guest post by Mary Alice’s husband. Mary Alice feels the same way but doesn’t have the time to write about it. She has to go throw away some stuff.]

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