By Dan Schuette
What is it about Americans and our “stuff”?
I think it started back in the depression of the 1930s and during WWII when everything had a purpose and everything was saved. There wasn’t enough “stuff” to meet all of the war needs, things were rationed, and nobody threw anything away. That was fine during the war but after the war that generation continued to save most everything–throwing away anything that was even remotely useful was a sin. The statement “we might need that someday” comes to mind.
My mother was part of that generation, and believe me she doesn’t throw anything away. She keeps all her old magazines saying that someone in a nursing home might want to read them. That might be true, but they keep piling up and nobody ever takes them to a nursing home. I guess I could tell her that I’ll take them to a nursing home, but even at age 90, my stay-in-her-condo mother would probably see through my ruse, knowing that I would likely take the magazines home and put them in the recycling bin. And I swear she has every swizzle stick from every drink she ever drank…three large glasses full of them.
My mother-in-law in no different. When Y2K came along, she and her husband bought a generator and put it in their basement along with the second freezer and refrigerator they already had down there. I swear you could live in their basement for a month… it’s fully furnished with a couch, chairs, and a TV. There’s a closet down there that has enough ribbons, bows, and wrapping paper to open a gift-wrapping business. And there’s not a flat surface in their home that doesn’t have something on it.
When my wife Sandy and I put our limited “stuff” into storage during the time between selling our house and moving into a new condo five years ago we got a chance to talk to Tom, the owner of the self-storage place. We asked how long he had been in business…10 years. We asked what was the longest time anyone had rented space from him…10 years. We asked what the approximate value was of the items or “stuff” that was stored in that particular unit…a couple of thousand dollars. So I said to Tom, “let me get this right. At $80-90/month for storage, that’s $1,000/year or $10,000 for ten years to store “stuff” that’s only worth a few thousand dollars. Is that right?” Tom said… absolutely, happens all the time.
The neighborhood we moved from was full of 15-20 year old ranch style homes with two-car garages. I remember being surprised that first winter by how many cars were left outside many of these homes even on the coldest nights. I mentioned this to a neighbor wondering why people didn’t put their cars in their garage. He chuckled a little and simply said, “that’s where they keep all their “stuff.”
Of course Madison Avenue encourages us to buy more “stuff” so we can keep up with the Joneses, or attract the opposite sex by wearing certain clothes or colognes. And kids have to have different colored iphones to match their different colored outfits and they have to wear the latest clothes in order to stay up with the in-group at school. There seem to be more (and louder) TV commercials and billboards everywhere encouraging us to buy more “stuff”. And have you noticed that magazines and newspapers these days seem to have more ads than they have news content.
Well, I for one am not falling for it. I wasn’t around for the great depression or WWII and I don’t keep worthless “stuff” in storage for years on end. And several times a year I gather some of my extra “stuff” and take it to Goodwill. And my garage has two cars in it, not a lot of useless “stuff”. I could go on and on with other examples of people and all their “stuff” but I have to shower and dress and go play some golf and decide which of my 27 golf hats and 26 golf shirts I am going to wear today.