Our Lives

He really knows his stuff

July 28, 2012 

Todd Jones.


America may be losing its global standing in wealth, educational standings, health outcomes and nutrition, but there’s one area where our global dominance remains unshakeable, one area in which our hegemony is unlikely to be challenged as long as I have anything to say about it. One area which our founding fathers omitted from the Bill of Rights, yet remains our most hallowed expression of freedom.

We lead the world in stuff.

I’m doing my part in amassing as much stuff as I can. I have boxes of stuff in attics; I have shelves, pegboards, cases, closets, cabinets just for holding stuff. I have stuff for building containment systems for the stuff I used to build containment systems. Garages, basements, attics, junk drawers, car trunks, outbuildings, each overflowing with prefabricated plastic junk, held together by barely sufficient nuts and bolts, all promising to make our lives just a tiny bit more fantastic. The threshold at which we’re labeled “hoarder” is mercifully high, allowing us to feel normal as long as there is sufficient stowage to conceal it all.

Stuff can come in many forms, some insidious. My wife tells me we’re done buying “systems.” It turns out “systems” are just clever marketing devices for highly complex, multicomponented aggregations of proprietary and replenishable supplies needed to maintain a piece of stuff. Where once a mop sufficed, we now need a Floor Luster Management and Spill Mitigation System that has unique fabric booties, cleansing fluid and replacement pads, all which quickly disappear from the grocery store shelves once the next revolution in Floor Health Maintenance (luster management is so 2009!) arrives. Last month’s labor saver is next month’s obsolete piece of closet clutter.

Our culture has made getting stuff way too easy. My older daughter was obsessed with being able to get stuff for free in her early teen years. Toenail fungus videos, potty training systems, winning sweepstakes notifications for cruises all arrived for the then-13-year-old who, not that it matters, didn’t have toenail fungus, incontinence issues or permission to leave the neighborhood, much less take a discount cruise in a closet off the ship’s boiler room (bread, water and pirate ransom fees not included).

Every seemingly simple addition to our lifestyle brings with it stuff and systems. Should we get a dog? Don’t stop there, pal. There are grooming, containing, parasite dissuading, disciplining and other systems. Heck, our dogs have two dog houses (summer and winter) a shaded pen, three acres of wooded land secured with a fragile wireless boundary (the perimeter of which is defined, ironically, with a wire), shock collars, shock collar testers, boundary wire break detectors. You want a baby? Prepare for a complete overhaul of your Strategic Plan for Stuff Management. You’ll need new a new house, vehicle, appliances, furniture as you surrender your lifestyle over to Everest-esque mountains of stuff that every self-respecting American baby simply must have, so they can grow older and complain “There’s nothing to do around here” while surrounded by a dizzying array of electronic entertainment stuff.

And of course, every hobby brings with it catalogs, magazines, websites describing the escalating arms race of stuff you’ll need to be taken seriously. Ask my wife about my music studio and its stuff demands, each piece ensuring a slightly different sound can be made, a slightly crisper recording can be captured, a slight improvement in sound management can be wrought. On second thought, don’t ask her.

I’ve read with equal parts wonder and horror about “ascetic” lifestyles in which adherents foreswear stuff accumulation to live closer to the earth. These Thoreau wannabes purport to lead simpler existences, free of the grind of getting, maintaining and obsessing about stuff. An intriguing philosophy, no doubt, until one realizes it’s boring staring at trees all day and pondering one’s infinitesimal role in an utterly indifferent universe. Why suffer such existential dilemmas when there’s stuff to get?

Yes, I long for liberation from stuff servitude, but daggumit, when it works it’s wonderful, giving me the power to summon movies from my couch, make perfect curly fries or allow me to access the Internet from the backyard. So, I keep going back for more, knowing the delicate balance of convenience and upkeep of lifestyle enhancers is a constant seesaw. To evaluate whether it’s worth it, I just need to download some lifestyle simplification software. Hmmm… not compatible with Windows XP, maybe I’ll just upgrade my Operating System… Nope, not enough disk space, not compatible with current processor. Sorry, dear readers, I’m off to buy a new computer. And maybe some accessories...


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