Do We Have the Gimmies? And Too Much Stuff?

Lately there’s a lot of loud humming in my head. There’s too much of it this time of year when the toy commercials come on constantly, the newspaper arrives loaded with extra ads and inserts what a waste of trees, and the emails for special sales and promotions flood my inbox. It’s enough to put this girl into a tailspin. And it ain’t pretty, people.

I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately that have made me even more pensive about life and “stuff”, like this one on homelessness via Diana Adams of Bit Rebels.

Anycow, we had lots of time in the car to talk, seeing as we took a few minor detours, including one to, um, Nebraska (cough, cough). When we came upon this sign

I slammed on the brakes and pulled over freaking out slightly. Shelly, ever level-headed, got on her phone to call the meat packing plant for more specific directions (let’s just say country folk don’t get that we city people aren’t used to going off the grid. My GPS was no help–it showed us kinda floating on a screen of white space). As we drove, wide open fields raced past us while a beautiful blue sky floated gracefully above. Grasses turning dry and brown, trees that seemed naked with the recent loss of their leaves. I squealed as we passed cattle grazing, baby calves, deer, and even alpaca!

We talked while we drove through several small farm towns as we neared Bern. Shelly mentioned how different people’s lives are up there. For example, Deborah, the woman whose cow we bought, lives in a very small house with her husband, two kids, and a third on the way. Her kids have no idea what Gogurt is, and the abhorrent fruit snacks my kids are addicted to are completely alien to them. Their nearest grocery store is a half hour drive away. Deborah and her neighbors stock a nearby food pantry with essentials so that in a pinch they can grab what they need: a sack of flour, maybe some sugar, and perhaps some beans or potatoes. There is no McDonald’s in Bern. There is no Wal-Mart in Bern. It’s truly all very quaint, simple, and quiet. Nothing but miles and miles of farmland around, wide open spaces, and consequently less of a need or desire for the “stuff” the rest of us constantly crave and find so necessary.

What a different life many of us lead. It’s difficult for me to admit, but we definitely lead a life of excess. We have not only what we need, but so much more. I drive a two-year-old minivan that we bought brand new; we live in a large new house with plenty of space; and our girls have their own playroom in the basement that’s overflowing with Barbies, an easel, a doll house, kiddie table & chairs set, a ginormous dress-up trunk, and a small inflatable bouncy house (thank you very much for the Craigslist find, Shelly!). We go out to nice meals at restaurants when we want, go to the movie theater, shop at Banana Republic, The Gap, Target and Old Navy. We have several different chains of grocery stores available to us, all within a two or three mile radius. We take all of this for granted.

Still, we are generous. We donate to many different charities and make a point of supporting lots of people and organizations in need. I keep granola bars and packs of peanut butter crackers in my car to hand out to the homeless, along with the smile Diana Adams talks about in her post. This morning I dropped off several large bags of clothes, shoes, housewares, etc. at Goodwill. I support Heifer International and send meaningful gifts to help people around the world receive training that helps them become self-reliant. Not only is that being green, it’s not just more “stuff.”

But here I am trying to make all these excuses for myself. When I’m part of the problem of “stuff.”

As I type this, there’s a closet upstairs where we’re hiding Hanukkah and birthday gifts for our daughters. Part of me can’t help it. They are still so young. I’m hopeful we can gradually ease away from this unhealthy obsession and instead do things like volunteer at shelters or food kitchens someday when they are older. Maybe rather than giving each other presents, we can commit to putting that money towards a charity (or a few) we all believe in and want to support. There are so many in need. I have taught my children about homelessness and while they clearly don’t fully understand it, they do show sympathy and they enjoy helping me dole out snacks or put money in a bucket. If I have my way, within a few years we’ll take gifts to a nearby children’s hospital to hand out.

And that good feeling, that high I get from helping others? That’s the only “stuff” I really need.