Opinion

We can all do without the 'stuff' that clutters our lives

A while back I stopped at a rest stop and partook of the free coffee offered. This time the host group was dedicated to controlling growth and development, which I support, so I said so to the gentleman who was staffing the booth.

And it hit me at that moment — why growth? Why must our measures of success so consistently entail more, more, MORE?

Recently, as cited by CNN, the New Economics Foundation conducted a study to determine the happiest nation on earth. Their results surprised me. The happiest nation is Costa Rica and in fact, Latin American nations took nine of the 10 top spots.

Oh. Well, that’s cool, I thought.

The foundation considered not just the happiness of the population but how gently the candidate nation treated the planet and the life expectancy of its people. Costa Ricans are not just happy; their life expectancy was second only to Canadians.

The United States managed to rank only 114th and China and India were lower still, in part because all three nations are still eternally in hot pursuit of more.

I’m an American, raised with American values and believe me, I always want more. I have a gorgeous, new, zippy little car and there I go, staring wistfully at larger, lusher models.

I love to shop for objects I’ll never use and won’t remember why I wanted them. I adore gewgaws and gadgets. I would love one of those houses I see on the show “House Hunters,” especially the ones with kitchens large enough to house several Third World families.

Everybody knows that stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops are crucial to quality cooking.

The difference between me and some others is that I have actually been reduced to owning very little. All I had was stuff I had left in storage and a broken car.

Surprisingly, despite my anguish over all the loss involved, I felt curiously free being owned by less. I felt an odd giddiness when I realized I was perfectly happy with just a few personal possessions. What lust for stuff that remained generally was for art and craft supplies — to make more stuff, of course — but at least what I was making was entertaining and kept me happily occupied.

My daughters, too, seemed to do better with less.

I recall a day when I told my then 12-year-old to clean her room. Hours later I came in to an untouched room and a child weeping in despair. She didn’t know where to begin dealing with the mounds of stuff she had accumulated.

Four hours later we had removed multiple bags of garbage and even more still stuff to donate to charity. Her room was clean and contained only what objects she truly used or cherished. She was so relieved and happy she nearly levitated.

Each of the objects we discarded or donated was made using the Earth’s resources, which are not infinite. It seems to me it will all last quite a bit longer if we slow down our greed for it.

Using fewer resources isn’t likely to harm the Earth and it would help us learn to “live simply so that others may simply live.”

When I look back on the days when I had nearly nothing, I realize I could actually come to enjoy living a simpler and less cluttered life. Perhaps, rather than engage with stuff, I could become more involved with other people instead. I’d need some real personal tinkering to do it, but I have at least done it before.

It makes me wonder how our world would look if we just gave it a try.

Maya North, a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors, has gone from street kid to bachelor’s degree; welfare mom to computer programmer with the Department of Labor and Industries. She can be reached at MayaNorth@gmail.com.

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