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Bear column: Too much stuff

I’ve never seen the TV show, “Hoarders,” and I never want to. Homes piled high with useless stuff are equivalent to a house of horrors at Halloween to me.

In the late ’90s I spent two years installing home security systems in the Denver area — a job that required me to hop over, squeeze through, or wriggle around every nook and cranny of people’s homes.

It shocked me to see the sheer amount of excess stuff most people filled their homes with — newspapers, magazines and books stacked up everywhere, bedrooms filled to overflowing with clothes and shoes, boxes filled with… whatever… that they’d never unpacked from a previous move.

It was a good lesson in tolerance, and it did make me feel better about the little extravagances I allowed in my own home. Suddenly my vast collection of records and CDs didn’t seem so excessive.

My parents grew up during the scarcity of the Depression era, so I have no doubt that my tendency toward minimalism came from them.

My dad was an extreme minimalist who demanded that our family home contain no more than what was necessary for a family of six to survive.

He did have a large collection of tools, but most of them were hung neatly on a pegboard above his workbench in our garage. Every tool he owned resided in a specific place, so he never had to search for anything.

I once borrowed his hammer to build a tree house with my friends, and promptly lost it. He knew the second he drove his car into our garage after work that day that it was missing.

That’s right, people used to park their cars in their garages. Now, garages are mostly used as an extra storage space for stuff.

We all have so much stuff now that our homes can’t contain it. Rental storage spaces have proliferated to the point they’ve become an integral, and visible, part of every community in America. Apparantly it’s not enough to fill our homes and garages with stuff, we need more space for all the other stuff we don’t really need.

When my kids were young, I was guilty of the out-of-control consumerism I find so abhorrent today. Their mom and I bought them every toy their hearts’ desired, and what we didn’t buy them, their well-meaning grandparents, aunts and uncles bought them.

Their rooms looked like a Toys R Us store, and everyone dreaded the inevitable drama of “room cleaning” days, when we’d designate toys they no longer played with for donation to the local thrift store.

These days I buy almost nothing that isn’t a necessity. But that’s more a product of shifting priorities than a protest against consumerism. I’d simply rather spend my money on experiences than stuff.

I understand how important consumerism is to the U.S. economy, because if it were dependent on people like me to keep it thriving, we’d all be in big trouble.

I’m not in the preferred demographic anyway. Marketers spend nearly all of their dollars luring people in the 25 to 34 age range to buy their product, and almost none of it on us older folks. They do that because they know single people and young married couples with kids buy the most stuff.

But couldn’t we all stand to downsize a little? To cut out the excesses?

I’m not talking about stuff that actually gets used, worn, is a keepsake or part of a collection. I’m talking about stuff that we store in our closets, basements or garages just because we might need it “some day,” or the stuff we buy simply because we can.

Do we really need the latest iPhone? The popular new toy? The latest outdoor gear? Aren’t many of our purchases simply about status — keeping up with the Joneses — in a society where status isn’t so much about who you are as what you own?

A few years ago my wife and I moved from the Front Range to a studio apartment in Sedona, Arizona. We both downsized to the point where everything we owned fit in a Honda Civic and a Subaru Legacy.

It was freeing — like cutting loose an anchor. And the most surprising part? We don’t miss any of it.

Jeff Bear is a Copy Editor for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You may reach him at jbear@postindendent.com.


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