Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How much matter matters?

This weekend, I did a lot of sitting around, very reluctantly. After a few minutes of that nonsense, I started moving around, call it "physical therapy." Now, anyone who has a horizontal surface in their house knows how quickly it will become occupied with something. In fact, I think it has something to do with materialistic entropy: man will expand to the surroundings he can afford. Well, I have many horizontal surfaces in MY house, or "planes" as I force my students to call them. This means I have lots of stuff.

Married only 11 years ago, it's amazing how much my wife, kids, and I have accumulated throughout the years. I wouldn't even consider myself a pack rat, opting instead to get rid of things when their utility and/or novelty have expired. We've made quite a bit of dough through the years both through the tradition of making homemade bread on Sunday mornings, through our selling stuff at my Mom's garage sales, or in tax "write-offs" as my wife and I "donate" things to charity (call it the . . . . Sanitation Engineer's Union.) It seems, though, that for every one thing I get rid of, two or more things take it's place. When I look around, I'm beginning to thoroughly understand the late, great George Carlin's quip that "Life is nothing more than finding a place to keep your stuff."

I'm proud to be in the American minority of those that do not pay monthly rent on storage rental of any kind. Instead, I prefer to get rid of stuff the less expensive way. For instance, last year's Christmas presents quickly become this year's garbage or charitable donations (you know the Sanitation Engineer's Union is ALWAYS looking for donations.) That "thing" we bought "x" years ago that everyone "had" to have ("Tickle-Me-Elmo," "Furby," ANY toy or exercise equipment) is now decomposing in the bottom of some landfill, or collecting dust in someone else's garage. With this mindset, you would think that my house would be vacuous, but that's where you are mistaken. In fact, I have a very difficult time finding a place to set down my coffee in order to scratch my head as I wonder where to set down my coffee and ponder where all this stuff came from.

So I'm wondering: how much of this "matter" really matters?

For those of you who have long since forgotten your elementary science class, and who can remember elementary science when there was elementary MATH??, matter is something that has mass and takes up space. No, I'm not talking about the droolin, incoherent, senile priest from my parochial school days, but rather, all the material things you see as you look around you, even if its your mirror's reflection. As a society of capitalism, we equate matter with what matters, that is, we equate "success" by how much "stuff" we have. Depending on where we live, we are "successful" if we have more stuff than our neighbors. Since I live in a quiet community filled with many retirees, I'm definitely richer, since I have children in my home and something called a job.

But seriously, how do we accumulate all this stuff? and where does it all go? When I was young, I had a tough time thinking about infinity . . . . when I get to heaven, I'll live forever, until . . . . . a million years? . . . . a billion years after that? . . . . . . twice that long? . . . . . . times two? . . . . . Then I turned three and I learned about the auto industry: so many cars on the road and so, so many new ones for sale each year. I never saw a car older than 3 years old on the road, mainly because I was only 3, but also because everyone had a new one. The same is true today (although I'm well beyond 3.) Back then I struggled MUCH longer with the question, "Where do all the used cars go every year?" than I ever did with the question of infinity. I'm still puzzled by it, but I think they go where all the puzzles with a missing piece, the used-up coloring books, and the Ataris go. . . to that "other person's" garage, or stuck between the cushions of my couch (that would explain why mine are so uncomfortable----OUCH! Oh look, there's an AMC '77 Gremlin stuck inthe cushions! And look, the T.V. remotes in its glove compartment!)

The point is, even though prices still keep going up and it's costing more and more just to get by these days, we Americans still must have our "stuff." Shopping to us is recreation. If we don't have the money to go shopping, we typically go shopping to make ourselves feel better about not being able to. We overextend ourselves. We live hand-to-mouth. It's not surprise that Wall Street is panicking, that Lehman Bros. folded, that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had to be saved, or that the Federal Government is proposing a $700 billion bailout! Life has GOT to be more than just accumulating "stuff" then stressing over how to pay for it and where to put it.

Luckily, each time I look at my kids, I KNOW that it IS . . . if only THEY didn't want that new "Buy Me Elmo" doll that's all the rage.


Dmac said...

Trying to teach this to young children is difficult since we live in a world where 25% of the world utilizes 75% of it's resources.
I have been teaching my 6 & 9 year old about delaying gratification and tonight they passed a test. As we left soccer practice, they asked if they could have an ice cream. I gave them a choice...we could stop and pick up an ice cream cone from Chic-Filet, or they could wait until we got home to have a treat, and I would give them a dollar each for the piggy banks that would have been spent on the fast food ice cream. I was thrilled they chose the latter. Today they can afford to buy two shares of Washington Mutual stock with that kind of dough....

Dmac said...

BTW- when life gives you no money to buy a can always make a FroHat.

kwkorpi said...

We would all be much better off if only we were as self-sufficient as the many who makes his own fro-hat.