I have been wondering why I see such quantities of relatively worthless stuff in people’s homes. I remember when a client removed himself from the work we were doing to weep tears of rage and regret when he discovered the extent of his wife’s shopping addiction. She was disabled and could no longer keep her secret, but she had stashes of stuff, some of it new and unopened, that she had purchased from cable TV shopping channels. Now her husband was left to dispose of this stuff in order to put the house on the market. The saddest part was that the items had little or no resale value.
A recent article in the New York Times gives some of the clearest explanations of this relatively recent phenomenon.
“The cascade began 25 years ago, when China started to export huge amounts of cheap clothes, toys and electronics. Cut-rate retailers and big-box stores encouraged us to stockpile it all.And we did. A study of middle-class families in Los Angeles found that just one in four families could fit a car in its garage. (It also found that mothers’ stress levels rose as they described their household mess.) Americans who struggled to afford health insurance and college could nevertheless buy lots of stuff, sometimes on credit.”
Our parents’ generation, which suffered true deprivation, may have stashed a lot of stuff but their reasoning was different. They had known real scarcity and the things they kept were likely to have future use if the same conditions returned. Some of us still think like that. The challenge is to think along the lines of your house being emptied when you are no longer living there. What message will the things you have kept tell about you?