CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH A LIFETIME OF STUFF
My heartfelt advice to you: Never Move.
If you must move, never move to a place with lots of storage space, such
farm full of old barns and sheds.
If you must move to such a place, never move away from it.
Guess what I've been doing for the last month. Right, moving from the farm
where I've lived for 27 years. Processing literally tons of stuff,
deposited there not only by me, but by dozens of people who have shared the
place with me over the years.
Old tires. Rusty rolls of wire fencing. Piles of random boards
in handy some day). Stacks of old windows (we never got around to
into a greenhouse). Gallons of waste oil in scattered hiding places. Pieces
of pipe left over from every plumbing job. Flower pots, all sizes,
clay, enough to outfit a florist shop (you never know when you'll want to
divide a house plant).
Five dumpster dumps, four truckloads to the metal recycler, three huge
bonfires, two loads to the church rummage sale, and a partridge in a
When, within one short, dark month, you have to lift, focus on, and
future of every piece of stuff you have accumulated, you get a visceral sense
of the material excess of the American lifestyle.
If you are environmentally aware, you picture all that stuff wrested
mines and forests and soils of the earth, and finally, unceremoniously, dumped.
If you have an esthetic bone in your body, you reflect on the overwhelming
ugliness of it all, especially when commingled in the dumpster.
If you are plain practical, once you've hauled it all out, once you've swept
away the spider webs that built up in those untended corners, as you
contemplate the clean, airy spaces you've suddenly created, you wonder, "Why
did I squeeze myself out of all this wonderful working space, just to
I am appalled at myself. Not only do I try to live an environmentally
responsible life, I'm also a orderliness freak. Only when forced to relocate
all my worldly goods did I let myself realize that I had kept in order roughly
ten percent of my domain, the living space in the house. In the garage and
barn and tractor shed the spiders and junk were running riot.
We started with the outbuildings and worked in toward the house, so at
thought my sins were only ones of omission. It was other people's stuff,
mainly male people. It was heavy: metal, wood, machines. My fault was in
allowing it to be dumped so mindlessly. I hadn't been forceful enough to
insist on cleanups. I made resolutions about future forcefulness.
Then we got to the house, where my sins of commission lay. Enough yarn and
fabric packed away in trunks for me to knit and sew for the next 250
Kitchen stuff: bowls, vases, spice jars sufficient for a multitude.
all, books. It took two days to take them down, sort out boxes of them
away, pack up the rest. It will take weeks to build enough shelves to unpack
them in the new place.
I brought those books into the house, every one made of ground-up trees.
read them, yes, and loved them, but I have easy access to three good
I didn't need to house a library of my own. I piled up those books
am impatient; I want to look up a quote or a fact instantly. Because I fend
off worries by escaping, and books are my escape mechanism. Because I don't
trust either the outside world or my inner resources to entertain me; my worst
fear is to be stuck somewhere without anything good to read. Because I'm
compulsive; I hear of a good book and I get it. And because I suffer
illusions: that the world can somehow be controlled by understanding,
understanding comes from books.
The books are an expensive, troublesome, heavy, space-occupying fortress
against having to confront my inner bugaboos. I guess that's also true
mountain of scrap lumber someone else accumulated, or the costly tools that
were used maybe once a year and could have been rented, or the closets
rarely worn clothes, the attic full of dusty camping gear, the fancy equipment
for never-cooked gourmet recipes. Stuff taken from the earth to bolster
fantasy or foist off fear, stuff our non-affluent household paid a
stuff I've housed for decades, stuff that pressed in and occupied the
If I weren't exhausted from heaving it all around, and if the earth's resources
were infinite, and if we didn't all feel financially strapped to provide such
basic things as schools and health care for the children of the world, I'd
laugh off this little quirk of our culture. So we're stuff-addicted.
that stuff is really nice. Some of it caused me to swallow hard before
it farewell. I still moved much more than I need to my new place.
But I am exhausted and the earth is finite and children still live in poverty,
and so I am appalled at myself and all of us. The price we're paying
stuff -- in money and time and space and resources -- is tremendous. And
someday some poor suckers, maybe we ourselves, are going to have to move it
(Donella Meadows is an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth
College and director of the Sustainability Institute in Hartland, Vermont.)