Monday, March 3, 2008

On a "stuff"-free March.

"As the world goes 'round / It's got me thinkin'
That the things I want / Keep me sinking / Down." - Zwan, 'Ride a Black Swan'

Last Thursday, while waiting for a meeting that never happened, I browsed around our nifty Nomad Bookhouse in downtown Jackson for an entire hour. The best part? I had a great time, and didn't buy one book. Same goes for our downtown library; I get lost in there for hours on end, and it doesn't cost me a dime.

As the world goes 'round, it's got me thinking, too - that less of what makes me happy is possessions, and more of what makes me happy is experiences.

I always have to remind myself of that, but maybe it was Steven Stoll's article in the March edition of Harper's, titled "Fear of Fallowing: The spectre of a no-growth world," where he argues that - after the basics are taken care of - the accrual of possessions makes us no more happier as time goes on.

The opposite effect, in fact, could be true. American happiness peaked in 1950, says Bill McKibben in Deep Economy, and afterwards has dripped down a few percentage points. "The point is not that [economic] growth has caused depression and anxiety," he writes, but beyond basic needs like food, shelter, and a few material possessions, it fails to deliver the joy marketers want us to believe.

Stoll goes on to say that our current rate of economic growth is unsustainable and that, by 2050, we'll need two planets to provide the natural resources to furnish everything we're producing. The solution? To stop growing, and devout our productivity to, say, more leisure or better efficiency.

Says Stoll:
The end of growth will not mean the end of progress, to the extent that we can redefine progress as consisting of something other than accumulation.
Imagine that - working hard for something other than buying more stuff.

That's inspiring. So inspiring, in fact, that I'm devoting the month of March to reducing my strain on the nature of things. A Washington Post article I read called it the "Enoughasaurus."

It's a mighty Buddhist philosophy: the impermanence of things offers nothing but desire (for more) and suffering (at lack), and so provide no value. Jesus, too, said that the quickest way to heaven was to give up all possessions and go do good for our fellow humans.

That doesn't mean I'm going to give up everything I own. I'll admit, I do love my Macs and my music. But it does mean I can give up a lot of my stuff without any adverse affects on my spirit.

To whit: I've saved countless magazines from the subscriptions I've had over the years. How often to I go back and read them?

And books? I do plan on having a library for myself and my kids, but there's a lot of books that I'll never want to read again, or have no intention of reading. Someone else may find a better use for them.

Even my comics. Good lord, I went through a spell in college where I would gather comics to read and store away, and retain only for their "value." Now I'm old enough to recognize the lessons of the early 1990s, when the comics market (as it is) bottomed out. I remember my dad collecting Batman comics when I was a teenager just because he thought they would be worth something "someday." Now they sit in a box in his basement, and they aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

Selling off some of my stuff, as I did in a big eBay spree a year ago, can help me fund the things I do enjoy. I want to get back to running come spring, and I have a big trip planned. And a few little projects I want to undertake - it all takes capital, and I can acquire the needed funds through reducing my dependency on "stuff." I don't need stuff. What I do need are the things I really enjoy, which are experiences I'll never forget. That's how life is lived.

Some of this will be hard. People develop an emotional attachment to their stuff, and I'm no different. I'm mighty proud of the Apple collection I've acquired, but I sure as heck don't need any more. I like doing stuff on Macs. A few dusty computers just sitting there bring me no true happiness. I'm scared I'll end up like my grandma, who is so swimming in material possessions that she's miserable and looking for a way out.

I'd rather be able to see New England, go visit friends, help out the organizations I belong to, and do a bit of writing and designing when I can.

We could call it a "no growth life." But that's misleading. I'll be growing, just not in possessions.

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