Like many CC students, I am continually surprised by my excess of possessions. This realization came to me while moving off campus and dealing with the voluminous amount of crap that I had accumulated while at school. Over four years, the detritus of Christmas past, birthdays and my own purchases began to bury me in things that I owned and had no use for.
So I threw out a few grungy t-shirts and boxers where the elastic had given out and felt better about it momentarily. However, I still had a ridiculous excess of possessions, most notably books and clothing.
Taken individually, many of these were of high quality and I was reluctant to be rid of them. Novels I had read once, nice wool sweaters, and various kitchen supplies are all things that have value and utility. Even worse, though, was the outdoor gear. I spend a good deal of time camping and rock climbing.
My discovery of discount outdoor gear websites began a cycle of buying pieces of gear that were cool, useful, and of high quality, but largely made redundant by other things that I already owned. When I returned to campus from winter break with yet another wool sweater and synthetic fleece, I bit the bullet and made a large donation to Goodwill.
I was surprised by how difficult it was to part with these items. After all I had little or no use for them. The more I thought about it, the more that I realized that I had been duped. I had bought into the grand lie of consumer culture, that buying things will make us happy. We acquire for the joy of acquisition, and it is a joy that quickly fades. We do not enjoy using the items we purchase but the act of purchase itself.
A smart phone only lasts a few weeks as a source of wonder and joy for all the convenience it provides. Soon, like most things we own, we take it for granted. The pleasure from its novelty is quickly replaced by annoyance, or pain from its loss. The cycle continues, and we are left thirsting for new purchases.
Taken more broadly, the quest for possession after possession and the perceived need to always have more and better has two awful effects. First, it takes a massive environmental toll. This toll is often invisible because goods created for export to the United States often generate pollution and environmental degradation in developing countries.
Second, it hooks us into a lifetime of doing things that we do not want in exchange for goods and services that will not make us happy. I’m not denying that we need a certain amount of income to provide for ourselves and our families. However, an excessive focus on possessions ties many to a job that they do not enjoy for the sake of increasing their wealth, or a job that simply creates wealth regardless of social and environmental cost.
A life lived in the appreciation of few necessary, well-constructed goods is a more leisurely life. It affords more opportunity to work for a purpose beyond the purchase of goods.
I do not think that we need drives or events to motivate us to give. We just need a better mindset. The trick that helped me was to examine everything in categories and in relation to one another. How many of what items do I possess? How often do I use these? How much benefit would this provide to someone who does not possess it?
Things like thermal underwear are nice to have and very useful, but it is pretty unreasonable to hoard five pairs when the benefit that one or two of those could have to someone in need is immense. This is especially true in a city like Colorado Springs, which has both cold temperatures and a large homeless population.
Take a look into your closet, your bookshelf, or the pile of clothes on your floor. It might be all you need to get moving towards giving a gift of real value that could truly make a difference in someone’s life and simplifying your own life a little bit. Groups like Springs Rescue Mission, Goodwill, and The Arc were all happy to take my donations and put them to better use.