S is for “Stuff”: Possessions, Clutter, and Responsibility

Want to know what keeps me up at night? Knowing that our earth holds mounds and mounds of unusable, non-biodegradable trash that is strewn in our streets and crammed in our landfills. It bothers me because I don’t see our spending habits or throw-it-away habits help us be responsible stewards of our earth. We’ve only got one planet (for now) that we get to live on. What happens when it’s too late to turn around the consequences of our consumerist lifestyles?

I own clutter. I don’t know how to get rid of old decorations, and it would take hours to sort through the box (Repurposed gift? Other options?). So I just keep it in the inaccessible drawers underneath my bed. I successfully accomplished 2017’s resolution to get rid of at least 5% of my belongings. At the time, I was preparing to move from an apartment to a basement, so I didn’t want to spend my time schlepping stuff I don’t use. For a 1-person household, I still had one small moving van’s worth of shit. Sure, there was big furniture like my bed frame, mattress, dinner table, and 4 dinner chairs. Otherwise, I own a decent number of clothes because style (or comfy sweatpants when I’m home alone) and self-presentation are important to me.  And I cannot part with my books. I refuse to own a TV. A big space taker is Vera (more on that unique wedding gown when I get to the letter “V”).

One of the culture shock pieces when I came to the U.S. was seeing storage unit buildings everywhere. What was the purpose of storing things for a long time if you end up forgetting what you stored? Did you really need to store it to begin with (vs discarding it)? I was also surprised at how many thrift stores existed (and found said thrift stores’ contents mildly entertaining). I hadn’t even known what a thrift store was before coming to the U.S. Did people own so much crap that it would assuage their guilt to just move their old toys that ceased to intrigue them? Granted, that’s not the only reason why people donate ridiculous things to thrift stores, but what I’m getting at is that many Americans own a lot of possessions, and moving it around (and then buying the newer, cooler thing) doesn’t help the problem of meaningless waste. In Cameroon, one of the ways we’d do our clothes shopping was going through small hills of second-hand clean clothing. It was affordable, it was absolutely time-consuming, and you had to barter. I never knew where these clothes came from, but a lot of them followed American style trends, were American brands (hello football team shirts), and sported some sort of American English.

When I took a family systems class in seminary, I was shocked to learn that  hoarding is a thing. As in, it’s a physical issue with lacking boundaries, or acquiring possessions as a way to cope with realities or relationships you struggle to control. I was floored that this existed (I never saw that in Cameroon or Madagascar…probably because those cultures aren’t as material-centric). I was even more taken aback that this behavior follows a family, like it skips generations. I looked at myself and how I began to have so many seemingly useless things, and I wondered where that was coming from.

I live in a studio apartment, so as a naturally messy person, if I don’t pay attention, the small space gets cramped easily with my possessions like a crock pot that needs cleaning or lots of laundry that needs folding. I recycle like it’s my religion. I’m not entirely sure it makes much of a difference, but I try anyway. My apartment complex has a compost bin so I compost. I started paying attention to cooking my own food so I use tupperwares and leftovers instead of quickly buying a salad at the store and having to wash and recycle its container. When I needed body wash, I chose to get body soap instead so I don’t have to recycle the plastic bottle that the body wash came in. Responsible use of resources means altering your perspective, and often making changes to your lifestyle. Who knows how far one individual or one family’s waste choices will impact our environment, but I want peace of mind that at least I’m leaning towards environment-conscious living.


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