the story of stuff

July 15, 2008

the story of


as a part of my job, i frequently take adults and students to third-world environments.  and i have taken enough trips over the years i can predict what the emotional response is going to be in the life of somebody who has never seen life outside of the established, consumer-driven, american culture where i live.

they will have three emotions at some point during the trip:

  1. they will marvel that people with so little can be so joyful.
  2. they will long to enjoy life as much as the people they meet.
  3. they will say that they are blessed to live in america and own so many possessions.

the reflective ones will connect the dots and realize the foolishness of their third statement as soon as they say it out loud.  others will repeat the same three emotions over and over again.

the truth is that “possessions” and “joy” are not equal.  this can be seen in the statistics (america ranks #1 in rate of depression) and this can be seen in the people we meet in the third-world countries (which leads to the emotion #1 and #2).

the unfortunate truth is that for so long americans have equated possessions with joy in life that even when the evidence is right in front of their face, we are blind to recognize it.  minimalism begins to conteract that belief structure.  we begin to live with less and find that joy does not leave our lives. 

it may even feed it.


according to the national association of home builders, the average american home has more than doubled since 1950.  and once we’ve got that extra space, we need to buy things to put in it, right? 

no wonder minimalism is such a foreign concept to us americans.


you can see my first post on the failure of minimalism to catch on in america right here.

i just read some more interesting statistics reinforcing the notion of america’s unquenchable desire for everything material. 

  • it took 25 years for the storage industry to build its first billion square feet of storage space. the second billion square feet was added in just seven years, from 1998 to 2005, according to the self storage association.
  • in 1995, one in 17 american households rented storage space. by 2007, that ratio had increased to one in 10, according to the self storage association.
  • the average american home has grown from 1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,300 square feet today, but the average size of the household has shrunk from 3.1 to 2.5.
  • five years ago, the total amount of revolving debt — mainly credit card debt — that americans owed was $800 billion. today, according to the June credit report released by the federal reserve, it’s nearly $1 trillion, even as millions of us regularly plundered home equity to pay off plastic.

i can’t help but wonder what kind of a difference america could be making around the world if they had spent that $300 billion on feeding hungry children or delivering medical supplies to needy families around the world instead of spending it on stuff and empty spaces to store their stuff.  i’m not judging, i’m just wondering…


You can read the whole article here: The High Price of Too Much Stuff.