I do not normally jump on the SWEDOW bandwagon. It seems the most salient arguments are made again and again, and frankly, it’s often too easy of a criticism.
But whenever the latest blogosphere or Twitter uproar occurs (see Nick Kristof’s latest appeal for old prom or bridesmaid dresses or this bra donation scheme), there is always one nagging, unanswered question for me…
“Why in the &$%# do people think “stuff” is the answer?”
Earthquake? Let’s send shoes. Orphanage? Let’s send underwear. Tsunami? Let’s send dolls and coloring books. All I can do is picture ship containers full of “stuff”—new and used, begged, borrowed and hopefully not stolen on behalf of poor people—being sailed across our oceans every day.
What is it about us in the developed world that elevates “stuff” to this level, to becoming a solution to poverty or disaster? I know people here in the U.S. that spend an awful, awful lot of their time and energy accumulating, managing, and maintaining their “stuff,” and presumably rarely enjoying it. Not hoarders, but average people, fulfilling every capitalist’s dream.
It leaves me wondering what these possessions, these things, mean to them, and to the rest of us living at similar socio-economic levels?
Does our “stuff” give us a sense of security? Have our emotional and social lives become so vacuous that “stuff” fills these gaps? Does “stuff” provide a sense of worthiness or power? Does “stuff” allow us to live superficially, preventing us from going deeper?
I suspect that our relationship to the “stuff” in our own lives may be directly correlated to how much “stuff” we believe to be necessary to send to “those in need.”
What do you think?
Full Disclosure: I have been living without my own “stuff” for the past nine months. Though I feign the role of vagabond, the other day in the drug store, I almost broke down as I spotted a tin of Burt’s Bees Hand Salve, just like one of the many “treasures” of mine currently laying in wait in a San Jose storage unit.