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Stuff: What is it good for?

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.

This post originally appeared at:
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Nusrat Ara's picture

You know this thing has been

You know this thing has been bothering me for a while now. The way we accumulate stuff. I attach too much sentiments and value to my belongings. I have been trying to detach myself so that I can get rid of a lot of stuff. I am still learning but there is one thing that I have learned and that which keeps me motivated in doing so. I have seen and felt how good use people can make of things that are lying with me for years with no possible use for me. Like I once saw a pic of a child wearing a flip flop made of a water bottle. I know people who have pairs they never wear.

You have a point there but things are not so simple either. Thanks for sharing.



HowMatters's picture

thanks for your comment

Certainly there are many ways to utilize unwanted "stuff." I really liked these thoughts by someone who commented on
"I think society has ingrained in us that material possessions determine whether or not we are poor, ie, the more stuff you have the better off you are. This creates many problems when we see the rest of the world through the same lens. If I see a family in the developing world that doesn’t have shoes, t-shirts, and other “essentials” my lens says that if I provide them with that, they will be much better off and no longer poor. We see all poverty as material poverty (lack of things) and not as any other type of poverty (lack of knowledge, oppression by others, etc). I think it is a simplistic view of poverty based on my viewing others through my lens and determining what I have that they do not, and thus need, and then me determining to send them these things to 'help them.'” - Aid effectiveness is not about what we do, but HOW we do it.

Cali gal Michelle's picture


Thank you for bringing up such an important matter, especially here in the States. We are so addicted to accumulating things- and 'yard sales' are just a way of trading other people's junk. Do I really need that 1975 Neil Young album? I mean, I only have 3 already.... etc. etc. And I have my grandparent's stuff to boot. Just can't part with it. Why? will I lost my soul or something? I'm sure I won't. I definitely need to work on that area of my life. Thank you for the reminder!

Peace and courage to you-


Let us Hope together-
aka: Cali gal


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