Monday, June 23, 2008

You Can't Take It With You

Comedian George Carlin died yesterday. You would think that in a blog like this, I would talk about his c most famous bit, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV." But the routine that comes to mind at this time is his rumination on "Stuff."

Whether or not he meant to critique our attachment to the crap we accumulate, that's how I take it. I am proud to say that I do not have a waffle maker or proper crepe pan--not that I hate brunch, I just wouldn't use these often enough to justify owning them.

And yet, I am a terrible pack rat. Junk drawers abound. The garage, which we paid someone to clean out last year, is filling up again--bad gifts that can be regifted, old textbooks I might want to read again, large cardboard boxes I might need again someday (to fill with more stuff). I am constantly filling bags for Goodwill because the last thing I want to do, as Carlin will say, is move to a bigger place for my stuff.

Talk of stuff reminds me of this article in Time about the 100 Thing Challenge, Dave Bruno's quest to pare down his personal belongings to just 100 things. That's a Sisyphean task. Thoreau may have lived simply but it sure seems hard to do in twenty-first century America; I canceled my Real Simple subscription when I realized how frequently it hawked stuff that would supposedly make your life simpler (of course, I still could not bear to part with the 12 issues that sit on my bookshelf).

And yet, when you look at the photos of what families own worldwide, as pictured in the book Material World, it suddenly seems very easy (And yes, I see the irony of including the link to buy what essentially amounts to another coffee table book).

I'd like to stick to the bottom tiers of psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs when it comes to buying stuff: physiological (food, toothpaste), safety (car with airbags), and social (dining room table for entertaining friends and family). And yet in terms of what exactly you buy to meet those three tiers, the fourth tier, esteem, the desire for approval and status, will always be a temptation. I'd rather just skip past that tier and have my higher-order purchases be motivated by cognitive (books) and aesthetic needs (a beautiful well-crafted dining room table).

In the end though, once those needs are met, what I suppose I am looking for most in life is that top tier, self-actualization--the need to strive to be the best I can and make the most of my abilities. And that's something no "thing" will ever satisfy.

No comments:

Copyright 2008