By Helene Szabados
“Actually, this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That’s all; a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know?I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there.” -George Carlin, A Place for My Stuff, 1981
Nearing the start of Spring, we begin to assess the amount of stuff we own, deciding which stuff can stay and which stuff we are ready to let go. Peaceful World Foundation hosted a conversation with the aim to dive deeper into the relations we hold with the material world. We invited friends from all around Tides’ Converge including, Pachamama Alliance, Outward Bound, and a new tenant at Tides’. The topic was as follows:
“As our dependency on material resources progresses, what relations do we have with the material world, including money, electronics and conveniences?”
In our ice breaker question, we reflected on the toys that brought us joy as children, and what values those toys had in our lives. This led us to talk about electronics; the toys of adulthood. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the electronic world:
Pros of Electronics:
- Connecting across the Globe
Cons of Electronics:
- Addiction – We spend 80% of our free time on our phones
- Products built to accommodate addictive behavior and consumerism
- The illusion of multitasking
We wanted to avoid getting stuck on electronics because there are multiple aspects of the material world that are not frequently talked about. As a table, we proceeded with a discussion on sentimental possessions. We described things like trinkets, special cards, old journals, and the difficulties of keeping our sentimental things over time. We came up with ideas of what you can do with the stuff that is hard to part with, including:
- Saving it for the next generation
- Gifting it to important people in our lives
- Donating to the less fortunate
We found ourselves on the topic of purging our unused possessions; what our society refers to as Spring Cleaning. A participant brought up the increasingly popular organization manual, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. This book poses the question, “Does your stuff bring you joy?” You begin your tidying journey by asking this question to each possession you own. When you have minimized the amount of things you own, you begin to build stronger relations with the remaining stuff. Marie Kondo’s book is a great place to start if you are searching for a new relationship with your stuff.
I was curious to ask, “Does the price of our stuff affect how long we keep it?” Our table giggled about the reality of the question, sharing the common experience of having a pair of pants we do not fit into anymore because they cost us a pretty penny. A participant from Peaceful World Foundation described her experience with consignment stores and how cost efficient it can be to let go of your pricier items properly. Another participant insisted that is what she should use for all her bridesmaids dresses.
Marriage – A whole new level of owning stuff.
Some of our participants scoffed at the American Dream Wedding, criticizing its consumerist agenda. Others shared their views on the cost of attending a wedding such as an outfit, a gift, even a plane ticket in some situations. Ironically, we had a newlywed at our breakfast table, who described the wedding registry system as undeveloped. He found himself with many gifts that turned out to be useful but he was also overwhelmed by the amount of stuff he had acquired, for example a disproportionate amount of serving platters. As a table we discussed re-gifting etiquette and what the appropriate amount of time passed is.
We began talking about different styles of weddings. A participant shared her experiences with the extravagant weddings typically found in the Indian Culture. She told the story of one wedding where they bought a plot of land a year in advance to host a celebration that would accommodate 3,000 guests. An interesting question came up while discussing big weddings;
What do you remember from these big events?
A potluck style wedding was introduced as an alternative wedding celebration, where guests contribute to the event as opposed to the material desires of the newlyweds. A participant related with her story, as she had done much preparation to create a budget for her wedding to replace a registry. Her guests could contribute to her wedding by paying for services such as catering, music and beverages. She found her guests were happier to flaunt what they had contributed to her wedding and as a result the event was full of fond memories. After talking about weddings we came to the conclusion, that when we spend money on others we are happier than when we spend money on ourselves.
The final chapter of our conversation involved reflecting on when and what we first learned about money. This topic is an interesting one because it is rarely talked about in our society. I shared my childhood experience of the compromise my parents gave me to volunteer at a stable in exchange for the horseback riding lessons I so deeply yearned for. I learned the result of hard work is the ability to do the things that bring you joy. We discussed several family dynamics and found that the way our parents managed money affects the way we manage money today. For example, if you had a parent that lived through the depression, you may be more prone to exercising penny pinching tendencies. After further discussion, however, we recognized that there can be many factors that contribute to our relationship with money.
Some factors that can affect our financial management are as follows:
- Life Experience
- Financial Advisors
“I am convinced that material things can contribute a lot to making one’s life pleasant, but, basically, if you do not have very good friends and relatives who matter to you, life will be really empty and sad and material things cease to be important.
-David Rockefeller, American Banker
The material world is extensive, so to cover a topic such as Our Relations to the Material World could take years. Our goal in this conversation was not to completely define our relationship with the material world but simply to begin asking the question, where am I with my stuff? It is sacred to create safe spaces of reflection and communication in our communities. Now more than ever, we need to unite and listen to each other. We encourage you to start conversations that matter and question the topics we avoid.
Build peace in your community, one conversation at a time.