Monday, August 03, 2015

Our Culture of Stuff

I've been increasingly preoccupied over the last several days with our culture's preoccupation with stuff. When I was over at my brother in law's a week or so ago, he was showing me old pictures of the Baldus store in Newaygo. There was a picture of it from the 1910s and another picture sometime in the 1920s, and then he had a picture of himself and some other friends standing outside waiting for the bus in the 60s. It eventually burned to the ground in the early 70s. But looking back at those photos, all I could think of was that people would go to that one store in Newaygo every week and buy everything they needed for their house. 

That entire store was the size of any one of the store fronts we have downtown now that specialize in women's clothing or bead-crazed jewelry or sporting gear or hand crafted items or specialty dog foods. But inside that store was almost anything a family, and in fact a family farm, would need. Sure, they would have the Montgomery Wards catalog or the Louden Farm Equipment catalog, but in that world one box grater served the culinary needs of whoever was need for a cheese grater and a zester and a microplaner. All you needed was a box grater. I have each, including the box grater which came first. But somehow I became convinced that I also needed a special cheese grater for my Romano, a zester for my citrus, and a microplaner when I needed a touch of nutmeg. Last night when I was shopping for groceries, I happened to walk through the seasonal area where the deck chairs and outside ottomans are, and I saw this glove that had a sponge that covered the hand and I thought, perfect! Wow, so glad someone finally came up with one of those to clean the lawn furniture! And suddenly it dawned on me that up until twenty years ago, everyone used their old towels that they would cut up into smaller pieces, and that would clean the lawn furniture. And they'd use it on the living room tables, not the fancy one-use wipes we all use now. Heck, there was a time women mixed up their furniture cleaner in their kitchen. Do you know that in the 1050s, people had very small closets because they only had about five outfits? Three for every day, one for dressy occassions and one for hard work. And I just had to buy 30 hangers because I was short that many and had so many items of clothing I couldn't hang up. Back then, closets were about the size of our broom cupboards. Broom cupboards...where we now keep our Swiffer, our Wet Jet, our mop (for the really dirty jobs), our dust broom (complete with its matching miniature dust pan), our regular broom, the broom we use outside (for again, the really dirty jobs), our vacuum cleaner, our Dustbuster, and our carpet cleaner. Seventy five years ago, women had one broom, one dust pan, and their carpet beater. And that was it.

Of course, one could argue, this is just commercialism, profiteering off the well-to-do age we live in now. But I do long for a simpler life. I've often thought that once the girls have grown up and moved out, I would like to buy a miniature house. I probably won't, but I won't change how I feel about all the stuff we are so convinced we need.

I say all this and yet...I won't get rid of any more books. Even the ones I look at and think, I don't like that book. Nope. Books will stay. Even if I end up in an apartment so small, I brush my teeth in my kitchen sink. While I'm laying in bed.