Saturday, February 11, 2006

Too Much Stuff

I'm back from California, where we celebrated my mother-in-law's eightieth birthday. Lots of fun, good food, great company, walks in the woods and on the beach. In between, of course, I checked email, got phone messages, kept my cell phone charged and ready. And there's the rub. I've gotten so dependent on all this technology that it's hard to live without it. Hard also to live without my king size Select Comfort mattress, my hairdryer, my magnifying mirror, and without my Stark Sisters Maple Almond Granola. In short, I'm surrounded by stuff and it's running my life, especially when things go wrong. Which they always do, particularly if technology's involved. Here's my corollary to Murphy's Law--the more stuff you have, the more likely something will go wrong with all or part of it.

Lately, Eric and I have been splitting our time between Miami and Boston, so our stuff has just about doubled. Somehow, though, the number of things that have gone wrong has at least quadrupled (there must be another corollary there).

Take our disposal woes. The six-year-old model at our Boston house suddenly died. We had it replaced, but in so doing, the plumber inadvertently reversed the sink faucet's hot and cold settings, necessitating a return visit. Less than a week later, in our Miami apartment, the sink became stopped up and our brand new Insinkerator failed. We replaced it with another Insinkerator, only to have it suddenly stop working two days later--apparently defective. Insinkerator number three is currently doing okay. Of course, we're afraid to put anything down the disposal to test it out.

A disclaimer: I'm not exactly complaining. I feel incredibly lucky to have a nice house and now a nice apartment. But I am questioning the price I pay in time, money, and mental health to maintain such a material-laden lifestyle. Like many Americans, I sometimes buy things just because I can, not because of real need or because they add meaning to my life. In fact, what I fear is that all the stuff obscures what really matters--love, ideas, humor, connectedness to people, animals, and the environment.

In one of our recent technological failures, we had no Internet in our Miami apartment for a month, due to Hurricane Wilma. My initial reaction was nothing short of withdrawal symptoms--I really didn't know what to do with myself without email, online newspapers and other information sources at my fingertips. I was able to check email daily at a nearby hotel, so I was never even completely cut off. But what surprised me was that after the first few days, I missed the Internet less and less. I stopped craving the latest news. I read more books, took more walks, paid more attention to the dog, sat on my terrace instead of inside at my computer. Maybe next time I lose the Internet, I'll take things a step further--unplug my tv, turn off my cell phone, and go birdwatching.

3 comments:

Michael said...

Keep up the great blogs! (Do we own our stuff or does it own us?)

Anonymous said...

A thoughtful and true way of evaluating the materialistic roadmap that creates more problems than it solves. More is not better. Thanks for the insight to greater freedom.

Susan Schlesinger said...

Here I sit in a hotel room in Aruba reading your blog on the laptop. I feel your pain!