How Our Relationship With "Stuff" Has Changed... And Fast

May 31, 2018 2 min read

Most cultural changes happen gradually — it's the frog being slowly boiled in water effect, not the one dropped into the hot pot who immediately identifies the change & hops out. Logically, I know that our interaction with things & belongings has changed a lot in the postwar years; of course it has.

When I read Little House on the Prairie with my daughter, Laura Ingalls’ most prized possession is her corn cob doll. This is obviously very different than my daughter's life now, with an abundance of beautifully made toys (none of which are made from our backyard crops). But, so much about life then was drastically different that it doesn't even really impact how we think about life now. It didn't much chasten her... the life she lives now bears little resemblance to Laura's.

But, a few things lately have really drawn my attention to how much has drastically changed within my short lifetime.

The other day, I read a Sesame Street bedtime story to my kids. In part of the plot, Big Bird goes to visit Bert & Ernie to — get this — see their new tablecloth.



Bert & Ernie buying a new tablecloth was an event notable enough to warrant that they invited a friend over to see & admire it.


Similarly, when I watched Home Alone at Christmas, the burglaries stood out to me. The "wet bandits" were breaking into homes and stealing VCRs, candlesticks (not silver), remote control toys, and basically anything they could crowbar from the shelf into their bags. It was like a glimpse into a foreign culture! How could those tchotchkes have any resale value?

Today, mass manufacturing makes so many consumer goods available at low, accessible prices. It's not that they have no value, but our attitude has certainly shifted about the loss & replacement of stolen goods.

If your home was burglarized, and the décor items — placemats, picture frames, candleholders, succulent planters, books — or children's toys stolen from your home... would you be devastated to replace them? Could you imagine them finding them at a pawn shop and repurchasing them there? Or would it seem nearly as economical to buy everything new? Would you maybe even enjoy or relish the chance to re-buy newer versions of these items?



I don't even know what has happened to the pawn shop industry; I wonder if the modern equivalent is that thieves would sell the items on Craigslist/Kijiji? We all know that *that* sounds like a hassle that would not seem worth the effort at all, except for maybe the best electronics.

 

So, life changes, things change — all normal. But let's, for a second, just gauge the temperature around us. To look from the outside in; not even from the 1870's, but from the 1970's. How hot is the water? How normal is it to buy stuff without one bit of pomp or fanfare (or giant birds coming over to see it, or burglars itching to steal it)?

We don't want our things to define us, but I wonder if we are now defined by how little the things we accumulate really matter to us. And if they don't matter... why do we want them so badly?



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