Too Much Stuff!


Last weekend our school council hosted a community yard sale. For the modest sum of $ 15, parents could rent a table and at the same time, the school council could raise some funds for next year's programs. It seemed like a great idea to me, so for the past few months I've been carefully culling through the mounds of stuff we've accumulated over the years that have either fallen out of favor or out of purpose.


Some of the goodies destined for the yard sale included an exercise bicycle, thighmaster and some type of abdominal toner - all remnants of the time I believed that you could actually be fit after 40. I decided to part with a knitting machine that I bought a decade ago and never quite got around to mastering. A half a dozen pairs of outgrown rubber boots, a coffee maker (sans pot), boxes of books, several of the kids' outgrown bicycles, an infant car seat, stroller and booster chair were added to the pile of stuff destined for the school parking lot.


I joined close to twenty other vendors at the school early Saturday morning and began to set up my table. With coffee and donut in hand I was ready for the onslaught of eager bargain hunters before 8:00 a.m. There was a steady stream of shoppers throughout the day, but most people were just browsing. As my husband pointed out, part of the problem was that in addition to the other tables I was competing with, there were at least a dozen other yard sales in the immediate area. At the end of the day I had managed to part with two of the kids' bikes, some toddler toys and two videotape rewinders. I even managed to get rid of the thighmaster and ab toner, but much to my husband's chagrin, the exercise bicycle was unclaimed. After I paid for my table and gave the kids the money for their bikes and toys, I had about $ 15 in my pocket - hardly worth my time or the sunburn I'd managed to acquire.


I put what was left in the back of my car and drove to the nearest Goodwill store where I was handed a list of materials that are no longer accepted. It included baby items such as cribs, car seats, strollers and boosters, large appliances and small appliances that weren't in working order. Fortunately, books weren't on the list, so I unloaded several boxes and then headed to the nearest Salvation Army drop box. The sign on the box said, "clothing only", so I returned home with my car half-full. I put the baby items at the end of the driveway and hoped for the best. The exercise bicycle and knitting machine went back in my office to accumulate dust for another decade, and I was left to ponder what exactly went wrong.


It's not that I'm a novice at these things. At previous yard sales my husband and kids have marveled at my ability to sell just about anything. The problem, I decided, is that we all have too much stuff.


After the recent death of my father-in-law, my mother-in-law sold the family home and moved into a senior's apartment. The job of clearing out the house has pretty much fallen to my sister-in-law, my husband and me. Despite the fact that my in-laws were both very frugal people throughout their adult lives, we have been absolutely amazed at much stuff they had managed to accumulate. After furnishing a one-bedroom apartment and allowing her children and grandchildren to stake their claim on beloved items, my mother-in-law's house is still almost full. An auctioneer has agreed to take some of the items, but a lot of the stuff will simply end up going to the dump because nobody wants it. They already have too much stuff.


Viewed within the context of our society, the situation is ridiculous. Viewed within a global context, it's positively criminal. According to the United Nations, the 20 per cent of the world's population that lives in the developed world consumes 86 per cent of available resources. What we do with a lot of those resources is create stuff that we can't live without - for a week, or a month, or even a year or two. But ultimately, that stuff will end up on the yard sale tables of the nation, or worse yet, in the dump.




-       If you donŐt really need it, don't buy it.

-       When it comes to birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions, give of yourself, rather than your wallet. A homemade dessert, a gift certificate for free babysitting, lawn moving or weeding would all be become gifts.

-       Adopt a two-for-one lifestyle. For every one new item you purchase, eliminate two items you already own through recycling or donating.