Back about a year my wife and I moved back to the US in something of a hurry. Rather than move all of the stuff we had accumulated in Tokyo, we decided to take only essentials: Stuff to get us going again in the US, and items of sentimental value. This of course left a lot of things to get rid of, and eight years in a place is plenty of time to accumulate a lot of stuff.
We talked about disposing of much of it as soudai gomi, which roughly translates to “big trash”, but this bothered me. Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a problem with throwing things away. My mother referred to it as “pack-rat-ism”, but really I’m just intrinsically averse to the idea of taking stuff that once had value, labeling it useless, and forgetting about it. Rather than trash our stuff, my wife and I spent a couple of weeks scrambling around first selling and then giving away everything we had accumulated.
And we did a pretty good job. On our last night in the apartment I lugged a single old bookcase out to the curb — resplendent with official soudai gomi seals purchased from the city — to be picked up as big trash. The money we made selling other items paid for the shipping of our essentials back to the US. And I felt good knowing that the stuff that had served us well would go on providing value to others.
I also felt oddly relieved; lighter. Less stuff. It was as though old cobwebs had been dusted out from the corners of my mind. On the flight back to Boston I decided to see how much stuff I could eliminate from my life. Perhaps two items passed on for every new item in. There was certainly a lot of really old stuff in storage back in Boston that would have to go.
And so for the last year or so I have been selling and/or giving away items online. At first I used Ebay, but with it’s clumsy interface and emphasis on generating a profit or some such, I became frustrated fairly quickly. (Hey, I just want to pass on my stuff. ) Amazon’s Seller Account turned out to be far more simple and effective: I’ve sold everything from old cameras to tourists in New York City to classic computer books to geeks in Spain. I prefer to actually sell items that I, personally, still find valuable. (Or that were particularly expensive.)
Craigslist is awesome for giving stuff away, with the added advantage that folks will usually come over to pick said stuff up. We’ve had desks, beds, and lawn mowers hauled away thanks to Craigslist.
Anyway, I decided to write this post after coming across Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, an excellent, straightforward outline of the whole stuff problem, where it comes from, and where it will go if we continue to allow rabid consumerism to continue unchecked. At the end of the twenty minute video she links to 10 Little and Big Things we can do to take action against the whole stuff problem. Many of the actions we’ve seen before. It’s the “big thing” in number 10, however, that I think is the most interesting and yet may seem to be the least most difficult. Conversely, it is certainly the most simple. And, really, it gets at the heart of the problem.
The solution? Buy less. In other words, stop “consuming”. Step out of the linear materials economy. Acquire. Preserve. Repair. Pass on. Share.
Note that this does not mean “go without”. It means, where possible, stop feeding from the corporate-sponsored linear material economic machine. Don’t consume, but acquire.
And share. This is what I now realize we have been doing by passing along our belongings. Selling one’s stuff online, or even offering it for free, adds to an ever-growing alternative material goods supply.
So simplify your life. Sell your stuff. Help out the planet just a little bit. And maybe you’ll discover, as I have, that the less you own, the better you feel.