A War On ‘Stuff’

Published: November 30th, 2015

At Christmas my family embraces traditions like old friends and follows the rituals, both sacred and silly, that have been a part of our family for generations. But this year is different. We are breaking with tradition, and declaring a war on ‘stuff’. We’re going beyond the ‘one thing in, one thing out ‘ rule to the draconian measure of having a ‘presents free’ holiday. Well almost, if we can eat it we can wrap it- but everything else will have to be a shared adventure.

To be fair our family has lightened up since Repentance and Obedience Babbott decided to suffer through life in the frozen tundra of New England. We still credit them (blame them really) for our ‘Babbotty” traits, a blanket term we use to explain our inability to dance, our low tolerance for alcohol morally and physiologically, our painful affinity for public embarrassment, and the list goes on. However scandalized Repentance and Obedience would be to know how far we’ve fallen off their pious bandwagon, I’m sure we’re doing them proud this year with an intentional return to simplicity.

Our little Vermont cape has neither cable nor TV reception so it was with a mixture of horror and fascination that my Mum happened upon the reality show ‘Hoarders’ on a hotel television a few years ago. The show chronicles the destructive force of ‘things’ to home and health, the consumer equivalent of Pompeii under ash. When confronted with the dangers of their lifestyle, hoarders resist the efforts of family, friends and psychologists to help them literally get out from under their stuff. To Mum the idea of suffocating yourself in materialism was incomprehensible. How do people become so emotionally dependent on things? Why do people buy into our consumer culture to this insatiable degree even when it is so obviously to their detriment?

Amassing more ‘stuff’ is extractive on many levels, sucking resources from the earth and time from our lives. A life can be lost to buying, cleaning, maintaining and disposing of items destined for our landfills and oceans, and to what purpose? Is this our legacy for generations to come, this mess? To break this cycle we are going to embrace our “Babbotty” selves and spend time and money elsewhere, other than on ‘stuff’ this Christmas. We are going to focus our resources on organizations working to solve the political and environmental problems that keep us up at night. And we’re going to enjoy shared experiences that become the stories that bind us together as a family. By taking a step back from the blind consumerism, we’re choosing to take a breath, and celebrate life. Now all there’s left to do is explain this to my 14-year-old sister.


Emily Donaldson

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The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change.  Read More

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