Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why we hoard

We homo sapiens are shapers of the world, not so different from beavers, wasps, birds or gophers. We have huge brains and opposable thumbs, and can balance on two feet, hence what we shape tends to be fancy. We like to make stuff, touch stuff. It is perfectly natural to like what we make with our clever hands.

The nomadic peoples of planet earth like stuff but have no sense that they should hang on to it. I loved learning that in Genghis Khan's culture, it was much more important to give things away than keep them. This is why the tribes convened every now and then on the steppe, to give everything away. The Norse had a similar tradition. I think those values have to do not only with generosity, but as a sign that the giver is not ruled by the objects he/she owns. It's a gesture of liberation that indicates strong character.

Twenty first century America is the opposite. We are a society of hoarders. Rich beyond belief in terms of what is available to all of us 24 hours a day, we are utterly seduced by the urge to acquire. I don't have anything against it. What I wonder about is why we can't stop, why there's never enough stuff, and I do mean NEVER. There are several "reality" TV shows based on people who become literally buried by their stuff. It's shocking, and strikes a chord for many people, which makes for good TV.

Here's a link to a book review from the New York Times, about how to stop hoarding. Hmm. You're supposed to buy/acquire something to learn how to not buy/acquire more stuff? Unclear on the concept, are we? Yes we are!

The review made me a little sad for the reviewer. She speaks of drawers so jammed with swimming suits she can't even get them open. She reveals many tips from the book about how to lessen anxiety while decluttering, assuming it's going to be a horrible experience for everyone. She never once mentions the catharsis made possible by a newly cleaned dresser drawer or closet, she doesn't mention how great it feels after such a project is complete, how liberating it is to know what you have and where it is. I wonder why.

Why do we do it? Here's what I think. I think we are too rational, that in creating a society based on knowledge and reason, we have in so many ways come to discount activities that cultivate and nurture the human soul, the old rituals that we have always performed since the beginning of our species. What isn't "real" is discarded. I'm not talking about religion here, but something more fundamental: the life of the spirit. We ignore our powerful dreams, visions, crazy ideas that come out of the nowhere. What does the phrase "It was only my imagination" mean? Only? Creativity is not rational, nor is the life of the spirit.

Human imagination and creativity is incredible, powerful, healthy and extremely entertaining. To toss it out with everything else that is unproven or irrational impoverishes us spiritually. We try to fill the emptiness with stuff, but nothing you'll ever see at CostCo or Target can provide what our soulful birthright as mystics can. We are mystical beings every bit as much as we are scientists. We flatten our humanity in my society by tilting so far into the rational. It's very unfortunate.

We wanted to be less crazy with ourselves and each other, we wanted to understand and control our incomprehensible behavior. That's what the Age of Enlightenment was about, a way to become less violent, less destructive, more predictable. I get it, what we were striving for, you know - truth and justice, two things well worth pursuing. But we have thrown out a huge chunk of what makes our lives rich by being so overly rational.

In America, we seem to have reached the limits for hoarding, thank goodness. May we relax our hands and hearts and simply let go. May it be so.



rania said...

Every person I've heard talk about the hoarding shows follows up with how it inspires them to clean their own place.

I attach a lot of memories to stuff. Where I got it, when I got it, who gave it to me, where I was. Of the things I have, those things are the hardest to let go of, like I'll lose the memory attached to it. I'm getting better at shedding these layers, especially the memories I don't need to keep. It feels great letting all of that go.

The thought of hoarding terrifies me, and as an artist it's a tough balance to keep. We're continually making things—those things, and the things they're made of take up space.

Over the past few years I've become really good at being very selective about what I buy, and I know better what I actually want. Though I am known to go overboard, like my obsession with tomatoes this past summer. And the two full bushels of sweet potatoes from my farmers market today. Two full bushels!

Reya Mellicker said...

You are not a hoarder!

Kerry said...

I keep too much old junk, I do. But today I cleaned the closet & got rid of almost 20% of the stuff that was in there. So much better now.