It must have been fifteen years ago when I first saw Peter Mendel’s book, Material World, A Global Family Portrait. No other book has ever stuck so vividly in my head throughout life. The book, published in 2005, portrays an average family from many, many different countries in their front yards with ALL of their stuff. For me, it was an astounding look at American materialism. If you have never flipped through this book I highly recommend it.
As a bankruptcy attorney this book also hits close to home. Probably because when I represent people in bankruptcy we have to discuss and value their personal property. This includes home furnishings, clothing, jewelry, electronics, etc. Over and over people make the comment to me that they really don’t have anything. And every time I hear someone say that I think of Mr. Mendel’s book and think to myself how much stuff they probably do have. After a conversation we always are able to come up with some stuff that they do have to put on the bankruptcy petition.
The bottom line is that, it seems to me, that not only do Americans have a TON of stuff, but that they feel they have an inadequate amount of stuff. This really boggles my mind. Why do most Americans want so much stuff? Especially the plastic, made in china, could get it anywhere type of stuff? Why are new houses in America are often built with 5 walk-in closets? Why do we have so many clothes when we can only wear one thing at a time? Is there a reason to have 5 televisions in a house with 4 people? Why is the amount of storage space in a house paramount to whether or not someone will buy it? How did we, as a nation, get to a place that, in my opinion values stuff above just about everything else? How did we get to a place that many of us get up every day to go to a job that we don’t like to pay for stuff that we don’t need or even particularly want?
I am not saying that Americans don’t need things. I’m not saying that we should all be sitting on milk crates staring at the wall for entertainment. I do wonder why people buy DVDs, have 30 pairs of shoes, own regular dishes along with a set of china and holiday dishes and keep “collectibles” in cases that are only opened for an annual dusting. I wonder why people don’t seem to enjoy buying less so that they can buy better quality things and have less stuff to manage.
I am also not saying that spending money on stuff is bad. I am just wondering if we wouldn’t be better off as a society if we didn’t feel the need to have so much. If we still bought some nice things, but didn’t buy 100 things of poor quality that would soon end up in a landfill for the rest of eternity. But wouldn’t our families be better off if we cut down on the unnecessary purchases and worked on enriching our lives? Wouldn’t we be better off if we spent time reading books from the library and taking walks than standing in line at Target so we could buy 40 Dvds for $80.00? What if instead of working to pay off credit card debt we could find work that enriched our lives and would allow us to spend time volunteering? With Christmas coming I hope this blog will be food for thought for you and your family.
I don’t have all of the answers. I’m probably just coming down from my distaste for black friday that is even stronger now that stores are open on Thanksgiving. I’m sure that many people disagree with my thoughts here. But I am truly curious about how others feel about these thoughts. Feel free to leave comments below.
Halcomb Singler, LLP, is a debt relief agency. It helps people file for bankruptcy under the bankruptcy code. No attorney-client relationship with the firm of Halcomb Singler, LLP, is created through this blog. Also, please note that Erika Singler is an attorney licensed in Indiana and does not seek to practice law in any jurisdiction in which they are not properly authorized to do so. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and should not be relied upon for the circumstances of any individual(s) or businesses.