Less is definitely more

Ever since the pandemic took hold in 2020, I’ve noticed an interesting thing. People are giving things away at a pretty serious pace.

Some pundits suggested that this was the result of people being stuck home for a year and realizing that they owned too much stuff and their homes were cluttered. But I think the movement started even earlier with folks like Marie Kondo preaching simplicity and selling millions of books in the process.

But if you doubt there’s an issue with stuff, just look around. What has grown in the past 10 to 15 years faster than dollar stores, Starbucks, and CVS on every suburban corner? Self-storage facilities.

The darn things are breeding like bunnies. And what is a self-storage facility at the most basic level? It’s a rental apartment for your stuff. Seriously.

You pay a monthly rent, get a locked area and you fill it with your excess stuff that won’t fit into your already full house. And what makes this truly silly is that the average American home is bigger than it’s ever been in history.

In postwar burbs, houses were around 850 square feet. Nowadays, try more like 1,600 to over 2,000 square feet and yet families have not grown; in fact, they’re smaller on average.

A big part of the problem is our insane, unsustainable consumer economy which harangues us 24/7 that buying things will make us happy, fulfilled, thinner, prettier, and better. When, in reality, the average American in 2023 has never been more anxious, depressed, angry, sad, freaked out, medicated, and just generally miserable thanks to an endless march of crazy on the news and in life.

Crazy ex-president, crazy pandemic, wars, crazy politics, mass shootings, and a 24/7 news cycle that just keeps serving up more crazy, in an effort to sell us more stuff between crazy stories.

But into this wilderness, there is a very bright spot. It’s called the Buy Nothing Project, which started back in 2013 out in Washington state and has now spread all over our country and the world.

The basic idea is a group of people, usually in the same geographic area, join up on Facebook or a similar platform. They do one of two things. They either offer things up for free or ask fellow group members if anyone has something they are looking for.

In this way, people maximize their ownership of various things by making sure they end up in the hands of people who actually want/need those objects.

Since joining our local Buy Nothing group, my wife and I have been able to rid ourselves of a vast array of things that we no longer use or need, and many people have been the happy recipients. At the same time, we’ve been able to give a new home to things others no longer need but we find useful every day.

Case in point is the small play area in our backyard populated by various child playthings like a house, a slide, and an enclosed kitchen with a standalone grill. Really. We got them from folks whose kids outgrew them and now our grandchildren just love playing with them.

We got them cars, bikes, and clothes that way too. And, as they have outgrown things, we passed them on to others whose kids and grandkids are using them. It’s a truly lovely cycle to watch.

And here’s the really great thing about this. No money ever changes hands. No taxes get paid multiple times in our vastly overtaxed state. This is the ultimate example of recycling and upcycling.

It’s all about people helping neighbors and strangers alike to live better without having to go into debt to do it. Looking at the play area, I know that at some point, somebody spent several hundred dollars on this stuff. But it’s going to get used by far more than one family before it finally wears out and for now, it stays out of the wastestream and keeps money in the pockets of real people.

Of course, what our capitalist overlords would prefer is very different. They would like every family to buy everything and send their last dollar to the overstuffed pockets of billionaires and their destructive corporations. I’m thrilled that we’ve helped make those folks a little poorer.

Imagine what our country and our world might look like if Buy Nothing became the dominant philosophy. Or what if we were able to form community cooperatives where we pooled resources and bought things that we shared.

In my neighborhood, almost everyone has a lawnmower, a riding mower, a snowblower, a chainsaw, and a garage and shed full of garden and lawn tools. What if we had a community shed with all that stuff in it and we shared it? Imagine the money and the space saved. Imagine the fear in the hearts of John Deere executives.

I’m not suggesting a classic socialist/communist situation at all. I am suggesting that we’ve all been sold a bill of goods and if we want to survive long-term, we need to rethink the idea of buying and owning every damn thing they throw at us. Just think how much simpler life would be if you didn’t have to buy, store, maintain, and replace things all the time.

Anyway, I need to go make sure the batteries for my push mower are charged, the tank on the tractor is full, and the snowblower is safely tucked away till next winter. Sigh.

Editor’s note: Mike Seinberg and his wife say they enjoy giving away things they no longer use.