At our stage in life we can sit back in our home and admire not only a lifetime of tchotchkes collected on numerous birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases, and travels – but also many of the sentimental things we inherited from our parents and grandparents. Each item is a symbol of some precious memory of a person, place, or event – but the assemblage of stuff is also a startling reminder of how much we accumulate in the Western lifestyle.
When I think of the many homes I have visited in Africa and Asia I am humbled by how much less so many others need to live contented lives. We consumer societies are just that—we have built our industrial civilization on consumption of goods and services of every kind, whether we need them or not.
I hear constantly how there is not enough of Planet Earth to sustain seven billion people in the American way of life. Only this morning on the BBC I listened to a report about how five billion Asians cannot own as many vehicles per 1,000 people as Americans do. Earth is incapable of providing so much to so many.
Our materialism is sapping resources, including energy. We need to go on a diet of every kind.
With that in mind it is time to review what we buy. The words Repair, Reuse, Reduce, and Recycle come to mind. We’ve been trying to live that. Only recently I moved a lifetime’s collection of music to my iPod, and donated the entire CD collection a friend, who did the same and then gave the collection in turn to another friend.
Among our friends it has become quite acceptable to pass around stuff we no longer want or use. We’ve even had white elephant parties to exchange unwanted kitchen appliances, books, and garden equipment. We divide and share the plants from our gardens. On our street it is common to borrow and share.
It’s relatively easy at our age to stop buying goods. We pretty much have all we need. Now, how can we do with less? Another word I heard often from my grandmother, who grew up during the World War II years: frugal. I still remember her explaining the difference between being frugal and being cheap. Frugal is to do without what you don’t need; to make do and be satisfied with less.
My grandmother famously kept gift wrappers and string to use again. And she recycled holiday cards. The tchotchke that used to grace my grandmother’s mantelpiece now sits in our dining room dresser. It’s a memory of her, and her commonsense.