More fun, less stuff

I’ve always liked this slogan from the American Green movement. It came strongly to mind when I read a piece by Martin John Brown about the American love-affair with self-storage, published on the ever-excellent Alternet site.

Brown examines how the self-storage business has become very big, very fast; he looks at how people take units for a short period and never quite manage to get round to getting their stuff out – it just sits there, not thrown away and not used, with the payment going out. And it’s not necessarily about space – many of the people concerned are middle-class people with big homes and plenty of storage space of their own.

It’s not, as the piece points out, an American phenomenon; all over the developed world, people have stuff they don’t really want but can’t bear to part with.  Brown argues that the items in storage have become repositories of people’s dreams; I’d be tempted to argue that it’s not quite that.  I think it’s about a fetishisation of things; I possess, therefore I am.  The mass advertising media constantly push acquisition, but there’s nothing about letting go.

At is seems to me that, at the root of this parable, there is an important lesson for green politicians.  We can be as rational as we like, argue the case about global warming and the social damage caused by greed and the worship of the market; but we’re not really in a terribly rational place, and telling people things are for their own good is never going to be popular.  Moving the discourse on is really very difficult.

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One thought on “More fun, less stuff

  1. wow, thanks for actually reading the article, even if you didn’t buy the whole conceit about the repository of dreams. while i was gratified alternet provided a big audience, some of the comments there seemed to have no relation to the piece at all. :-\

    there are some real primitive impulses going on when it comes to stuff, that are going to be real hard for greens (or anyone) to overcome. i think the phenomenon of storage comes from impulses beyond advertising (as someone on alternet said) or fetishization of things; the hoarded stuff represents a stored resource for physical and emotional survival.

    though that might sound laughable to us sophisticates, we must admit that in some cases hoards are indeed very useful– for example, a stockpile of food and weapons could help a medieval town last through a siege. for real. nowadays, a bank account is a hoard, and it can help a lot in times of trouble. for real.

    people with hoards of money can be more freewheeling and “free” of stuff, because they understand the stuff is replaceable. but for someone who doesn’t have money hoarded, storing a crappy microwave or moldy old chair makes a kind of sense. these things might be useful someday — and it is against human instinct to give up resources.

    it could be that everyone will have to become wealthy for us all to become properly poor.

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