I’ve just spent what began as a tedious hour in my local shopping mall (do we call them malls over here?). It was full of Stuff and it got me thinking. This is a rare occurrence so I thought I’d put my thoughts down on paper. I immediately bought some Stuff - a pen and a notebook.
The mall had so many shops selling a mountain of items. There were clothes, shoes, jewellery food, kitchen utensils, and furniture, not to mention the clothes and shoes. There were toys novelty shops, picture shops, newsagents, coffee shops and shops selling shoes and clothes - have I already mentioned these? Further along I found jewellers, cobblers, bookshops, phone shops, electrical appliance shops, travel agents, music shops, amusement arcades, computer hardware and software shops, and department stores - these were mainly clothes and shoes with a scattering of perfume, music, books and furniture. In addition to this there were numerous clothes and shoe shops - but I think I already mentioned that. And as I wandered along in a state of numbness (this is what shopping does to me) it just hit me - this is all just Stuff.
Does it really matter if your shoes cost $90 or $130? Are you going to get $40-worth of extra wear out of the more expensive brand? And if so, how can you measure that? Can you judge whether they’ll be $40 more comfortable? No matter how you look at it, it is all just Stuff.
A $100 watch, a $10 T-Shirt, a $1000 suit, a diamond ring, a $35 book, a $30 compact disc, a $25,000 car, the new $200 hiking boots with $20 socks, or the cut-price gold necklace for $199.99 - it is all simply Stuff, no matter how you try to justify it.
It seems the human race is addicted to Stuff and will do all it can to collect it. We really like the best Stuff and compete with our neighbours to get it. My Stuff is better than your Stuff!
However, the problem with collecting Stuff is that there is always more Stuff being made, so we need to buy more Stuff to keep up. Companies bring out new and improved Stuff each year. Computers are overtaken within six-months of their purchase, the washing machine is outdated after two-years, cars need to be replaced every few years, each year a new colour or clothing style is ion fashion and there is yet more Stuff in the shops. We can never have enough.
Where do we put this Stuff? Our houses are getting bigger, but even so we sell it, throw it away, or just let it pile up in the attic or garage. It seems we quickly get bored with our Stuff and need different Stuff. Life is full of Stuff.
I often ask myself why we need all this Stuff and I can’t really find a reason. I don’t think we do need all this Stuff. I certainly don’t begrudge people wanting a more comfortable life - why would I? I want a more comfortable life, but I don’t think accumulating Stuff will give it to me.
We seem addicted to shopping, always wanting shops open for longer, but how much do we need? To be able to buy more Stuff we need to earn more and therefore work longer hours and want the shops open later - it seems like a vicious circle. Perhaps if we didn’t have an obsession with Stuff, we wouldn’t feel the need to work ourselves into the ground to earn more to keep up with the ever elusive and mystical Jones’. Unfortunately, it seems that our economy is built around the purchase of Stuff, and we are bombarded with overt and covert advertising to remind us to buy more Stuff. This will keep the economy going and people in jobs.
We now need so much Stuff that it is being made overseas because that makes it cheaper. We can’t afford a lot of expensive Stuff, so we need it to be cheaper and will happily buy the cheap Stuff, and convince ourselves it is good Stuff, even if it falls apart within a year or two.
The good quality Stuff is still made, but it takes time and skill, which makes it expensive - so we’ll stick mainly with the cheap Stuff. Good quality Stuff is therefore becoming scarce. This has a perverse irony. Good quality Stuff is built to last and, while it is more expensive, it will probably outlast numerous poorer quality competitors, leaving the poorer people eventually spending more on four or five cheap models than the cost of one good quality model. We encourage this through our purchase of cheap Stuff. It will lead us down a path of perennial mediocrity.
So there we have it - a world full of Stuff; an artificial means of keeping the economy going and food on our tables.
So after a while I asked myself, while temporarily disorientated at yet another convergence of wide aisles of shops, when Adam Smith was philosophising did he envisage a world where we were subservient to the economy? I always understood the economy was there to serve society and make it work by distributing wealth and services. All this Stuff, and our desperation to purchase it, led to me to wonder whether we have got it all wrong and are simply on a treadmill of never-ending economic slavery for the simple purpose of making and buying Stuff. This was indeed food for thought.
After an hour or so walking through the mall I was well and truly stuffed and needed some fresh air. I am not ashamed to say that I felt an overwhelming feeling of escape and relief as I exited through the doors and out into the sunshine. I was no longer surrounded by Stuff, and it felt really good.