By Bob Wells –
This month I’m going to be doing posts on how our society got so addicted to stuff as evidenced in Black Friday and Christmas shopping in general. I’ll offer explanations and suggestions about what we can do about it including alternative ways to celebrate Christmas without the orgy of greed. This is going to make some of you angry and I’m very sorry about that. The most common reaction is going to be that, “I live in a house and buy gifts but I’m not like what you describe.”
Let me acknowledge I’m not describing every single American, I know that. But I believe the message is so important, and our ears are so closed to it, I must use exaggeration to get through to our hearts and heads. At least I know that’s the way it was for me, only extremely difficult circumstances could break through the magical spell of material possessions.
Let me use the analogy of how you boil a frog; you can’t just drop it in a pot of boiling water, it’ll simply jump out. So instead you put it in cool water and slowly turn up the heat. It slowly adjusts to the temperature until it’s too late to jump out. That’s exactly what’s happened to our society.
The heat of consumerism started slowly and pleasantly but now it’s just on the edge of being too hot for us to jump out and killing us. We’re like addicts who say “I can stop anytime I want” but then when circumstances force us to stop, we realize just how addicted we are. Those circumstances are here, and the time to stop is NOW. I believe this is an unpleasant, but critically important message and it’s worth the risk of offending some of you with some hard words and even exaggeration.
It’s December, the time of the year when most Americans turn the majority of their time and attention to the idea of buying each other gifts of more and better stuff.
Of course it has a much longer background as a religious and spiritual Holiday, but the honest truth is that for most of us, that has been long since been lost. Instead it’s turned into a massive orgy of shopping, buying and accumulating possessions. We give lip-service to “peace on earth and good will toward men” but when we head out for our Black Friday shopping, we see the truth. The pushing, shoving and fighting reveal what’s really important to us: more and better material goods. We may hide it under the pretense of giving “gifts” to others, but the honest truth is if we exchange a list, and agree to buy each other what’s on the list, we’re buying more stuff for ourselves and merely convincing ourselves it’s for them
For vandwellers, this is an important topic because more than most people we’re extremely aware of the power and hold that “stuff” has over us. When the day came to reduce our precious belongings so we could fit all of it in a van, most of us were amazed at how difficult it was (if you’re in an RV, this applies to you as well, you just got to keep a little more of your precious stuff). As we agonized over whether to keep each thing, we discovered just how much we loved and treasured our stuff; we often found it had a power and hold over us that is so mesmerizing we can barely break free. If we’re honest, most of us came to the point where we wondered if we could do it and if vandwelling was worth the sacrifice.
But we decided it was and we finally got moved into our vans only to discover we still had way too much junk. It was piled everywhere in the van and we had to keep moving it around constantly to find what we needed at the moment. Necessity forced us to reduce it down even more. As time went on we discovered that much of what we had brought was not really useful; it was doing us more harm than it did us good. That was a life-changing lesson.
As we enter into what should be the most spiritual and moral time of the year in our society, I want to explore how it has transformed into the most materialistic and self-centered time of the year. Why are we so enslaved to “things?” How have they become our Lord and Master instead of our tools? We bought them thinking they would make our lives better and easier but instead they became a pretty prison that overtook our whole lives — they didn’t serve us, we served them:
We worked at a job we hated with people we didn’t like, to buy more stuff we didn’t really want. Why did we have to keep buying more and more? Because it never satisfied us. In fact all it ever did was make us want more. We had an insatiable craving for MORE.
We had no choice but stay at that miserable job just to pay for a place to store all that crap. Of course as we got more stuff we had to buy a bigger place so we had to work even harder at a job we hated. So we sucked up to our miserable boss to get a raise or promotion–we simply had to have a bigger house for more stuff. Eventually the house or apartment became a prison that ensnared us.
Most of our time and energy went to paying for it, not for our happiness or well-being. We heated and cooled that place so our Master, our stuff, would be safe and happy.
We cleaned and washed the house and our stuff and did anything necessary to take care of it. We gave away the only thing that we had in this world that is truly ours to it, our time and life-energy.
We locked and barred every door and window and trembled in fear behind them for fear that people would come and steal our precious stuff. Our stuff was so much more important to us than other people that we bought guns and were ready to kill for our stuff just like we were sure they were ready to kill us to take it.
None of that is normal or healthy behavior for human beings. It’s a sickness of our civilization in the twenty-first century. Today, our highest value revolves around the accumulation of stuff for ourselves, but it was not always so.
For most of human history our highest value was on generosity and caring for the tribe. For a million years no member of any tribe went hungry if another member had food; that idea was unthinkable. Each member of the tribe knew his life depended on every other member, and if my neighbor was hungry, and I didn’t feed him, I was going to suffer in the long run too.
The day would come when I needed him to save me from a tiger, or when he had food and I didn’t. “Good-will toward all” wasn’t a slogan we spouted once a year. It was a deeply lived way of human life. That’s our genetic inheritance, and not the love of things.
Beyond our need for each other, for nearly all of our history, most humans were nomads and when it came time to move having more stuff was not a blessing, it was a curse because they had to carry all that crap. And often you had to carry it a very long ways and at high speed. Rather than allow it to control their lives, they simply discarded everything that wasn’t essential, then, when they got to the new location, they simply made new things to use in their daily life.
In that way, things and stuff had no value to us, in fact it was viewed as a hindrance to survival and happiness. We used and owned things, they didn’t use and own us. That too is our genetic inheritance, it’s written into our DNA code.
So how have our most basic and fundamental values as a human beings been totally reversed in less than 10,000 years? Through systematic brain-washing.
Every society since civilization began has created its own morals and values and devised ways to persuade its members to fully adopt those standards and beliefs. The highest value in Twenty-First century America is to get all the stuff you can for yourself and not think of anybody else while you’re doing it.
Before you deny that, consider that more than a billion people are starving to death right now on this planet and 16j percent of Americans don’t have enough to eat. How many Americans ever give that a thought? Very few.
How many Americans are constantly thinking about the newest and latest gadget and how they can get it for themselves? Nearly all.
How many Americans give a thought to or take any real action about the incredible environmental damage we are doing to our eco-system? How many are willing to give up any of their stuff or luxuries for the sake of future generation’s health on this planet. Almost none. No, we are much too concerned with ourselves and our stuff to sacrifice anything for any reason.
The message of this website is that there is an alternative way to live that breaks free of the orgy of greed and is good for us as humans and for our environment: the minimalist, nomadic life. The remarkable thing about it is, you will be healthier and happier if you choose it. So follow along was we take this ride together.
Republished with permission from CheapRVLiving.com. Bob Wells has been a full-time Van Dweller for 12 years and love’s it. He hopes to never live in a house again.
© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.