Yard sales. A common sight on Saturday mornings during the summer. Driving to work on Saturday morning I passed maybe half a dozen of them. Some people love going to yard sales. Just ask Dr. Dave, he goes to yard sales to look for action figures and comic books then sells them for a profit on eBay. Now, I’ll admit, I haven’t bought from or let alone been to a yard sale in over a decade. However, I find them fascinating.
We live in a time of excess, a time of an unparalleled standard of living. Our standard of living is so high that we accumulate so much stuff that we need to spread it across our front yards and solicit it to our neighbors and staple posters to power poles with words written in black Sharpie that read, “YARD SALE!!! à.” Where does all this stuff come from? Why do we need it? Is it a status symbol to have many material possessions? Or is it human nature to develop attachments to things?
Imagine for a moment everything that you own. I mean EVERYTHING! Everything sitting idol in your basement and buried deep within a dusty box in the dark corner of a storage shed. Picture all the clothes in your closet that you don’t wear. How much of that stuff do you use daily? More importantly, how much of that stuff ads value to your life? I would contend that a majority of the items in our possession go mostly unutilized.
Every December, without fail, someone will ask you, “what do you want for Christmas?” Over the past 5 years or so that has been a difficult question for me to answer. Not really wanting or needing anything I have begun to answer that question this way, “you don’t have to get me anything. But, if you feel obligated, I do accept cash.” Christmas in the 21st century is a prime example of our unparalleled standard of living. Not only do we indulge ourselves, but we are convinced that we are obligated to indulge others with material goods.
The 3rd richest man in the world, Warren Buffett, still lives in the same modest home that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 before he was rich and famous. Even with a net worth of $82 billion, he could own almost anything in this world. He encourages others to live simple and fulfilling lives. Possessions do not make a person happy, in fact, I think unnecessary possessions weigh a person down. We all know someone who has aged and needs to downsize to a smaller home. Often, this person will agree that they need to downsize but their biggest challenge, “what do I do with all my stuff?”
In July 1979, almost 40 years ago, while the country was facing the energy crisis, in the Crisis of Confidence speech, President Jimmy Carter said it best, “too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”