It’s almost Christmas, and many procrastinators — myself included — are still searching for the perfect gift.
Perhaps they are window shopping downtown. Perhaps they are working late nights in their shop or quilting chair to finish something beautiful for someone special.
But here’s some radical advice this gift-giving season: Don’t do it.
Much of the developed world has hit “peak stuff.” Many Americans, and many people all over the world, have too much of everything. And our future happiness depends on realizing that.
This is, relatively, a good thing. We’re a materially sufficient society. And it’s not necessarily doom and gloom for many retail businesses, or the economy of the future. In fact, some of the world’s biggest makers of “stuff” are embracing the idea that the world doesn’t need more of that.
NPR reported earlier this year about hitting peak production, peak supply and peak demand. Beef and sugar sales, for instance, cannot conceivably go any higher. We’re also — as a species — coming up against peak population, a hazy number that scientists and philosophers have been debating for centuries.
Still, there has to be a limit somewhere —whether it’s humans or candle holders.
“The use of stuff is plateauing out,” IKEA executive Steve Howard told NPR last year. IKEA, of course, is a company that sells nothing but stuff — often cheap, easily replaceable stuff.
It reminds me of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel “1984.” The government-controlled world of the future is in a perpetual state of war as a means of psychological control, but also as a means to destroy things. Because destroying things eventually requires rebuilding, and that requires the making and buying of stuff. An endless cycle.
Yet, perhaps it is a cycle we can break.
Those weirdo Europeans, who have a lot more old stuff than we do, are thinking about ways to deal with the glut.
The “Library of Things” in London is one answer — a sort of cooperative where people pay to rent everything from a carpet cleaner to a rake, from a backpack to a garden hose.
It helps city residents save money and save space, and it saves hundreds or thousands of duplicitous things from being purchased and thrown out and purchased again.
For a world that continues to see human populations increase — and steadily migrate from rural spaces into cities — space is a real concern.
Consider that the U.S. self storage industry generated $27.2 billion in revenues in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper noted that the industry has been the fastest-growing segment of the commercial real estate industry for the last 40 years. About 90 percent of the country’s storage units are in use, and about 10 percent of American households currently rent one.
If you have space, Americans are likely to fill it with stuff.
Still, it is important to note that there are plenty of people out there, in this country and in others, who are in real need. They lack the stuff that make a life complete.
The Christmas season is perhaps the best time to think of them, and donate and give of ourselves and our dollars. A toy can brighten a child’s day, but food can give deeper pleasure, and a scholarship can brighten a lifetime. An hour of your time, a long-term mentorship and sustained neighborly care, can deeply and powerfully impact a person’s life. Teaching your child a family recipe or taking a friend to your favorite secret, snowy trail can fire up new synapses in the brain. Those experiences can nourish the soul and open a new route to happiness. Giving the gift of time, even to yourself, can cure many ails.
Christmas is a spiritual holiday. And while everyone who will wake up Christmas morning to a BMW with a bow on it is bound to feel some real joy, a longer and deeper peace can be found in having and needing less. And besides, renting that BMW means you don’t have to change the oil in the middle of the winter.
Tim Trainor is interim editor of the Wallowa County Chieftain.