Sunday, January 06, 2008

What do I Need?

One of the striking images of Costa Rica was the poverty. And Costa Rica is wealthy by many standards, although they suffer a high inflation rate, and have had a struggling economy until recently. But they have a 96% literacy rate, high levels of education across the board, and are lucky recipients of a fairly non-violent history.

They were the first country in the world to constitutionally abolish their military. Can you imagine ever doing that in the United States? I asked my boys.

Nah, too many people hate us, Zachary said.

So true.

Returning to this country, to my own home, I look around and wonder, what do I really need? Not in a guilt ridden, I’m a bad consumer and should live on bread and water forever, but an honest evaluation of what I need.

Need: something required, something necessary.

Do I need coffee in the morning? Yes. Actually I do. Do I need Starbucks coffee in the morning? Well, if I am going to drink coffee, it might as well be good.

Do I need a new car? No. My kids still fit in it, although a tad cramped, I can put stuff on the roof and it is reliable. If it stops being that? I’ll need one.

I have a lot of beautiful art, most of which I inherited from my mother. Do I need it? No but our society needs artists. We need people to write, to paint, to sing, to draw, to act because it keeps us honest, I believe, as a society. That’s a need. Maybe not mine individually, but mine as a member of society.

Do I need 8 thousand kitchen gadgets? No. But really, they are not mine, they are Jeanine’s and she swears she needs every single one. Me? Good knife, wooden spoon, spatula and tongs. I’m good.

I’m not trying to pick on Jeanine, because I know she loves her gadgets but I wonder, if we have three kinds of juicers, how many have been produced, how many are broken and how many end up in landfills?

When I get to the house in Down East (yes, you can all collectively roll your eyes at the notion I have more than one house), I go into conservation mode.

It feels good.

It’s hard to do at home. With three kids, and the accumulation of stuff from gifts, school, holidays, birthdays, not to mention our own impulse driven need to simply get something because it will make things easier, quicker, faster…

After seeing so much disparity, though, I feel overstuffed, and slightly nauseous, like after having too much Thanksgiving dinner, or eating a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

I also feel a little hopeless about how much I can do to make a difference. It’s funny, but I believe we can get marriage equality for gays and lesbians before we can tackle the environmental mess we’re in from over consumerism.

But I’m not going to go global in this act. I’m going to focus on my own little world, and do the best I can.

Because there is so much around me that I truly do not need, it makes the things I do get lost in the haze.

Besides, if we’re swearing in President Huckabee next January? I’m outta here. Not really worth it to pack three kinds of juicers, either.

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Anonymous Laura said...

I think the worst poverty Ive seen was when we were in the Dominican Republic. It was so sad, children with no clothes/shoes on running dirt roads. People living in cinder block homes with the blocks just stacked - not sealed with anything. You could literally see right thru to the other side with just a piece of aluminum to cover it for a roof. No electricity. I actually couldnt belive what I was seeing.

Then you'd come upon these multi million dollar resorts that were just incredibly gorgeous.

Very sad.....and yet every one we came upon was so happy.

Go figure

3:49 PM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

That's the funny thing- you see this incredible poverty in third world countries, but you also see a sort of family connection and community connection that we simply do not have here.
But the contrast between where the poor of a third world country live and the resorts where the first world people stay points out a certain obscenity, doesn't it?
But Sara, yes, we all have too much stuff. Of course we do. But I am finding lately that I not only don't need as much, I don't want as much either. I don't want it cluttering up my house, my life, my soul.
I sort of miss shopping, though. Isn't that funny? But I just can't bring myself to do it unless there's something I absolutely need. Or want.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Lez Zorba said...

It is a wonderful thing - those of us who are able to travel and experience disparity, poverty, etc... and allow it to shape and form our thinking. This is an important post. How, as a nation, we are driven to see our 'wants' as 'needs' seems to me to be one of the great Houdini acts of American business. I only wish globilization could inform our way of life as our marketing and economic greed shapes the rest of the world.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

I was pleasantly surprised that after Jeanine read this- who is by nature a pack rat- she agreed. time to lighten the load.

and as for economic greed... look at the price of oil.

I have to be very honest. I had a SUV/Escalade moment. I wrote my friend Margaret, who I used to work with in SRI, and asked her if I'd go to hell.

Yes, she answered, swiftly.

I'm thinking it's hell without a handbasket and it's cold and gray.

It's more than corporate greed, it's like being kids in a candy store. it's there, it's accessible...

7:21 AM  
Blogger Molly said...

It’s funny, but I believe we can get marriage equality for gays and lesbians before we can tackle the environmental mess we’re in from over consumerism.

This makes sense. Equal marriage really only affects a small portion of American society; even those who insist it's going to harm their entire way of being somehow only make up a small percentage of people. Most Americans don't have much of a stake one way or the other.

Fixing consumerism, though, will take effort and sacrifice on everybody's part, and people will have to take a hard look at themselves and their lives, as you've done, and decide what they really NEED, and people don't really want to do that.

I think it's similar to the reason the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are dragging on in a way earlier wars (say pre-Korea) didn't...the average American who doesn't have family or close friends in the military isn't being asked to sacrifice anything. We're not under rationing like during WW2; we're not under much danger of attack on U.S. soil (I think); our lives are continuing as normal.

Also, the wars are in the lands of brown people, but that's a different rant.

We've been clearing stuff out of our home. We've taken probably five big garbage bags full of clothes to Boomerang's over the past couple months, and our closet and dressers are still full.

But at least everything actually fits in the closet and dressers now instead of in Rubbermaid bins under the bed, and at least we wear all the clothes we have (except for the "TIGGERS" baseball jersey I'm not allowed to wear in public but refuse to get rid of).

That's one big plus to marrying someone of the same sex and mostly the same size; we both doubled our wardrobes. :)

7:36 AM  
Blogger Molly said...

And I have a bad habit of magical thinking, but I do believe that getting rid of the clutter of physical stuff helps get rid of mental clutter, and I've found that after a stuff-purge, I get more good things coming in, whether it's jobs or friends or just peace of mind. Even the stuff in closets contributes to clutter; just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not taking up psychic energy.

That said, I talk a good game, but I still have a huge amount of stuff to sort through...we have a whole room that we're calling "the garage" that's mostly my clutter. I'll probably never be able to totally simplify (I'm a sentimental pack rat), but I know I can make a lot of what I've held onto for years go away.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

I think a lot of the stuff comes from our natural inclination to "gather" (and perhaps hunt, as well) but instead of having a forest or a berry patch to gather in, we have the entire world now that we can shop on the internet. And thus- our natural urges get perverted by the culture we live in, by the choices we're offered.
It's like eating- our bodies are programmed to eat as much as we can when food is available and to store the fat for the lean times.
However, food is ALWAYS available to us and there are never lean times.
It's the dichotomy between how we've evolved as biological creatures and how we've evolved as a society.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

yeah, but what about perimenopausal weight gain that has NOTHING to do with how much you eat???

sorry, different thread.

I cannot work in a cluttered space. I just can't. But I've also squirreled myself away in a very neat, tidy office and ignore the rest.

that's kind of what we're all doing around the war, isn't it? in our tidy homes, far away while our government sensors the media.

in reality? Molly? we're so safe here. My kids all went to a preschool that was half Israeli- after 9/11, one of the Israeli parents turned to me and said, Welcome to the world.

but I'm drifting here... weight, war, and I could add, why does Jake wait every single morning till the last moment possible to put his shoes and socks on?

8:12 AM  
Blogger Vikki said...

I almost threw up when I read the words President and Huckabee put together. See? I couldn't even type them together in this comment.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

Perimenopausal? Honey, just wait until the real thing kicks in.
But I'm full of suggestions, of course.
And maybe Jake just doesn't like wearing shoes and socks?

1:39 PM  
Blogger Molly said...

We are safe here. And complacent. That's a huge part of the problem, I think, but I'm not intending to give up my safety just so the rest of America has a chance of "getting it".

Huckabee doesn't even sound like a real name to me; it sounds like a cartoon character.

8:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should do an experiment where your family lives on 4,000 for a month.

4:52 PM  

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