Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lust for Free Stuff

Is It Lust of a Different Color, or Is It Still Green?

By Christine Clark

“We still have each other, even if all the stuff is gone.”
“But I want the stuff!”
The preceding conversation is loosely based on dialogue from The Jerk, a 1970s movie starring Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters. A simplified plot summary follows: They are poor. They get rich. They get lots of stuff. They lose the money. They lose the stuff.
I have often echoed Peters’ line: “But I want the stuff!” I do want the stuff, but I am learning that its weight often exceeds literal ounces and pounds. Avoiding the stuff is easy if I stay away from retail establishments. Thrift shops, discount stores, yard sales, department stores, garden centers (a particular lust land for me), and even the grocery store can be tempting. Places that sell stuff have a common denominator: If I want the stuff, I have to buy it, which helps me set limits.
Free stuff, however, is a different beast. I challenged the beast of free stuff last weekend. My sister Kathy moved back to Florida and is consolidating the contents of two houses. She has so much stuff she is giving some of it away—free stuff! My sister Lindy and I planned a visit last weekend to help settle Kathy in her home.
Kathy called Friday and told me her dining room table was piled with things she no longer wants. Lindy and I could have whatever we wanted. Free stuff! My greed chip activated instantly: “Don’t let Lindy take anything before I get there! She can be so greedy sometimes.” As soon as I said that, I felt guilty. I asked myself, “Who is greedy? I am!” I wanted first dibs on the stuff. Shame on me! I lusted after stuff I had not even seen. I had no idea what it was, but it was stuff, it was free, and I wanted it. Well, I wanted first choice at what I knew I would want as soon as I saw it.
Lust for a shiny doodad, shirt, jeans, shoes, flowers, whatever catches my fancy, is one thing. But I lusted after stuff I didn’t even know existed earlier that day. In the hours before I left for Kathy’s, I took a hard look at that lust. I didn’t like it. I felt awful about calling Lindy greedy because, in fact, she is quite generous. As I pondered getting more stuff, free stuff, I surveyed my existing stuff—books spilling over the edges of bookcases, plants on every surface, cabinets filled with dishes, glasses, pots, pans, pie plates—many I don’t and might not ever use. I realized I did not need any more stuff, but I still wanted it.
I am a flawed person; one of my deepest flaws is not walking my talk. I aspire to be like people who walk their talk. How could I walk my talk about conquering the lust for stuff? How could I stop acquiring more stuff—even free stuff?
I decided to set criteria on what I would take by asking myself several questions:

1.   Do I want to walk my talk and conquer the lust for stuff?
2.   What will I do with the stuff?
3.   Do I need the stuff?
4.   Where will I put the stuff?
5.   Do I love the stuff?
6.   How have I lived 58 years without the stuff?

I wrote my questions on a piece of paper as a visual reminder and put it in my suitcase. I also packed some blankets and large towels to wrap and bring home the glass top for the table my sister gave me two weeks earlier, not that the table was stuff...
When I arrived, Kathy had taped a cute sign on the door welcoming us to the thrift shop. One line rang true: “Competition is fierce.” She called it. I was competing for stuff I had not even seen. How did I do? Stay tuned…

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