The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 23, 2013

We love our stuff, but it doesn’t love us back

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — ‘Tis the season of stuff.

Thanksgiving is still a few days away, but Christmas shopping is already in full swing

A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month found that Americans plan to spend $704 per person for Christmas gifts this season.

All told, the National Retail Foundation estimates Americans will spend $602.1 billion on Christmas gifts this year.

That’s a lot of stuff.

USA Today reported Friday that shoppers began camping out in front of major retailers as early as Nov. 18 in anticipation of Black Friday, coming up the end of this week.

This year’s hottest gifts are expected to be video game systems, cell phones, tablets, big-screen TVs and, of course toys like Sesame Street Big Hugs Elmo, Despicable Me talking figures, Disney Sofia the First Dress Up Trunk, Disney Doc McStuffins Get Better Check Up Center and Imaginext Rescue City Center.

 We’ve got to have our stuff.

And once we get it, we must have some place to put it. The self-storage industry is one of the nation’s fastest-growing. Over the last 40 years, in fact, it has been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry. It is estimated the self-storage industry will post revenues of more than $24 billion this year.

We also have to be able to protect it. Home security in this country is a $12.5 billion per year industry.

According to the website Mental Floss, Americans spend $310 million annually on Halloween costumes for our pets, $10 billion on romance novels, $500 million on golf balls, $17 billion on video games, $2.86 billion on toilet paper and $500 million on Twinkies.

We’ve got to have our stuff. We love our stuff.

Last year, UCLA researchers looked into the subject of Americans and our love of stuff. In the first home they studied, they identified 2,260 visible possessions in just the first three rooms (two bedrooms and the living room).

And that didn’t include items stuffed into dresser drawers, boxes and cabinets, or items tucked behind other items. It also didn’t include stuff hidden away in storage units.

Occasionally all our stuff gets the better of us. When you accumulate so much stuff you have to crawl over it instead of walking around it, you are a hoarder, and might be asked to appear on a reality TV show.

The condition, called compulsive hoarding, or disposophobia, affects an estimated three million Americans.

Americans love their stuff, sometimes too much.

That said, if you had five minutes to get out of your house and you could take anything you could carry, what would you save? Jewelry? Collectibles? Electronics? Clothing? Photos?

In the wake of disaster — hurricane, tornado, earthquake and the like — most survivors say nearly the same thing. They are happy to be alive, they are thankful their families are safe and nothing else matters.

All their stuff may be gone, but it is, after all, just stuff. And stuff can be replaced.

Their lives are shattered, their homes destroyed, their belongings scattered to the four winds, but they are alive. They may shed tears over their lost stuff, but not many.

Stuff can’t hug you, can’t comfort you, can’t hold your hand, can’t lift you up when you are down, can’t boost your spirits.

During the recent tornado outbreak in Illinois and Indiana, Kimberly Lange, her husband and kids, stayed in the basement while a storm destroyed their home.

“I dare say it was the best day of my life because I felt so kept in the palm of God’s hand,” she told a local TV station, “and we were so surrounded by love, so surrounded by support.”

The best day of her life? It just goes to show you, you may love your stuff, but it can’t love you back.



Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.