Years of acquiring weigh on a person in many ways - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Years of acquiring weigh on a person in many ways

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Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 3:10 am | Updated: 6:03 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

It’s odd. Possessions can become a millstone to drag around day to day. Perhaps we should erect a warning sign for those clamoring for our lifestyle.

Everywhere, people are talking about getting rid of their abundance — except Donald Trump, I suppose. Recently, a young, financially successful couple shared their frustrations over the burden of “things.” In response, they’d boxed up various items that graced their modest world and will either sell or give them away.

“We’re not buying anything but necessities anymore,” they said. “We don’t want to take care of things.” You’d expect only old people would to think that way.

There was a time I never thought I’d have enough of anything. In a young family, living on an extremely small budget, I struggled for years to afford used chests of drawers to hold my children’s clothing. Much later, when things became easier, I hung onto those worn pieces. They were treasures; hard won, a remembrance of times where dreams were as simple as envisioning a place to store diapers. The children they served are now using those chests in their homes.

It’s perplexing to reach the place where possessions no longer provide comfort. Doesn’t matter that we sacrificed to get here, the point is excess stuff, every bit of it, hangs on our backs or feels like it’s tied around our necks.

There’s a natural law about this condition. When something good is constantly done in the extreme, it turns bad. For example: too much exercise can harm a body. In ancient days, the term was “the ring pass not.” Some say it like this: “The truth of something depends on its relationship to a much larger whole.” And, the truth is the hard work of Americans has paid off, but we pay double when we indulge in quantity: insurance, storage, maintenance, depreciation and finally, the cost to discard.

But, the greatest challenge is the mental price. Our minds are never free. They’re tied to objects; vital energy is lost in the pull, never mind the hours and stress required to produce the income.

The free trade systems, supposedly a blessing to the world, have issued an avalanche of gizmos, gadgets and garbage so extreme that it’s becoming a sin — and folks the storm is barely on us.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the “freegans.” They’re protesters, like the hippies in the 1960s, who are taking the dropout mentality to the extreme, evidence that more and more people are getting abundance fever.

Freegans (a blend of free and vegan) rummage through supermarket, restaurant and street market garbage bins to get their meals. This isn’t about whether they can afford food. Actually, they are political activists who focus on “voluntary simplicity and monetary minimalism.” It’s a show of “defiance against the wasteful consumerist culture of the developed world.” Some call it “ethical eating,” but I call it nuts.

However, extreme activism has always made its point through shock and one tends to be amazed at those who are willing to take such measures to raise awareness.

By the way, some freegans are Britains and Americans who have left successful careers. A recent Los Angeles Times article tells of Madeline Nelson, 51, who quit a six-figure income job at Barnes and Noble. She now lives off her savings and volunteers her time. She feeds herself from garbage cans and teaches others how to do it. Speaking in “green” terms, Nelson says she seeks to create a “negative footprint” by “Dumpster diving.”

Most freegans avoid all consumption beyond absolute basics, but they’re most disturbed by the amount of food waste. Reports point to a 2005 study by University of Arizona professor Timothy Jones, which found that “40 percent of food grown in America is lost or thrown away.” The freegans chase that portion.

You won’t see my head in a trash bin, but I’m definitely tired of taking care of things, not to mention a frugal lifestyle offers an abundance of other healthy choices. I’m wondering about one thing, though. If we all cut back, what will happen to Costco and Wal-mart and all those jobs?

Linda Turley-Hansen is a syndicated columnist and former veteran Phoenix television news anchor who lives in the East Valley. She can be reached by e-mail at

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