stuff is a constant struggle

Like all of us, I was raised in the belly of the Beast. Moreover, I’m from the USA, where consumerism is king. So no matter what I think and feel about it, my relationship to stuff is going to be complicated. My mind has been colonized with constant messages about the importance of accumulating things and connecting my value as a person to the things I own.

I’m not saying anything surprising in noting that buying products, wishing to buy products, and then being inundated by products you don’t have places for in your home, etc. are central aspects of contemporary everyday life for people in the US who are not very poor or who have not made a conscious, very deliberate choice to live otherwise. And have worked hard and consistently to keep to that decision.

Not belonging myself to either of the above noted groups, I find myself struggling with stuff in everyday life. As an activist, I struggle to get my approach to stuff in keeping  with my principles, but it is challenging. Because, in addition to the usual struggles with stuff we all have, I have a few others specifically derived from being a social justice activist.

Some aspects of an activist approach to consumerism are not that hard. For instance, buying crafts as gifts to offset holiday stuff pressure. Doing our main household shopping at our local workers’ coop, Glut Food Coop. Buying fair trade, organic, reuse, recycled stuff wherever possible. Working to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and petroleum-based products. Etc.e

I try hard not to use and toss things carelessly. Problem is, this has generated a rather strange form of stuff attachment. For example, in our project to get our household off fossil fuels, we had our old gas stove disconnected, replacing it with an electric induction cook top powered by our 100% wind energy electricity supplier.

I am happy about getting off fossil fuels, but I did feel a pang as the old stove was hauled away. After all, we’d had it for twenty years. I do a lot of cooking and have spent many pleasant hours with this stove. It wasn’t its fault that it burns a fossil fuel.

It was likewise a wrench to give away our old Honda Civic, which we had for eighteen years.

But if you donate these things to a good cause, doesn’t that make it okay?

Well, the stove door was broken–stricken with flu, a particularly hard-headed family member keeled over in the kitchen and shattered the tempered glass with his head one surprising night. In a non throwaway culture we might have found someone to repair it for less than 2/3 of the cost of the entire stove. But that’s not the case in this country–so the stove had to go to the landfill.

We did donate the car, to our to our favorite progressive radio station (WPFW 89.3 FM Pacifica network), but…

…that means someone else will drive it and burn gasoline?


And anyway, it’s also an emotional attachment. I feel sad to lose the companionship of the stove and the car. I felt I was betraying them by throwing them out.

You need stuff counseling.

And that’s not even the half of it. There are so many more dimensions to my stuff attachment. Like, what about the materials that go into making the thing? Karl Marx talked about labor being crystallized in things, objects, commodities, giving them intrinsic value, distinct from their monetary or market value.

So I think about how capitalism’s insane focus on market (or exchange) value makes us unable to see our things for what they are, materially, the reality of how they are made and exist in the world.

  Like, what kind of molecules they have?

 Right. The steel, wood, plastic and all the other elements in that one thing. And the labor that went into it. Who designed it? How did they get the design approved and how hard was that? Did the inventor’s favorite bit get changed, and they were disappointed, but their friend said, “Be glad you got it approved. Now you’ll get some royalties.”?

I could go on. What decisions were made to get this thing into production? Where did they get the material, what were the working and safety conditions of the miners and other workers who made and assembled the thing’s components? The clerks who recorded their existence, journeys and costs on paper and in computers?

And how did this particular stove get to me? Who boxed it, wrestled it off the truck or train and humped it into the store warehouse? Who sold it to us, and did they get a decent commission?

What were the working conditions of all this continuum of people? Were they in unions? Sweatshops? Workers’ cooperatives?

How likely is that?

Not very likely! Of course, if I had things made in workers coops I’d be even more attached to them!

Maybe in that case you, and all of us, would have fewer things that are more thoughtfully and safely made, more fixable and longer lasting.

That would be great. But meanwhile, I suffer from this activist version of stuff attachment. When I fail to adequately perform my daily self-delusion exercises (activists tend to have problems with these) I can’t help thinking about all those people, those stories, those materials, the places they are from and the history they are part of, attached to this stove, and through it Including the aspects of it, and other things I own and use, that have harmful stuff in them or have been made in harmful ways. 

That’s why I stay away from conflict diamonds.

Right. Not so hard to do, for an activist. But what about phones with conflict minerals in them? Takes a lot of research to find ones that don’t have that. And I often don’t do it, I go with the flow, or the effluvia. Which makes for another kind of emotional attachment. How can I throw away or even recycle something made at the expense of someone’s blood?


And then there are the sweatshop clothes. So to avoid consuming them, as much as possible I shop at thrift stores. I donate them back when I’m finished with them, yet I still end up with piles of old clothes I have trouble knowing how to get rid of.


How about books?

They multiply like mushrooms. And stick to me like honey.

Hm, yes, your kind of stuff attachment is a sort of anti-consumerism, since consumerism is about using and tossing thing after thing without a second thought.Trouble is, you have so many second (and third and fourth thoughts) that you rarely get rid of anything…

I guess I need help.

An activist consumers support group.

An anti-capitalist consciousness-raising and decluttering group.

A where did it all come from, who made it, where is it all going and why do we even have it? group.

Well, organizing groups is the time-honored activist approach to problems.

As a USer you are a tool of imperialism which means you must consume endless stuff so I can consume the world! And you must be hopelessly confused! Mwa-ha-ha grrr!!

Yes, that’s the Beast behind all of this. It’s systemic, which is why activist stuff attachment, or any kind of stuff attachment, can’t be solved alone. We can’t declutter our homes–no matter what our motives for the clutter–any more than we can decolonize our minds.

That might the worst form of clutter you humans carry around.

But of course we all have to grapple clutter–in our minds and elsewhere–with it in our own ways. I have shared some of my not-very-successful ways of doing so. If you share yours, maybe we can make a list.


Here are the questions:


  • How does stuff attachment, or your stand against stuff attachment, affect your life?
  • How does your organization/movement deal with it?
  •  Is it part of your activist mission?
  • Whether or not that is the case, we all have struggles with stuff. Tell a story about one or more some of yours.
  • Share some of your ideas, strategies, frustrations, inspirations.
  • What can our activist community as a whole do about this?
The Beast squeezes the planet

Stop! Do not think about this! do not reply! Do not share ideas about how to circumvent my manipulations!

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