American Consequences - December 2017

shows such as “Hoarders” and “Storage Wars” that broadcast profiles in consumer excess. And yet, criticizing people who accumulate too much stuff has also become a shorthand for those intent on bludgeoning the public with apocalyptic environmental messages and arguments about the many sins of neoliberalism. In this worldview, even childhood and death aren’t safe. Zealously pared-down spaces free of Legos and the other flotsam of family life are now a regular feature in magazines with titles like Simple Living, along with helpful

to-be-released book on the subject, suggests 65 as a good age to begin the process. Approaching senescence isn’t terrifying enough – why not also grimly sort through the detritus of your life? Yet even here there are market opportunities. Websites such as Everything but the House serve as virtual (if macabre) auction spaces. Anyone with an Internet connection can peruse sales from across the country, with their piles of clothes, shoes, jewelry, and mementoes all available to the highest bidder. One sale there featured personal items once owned by televangelist and Crystal Cathedral founder Dr. Robert H.

reminders such as the fact that 40% of the world’s toys are consumed by American children, even though they are only 3% of the world’s kid population. Parents are even told to discard children’s art projects and instead take a picture to remember them. At the other end of the lifecycle, adult children write

Lavish experiences can be more widely and effectively flaunted via social media than beautiful items, of course, which are best coveted by a discrete audience of first-hand witnesses.

Schuller, who died in 2015. Virtual vultures (and mere voyeurs like me) could buy photos of Schuller with Dan Quayle and Ronald Reagan, bid on a 14-carat gold pendant of Jesus, peruse an autographed copy of Nancy Sinatra’s book

about her father, or zoom in on a figured mahogany

Gothic Revival console. Suddenly, the Greatest Generation is reduced to the greatest generation of Hummel figurine collectors. But these self-appointed guides through the excesses of consumption overlook a simple reality: Humans tend to expand to fill the space they are in, and one of the most effective ways to do that is with their stuff. Consider the American closet. We have an industry built on building, organizing, and maintaining the small rooms that hold our clothes and shoes. Businesses such as the Container Store and California Closets

essays outlining their horror at how much stuff their aging parents have accumulated over a lifetime (a portion of which likely includes their own elementary school art projects). So serious is this epidemic of old-people stuff that Americans are turning to other cultures for guidance. The Egyptians wisely buried their dead’s stuff with them, condemning them to an eternity of posthumous organizing. Or perhaps the answer can be found in the Swedish practice of dostadning , which loosely translates as “ death cleaning .” Margareta Magnusson, author of a soon-

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