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Chester County Press

Editorial: Our new American pastime

02/15/2022 03:40PM ● By Richard Gaw

At his wife’s persistence, an Avondale man recently opened the door to his car garage and saw the accumulated clutter of a 30-year marriage, three children and enough doggie and kitty crates to operate a small pet kennel.

Within the slivers of space still remaining, the man poked around the inventory he had managed to collect over the decades, lifting and shifting and sifting through a pile that had grown to over six feet in height. He counted eight bicycles, three bed frames, seven boxes filled with dry-cleaned and ironed clothing, seventeen empty picture frames, four filing cabinets, a dining room table with six matching chairs, three couches, two boxes of kitchen cutlery and dishes and a still-operable large-screen television that had been crammed into its place just last year because the family decided they needed a larger television.

After surveying the small mountain of items, the Avondale man told his wife that he would begin to search for storage units in the area and see which one would give him the best deal. He found three in Avondale, two in Kennett Square, three in West Chester, one in West Grove and two in Landenberg. All of them offered the man competitive monthly rates, but after the third call, he put away his phone and returned to the garage.

How did this happen? he asked himself.  How did we get so many things?

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“Our excessive possessions are not making us happy,” wrote best-selling author Joshua Becker in his book The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own. “Even worse, they are taking us away from the things that do. Once we let go of the things that don't matter, we are free to pursue all the things that really do matter.”

The statistics tell the complete and harrowing truth: that consumerism has become our new national pastime:

·  There are 300,000 items in the average American home, and the average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years.

·  Researchers have found that Americans now purchase twice as many material goods as they did 50 years ago.

·  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, while 25 percent of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them, 32 percent only have room for one vehicle.

· There are more than 50,000 storage facilities in the U.S., and 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation.

·  According to an article in the New York Times Magazine, one out of every ten Americans rent offsite storage.

·  Storage units are the fastest growing segment of the real estate industry over the past four decades. Real estate website recently reported that there are more self-storage facilities in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s restaurants, and has become a $24 billion a year industry.

 “…Nobody gets to the end of life wishing they had bought more things,” Becker wrote. “Why is that? Because consumption never fully delivers on its promise of fulfillment or happiness. Instead, it steals our freedom and results only in an unquenchable desire for more. It brings burden and regret. It distracts us from the very things that do bring us joy.

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The Avondale man began the utterly slow process of tearing down the giant wall in front of him.  With each tussle and with each twist, the wall collapsed more and more, one item at a time. He knew that the best memories from the 30 years he has spent with his wife and children have had very little to do with these objects – they were merely accessories to his happiness -- and if he rented one storage unit, eventually he would rent another one and another one until finally the physical remnants of his life would overtake him.

After several hours of work, the Avondale man came to the realization that all this stuff, unlike those whose lives he treasures, has no heartbeat and no attachment to their owners – and that each chair and table and bookshelf and starched shirt is easily transferable. He walked back into his house and made another phone call.

The Habitat for Humanity of Chester County

1847 East Lincoln Highway, Coatesville, Pa. 19320


Restore Donation Hotline: 610-466-1890