Can shoe boxes wake up America or even the world?

Oprah, yes I still occasionally watch, did another show yesterday on shopaholic moms and how their obsession to shop hurts themselves and their families. One mom, woke up to her addiction when, you’ll like this Hag, the piles of very expensive shoe boxes in her large walk-in closet fell on her head.

Of course, like any addiction, the shopaholics used shopping to smother emotional problems or a traumatic experience they had been unable to deal with. These moms and their families were subjected to Oprah downsizing when they had to for one week: use no electronic (de)vices- TV, Cell phone, Internet, computer; walk instead of driving whenever possible; have a very limited budget to buy food; go to zero restaurants/fast food joints; and eat meals together. Every time Oprah does this exercise, the family discovers that these (de)vices have kept them from sharing family time and learning to use their intelligence to fill the vital time they thought they were losing when asked to change their life patterns. By being forced to downsize their lives, they all realized that finding those relationship building, fun family activities was far more important than the material things that had trapped them into an impersonal rat race.

Our deep recession, political talk for a depression no one wants to acknowledge, could have that same liberating result if Americans can embrace change and more important values than materialism.

Across America, people deeply affected by our economic crisis, are being confronted with no choice downsizing. I watched on another TV show where a family after losing their spacious home, moved into a 900 foot cabin in the woods and discovered they and their children loved their new life more than their old.

What would happen to your life if you had to live with just 100 things? There is a grassroots movement that a Time magazine article in June 08 alerted me to: “Excess consumption is practically an American religion. But as anyone with a filled-to-the-gills closet knows, the things we accumulate can become oppressive. With all this stuff piling up and never quite getting put away, we’re no longer huddled masses yearning to breathe free; we’re huddled masses yearning to free up space on a countertop. Which is why people are so intrigued by the 100 Thing Challenge, a grass-roots movement in which otherwise seemingly normal folks are pledging to whittle down their possessions to a mere 100 items.”

You can learn how to count the 100 things here and what a facebook group, thinks.

I’m not advocating that all Americans need to be that drastic in downsizing their lives. The movement I would like to promote is much larger in scale although not the Libertarian approach.

My scale is the world and my enemy is materialism. There are millions in the world who would love to have our materialism problem as they struggle just to live. If the consumerism world downsizes too much even more millions will suffer.

Actually, materialism is not the basic problem. It is the symptom of the real problem, inhumanity and values. We have allowed capitalistic materialism to rationalize our inhumanity by the pull yourself up by the bootstraps rationalization so we can ignore others who are not succeeding as well as we think we are even if that succeeding is rather meager. We have allowed the meaning of success to be proven by valuing my stuff as better than your stuff. We have taught ourselves to believe we are psychologically worthy because we have stuff that is worth more than your stuff.

I talked yesterday to a friend I met through local progressive politics. He was very successful financially until our recession and his recession vulnerable business dropped to where he had his cars repossessed and his home on the chopping block. He found out who his true friends were who helped him until a long-pending deal is now about to come to fruition. He went back to a profession he left 15 years ago and discovered a large company that is doing their business the way he wanted it done when he left the company that wasn’t. And he met a new friend who is going through the same training he is who seems to be identical in thinking and values.

My friend told me that he senses that a lot of his friends and acquaintances seem to be taking a fresh look at what is really important- relationships with friends, family and even strangers.

Is it possible for America and the world to shift its values in the same way? Is it possible for us to work together instead of apart? Instead of throwing up our hands and saying America and the world is too screwed up to ever be saved, why can’t we believe it is possible to remake our lives and nation. Many religious leaders have convinced millions of followers to have faith in far crazier things.

My crusade is personal. I want to believe that I can make some kind of a difference in my quest even if that difference is microscopic in scope.

All of us have an opportunity due to the downsizing that is occurring in America, to examine our own values and see what role we can play in letting this knock on the head energize us even more to help others get their materialistic heads knocked.


  1. cocktailhag says:

    It will be cheap liquor bottles, not expensive shoe boxes, that finally take me out, but the image is deliciously evocative, RMP. (My bookcases are built for a seven point earthquake, due to lessons learned in Seattle)
    Seriously, though, this subject is long overdue for us to think about. I had some clients once who, against my advice, spent $20,000 on tile for their shower. Not installed. When I found this out, I said, “Have you ever considered giving money to the poor?” Our relationship subsequently deteriorated, as you can imagine. I wonder how they’re doing now. Nike, the husband’s employer, just laid off 800 people.

  2. Jim White says:

    Sorry to go OT so early in a thread, but it looks like CHNN got scooped on a local story: