Thinking ahead of ‘the season of excess’


For a recent family wedding, I wanted a “new” dress, so I headed to a classy second hand shop that supports a local home for pregnant women, and found a name-brand dress for under $14.

I felt great, although I wasn’t about to proclaim to all my in-laws that I was the day’s “Second-hand Rose.” But why not? Reuse, recycle, resist spending. We need to embrace this.

I don’t know if they’re in Alaska yet, but The Container Store opened a shop where I live, and I couldn’t believe how excited people were for its arrival. Apparently, it has all manner of nifty storage solutions for stuff.

I have resisted going to this particular store because I remind myself that if I need a container I have empty boxes in the basement.

Nevertheless, I am tempted when I go to a store with an aisle with woven baskets, canvas drawers and other trendy and attractive stuff where you can fit more stuff. We are a nation of stuff, and with the season of excess drawing near we will purchase, consume and then “contain” even more stuff.

Once again, this time of year is a good time to reassess this consumption problem we (and by “we” I mean “I”) have, because it’s a moral hazard on the road ahead.

Excess “stuff” means more disposable waste, more plastic for landfills and oceans, more fuel costs in manufacturing and shipping, and a greater urge to buy more containers. Most of this in turn contributes to greenhouse gases which increase the problem of climate change.

There’s also the issue of what this insatiable buying says about the needs we are trying to fill, when perhaps something better — or Someone better — is waiting to fill us.

A good friend’s son opened a storage facility near the small town where we grew up. He rents out shed-like buildings where people can place their excess. He makes more money per acre than he makes on his farmland.

According to the Self Storage Association, a trade group for those who operate such facilities, public storage is “the fastest growing segment of the real estate industry over the last forty years” — and it’s also considered recession proof, because junk acquisition doesn’t show signs of slowing.

Our need to fill storage units and landfills relates directly to the risks of climate change. Fortunately, we have moral leadership in this area from Pope Francis, whose encyclical “Laudato Si” laid out the issue in well-researched scientific terms at a time when our own government has taken the words “climate change” off of official websites.

Catholic Climate Covenant, supported by and working with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has tips on their website for simple actions we might take, like honoring meatless Fridays, as livestock production accounts for 4 percent of America’s greenhouse gas. And an important but easy action: email or phone your congressional representatives.

In his book “A Year Without a Purchase,” Scott Dannemiller urges providing experiences rather than stuff for our kids and grandkids. For instance, we give our granddaughter an aquarium membership for Christmas.

Dannemiller’s book is a good-humored look at the year his family of four went without purchasing anything but the bare necessities (toilet paper, food). Along the way, he supplies all kinds of interesting takes on retail “therapy,” the effect of social media on our happiness and consumption, and his own struggles to provide a fun birthday party without gift bags.

It’s a great read before the season of excess.

The writer is formerly from Anchorage. She now lives in Omaha, Neb.

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