Little House, Big House
A few nights ago I camped by a small, rundown cabin. Today I walked past a huge new house set back off a remote dirt road. The contrast in size was startling. The new house was easily bigger than twenty of the old cabins.
For four months I am living with just what I can carry on my back. Yet I will return home to a house full of stuff. It is easy for me to justify much of that stuff. I have my floor looms and the yarn that goes with them. I have my skis, bicycles, and kayak. It is harder to live among people with only one set of clothes.
But do I really need all I have? Of course not. I could cut back on the number of pots in my kitchen. I don't need as many changes of clothes nor bars of soap, even if they were given to me as gifts. Out here I don't even carry soap!
I’ve thought about this enough to understand how I personally got to be a person who collects “stuff” I have experienced times when I did not know where my young son and I would live or where our next meal would come from. I learned to used rags as diapers when I had to. It has made me loath to throw anything away that still has value. Yet the accumulation of stuff causes a certain level of overwhelm that is not healthy. I have to find a balance.
And clearly our society needs to find a balance as well. How is it that a large family used to live happily in a house a fraction of the size that today’s smaller families live in? I am reminded of a wonderful book called Material World, which shows families from around the world standing outside their homes with all of their possessions. The possessions they hold dearest are in the front. The contrast between those treasuring their one cooking pot or the family cow and those near the television is startling. It explains for me how we’ve gone from a one-room cabin to a house twenty times that size. Yet I’m certain that while some things in life are easier, the happiness quotient is no greater, and perhaps is even less. What I can say with a fair degree of confidence is that our planet Earth cannot keep accommodating the level of excessive usage and bigger and bigger houses for individuals. The scarcity of water in these western states, along with the excessive heat, tells me we need to be scaling down, not up.