Balancing Moral Dilemmas on Top of Our Everyday STUFF

April 22, 2006 | By | 1 Reply More

Interesting missive, that moral rules, dirty secret, thing.  Got me thinking.  I am one of those people with too much stuff.  I’m also one of those people who would just as soon give money or time to kids on the other side of the world as pay my own bills, but that’s a different problem altogether.  Let’s call it a problem with authority, and we’ll just visit that one some other time.

I’m on mission right now to rid my life of stuff.  If you entered my house at this point, you’d laugh at how, thus far, I haven’t fared particularly well in this area.  Stuff has sort of taken over.  None of it is particularly expensive or luxurious stuff, just stuff.  I have kids.  They like stuff.  ‘Nuff said.

In figuring out how to rid our lives of the extraneous junk and the stress it inevitably causes – particularly when it trips me up in the middle of the night causing swear words to wake my children – I’m faced with a choice.  Sell it, trash it or donate it. 

Trashing some of it is a favor to all involved – junk is a kind word to describe much of the effluvia of childhood.  Small plastic things, 40 drawings of essentially the very same flower, more small plastic things, pieces of other things we’re sure we’ll find the rest of eventually, single socks (even a shoe or two) in a house full of bi-peds but surely-the-mates-are-here-somewhere-and-if-I-toss-this-one-I’ll-immediately-find-the-other; hey look, more small plastic things, wrinkly copies of piano music long since mastered, paint brushes hardened with paint that didn’t exactly get rinsed out – and on and on and then some.  Good Lord!  Throw it out already!!

Agreed.  But it must be done stealthily, lest those children see me tossing out such treasures.  They tend to not like that so much.  They tend to whine and complain if they catch me.  And since I homeschool them, meaning they are with me CONSTANTLY, well, that’s harder than it sounds.  But I will, I promise.  Erich, will you watch my kids for awhile?

OK, so let’s pretend the junk is gone.  Now I have to choose between selling and donating.  I think I’ll start by selling.  I can do a yard sale.  I can put out the clothes that will never fit again – because I’m 46 and my daughters will never be toddlers again but, man, aren’t they cute?! – and the toys they’ve outgrown and never played with much anyway so they are in great shape and the homeschooling materials we never quite got around to using but are chock full of grand information and the dolls that I loved but my girls never really took to, and the two extra can openers because who needs three, really? – I can put it all out and let people who will really use it buy it for a great price. 

Then I’ll have a little bonus money.  Hmmmm.  What to do with it?  We really need a new television.  Not a plasma or anything fancy, just one you don’t have to smack every 20 minutes or so to get the sound to come back on in the middle of a movie because the speakers have a short in there somewhere.  Is that asking too much?  We don’t even have cable, it’s not like we watch it all the time. 

Or, I also need to get some body-work done on my car.  Came a little too close to a “safety” pole in the drive-through lane . . . argh.  I want to trade the beast in on something small and economical, but who will want it with a big yellow scrape on one side?  Yep, I drive a beast.  I needed it for the number of seats, but since it now costs me almost $70 to fill the tank, well, we’ll just have to do without those seats.  And, of course, I’m burning up way more than our fair share of fossil fuel, which is a source of constant background guilt for me. 

So.  I had every intention of putting that yard sale money toward one of those two “necessary” items in our lives.  But now Erich has made me think.  What to do, what to do?  I could just take all the yard sale money, whatever paltry sum it comes out to be, and donate it to a worthwhile charity.  Feed starving people, save lives. 

Or reduce my own stress level so as not to become an abusive parent.  Hmmmm.  Choices.

I know I’ll donate whatever stuff I don’t sell.  That part is a no-brainer – if it doesn’t sell in the yard sale, it ain’t comin’ back in the house.  No, no, NO.  We don’t need it.  Goodwill can use it, fix it up, sell it cheaply, whatever it needs to do to provide jobs and inexpensive items to those in need.  So I’ll feel OK about that part. 

Erich’s mentioning of plasma TVs caught my attention – raised my hackles a teeny bit, perhaps? – because my dad got one not long ago, and I have a close friend who just bought a plasma TV.  They are both good people, kind, hard-working, responsible and concerned about the world.  But they still bought plasma TVs.  Now I’m trying to decide if I should be angry with them for these ultimately frivolous purchases.  My friend works hard for his money (as did my dad before retirement) and he spends it carefully, didn’t take out a loan to buy said luxury item or any of those silly things people do to consume more than they earn.  He earned it.  Still, he could have saved some lives.  Hmmmm. 

I fully understand the concept of all dollars not being equal in our capitalistic society.  I fully realize that if we all lived exactly by the Ten Commandments, we’d each pass our own wealth around until everyone had an equal share.  But.

Personally, I find that not only unreasonable, but I just don’t believe this grand life experiment calls all of us to do that.  Some people truly live this way.  They stand as shining examples of what is possible, giving each of us hope for what human beings can accomplish.  I just don’t think anyone who truly earns their wealth, or merely their comfortable living, should feel guilty about enjoying it.  Many avenues exist through which to help one’s fellow man.  I think we should all do something outside our comfort zone to engage in it – donate more than you think you can, spend a vacation working up a good sweat building something somewhere instead of sitting in the sun on a beach for a week. 

Then next time, sit in the sun.  Enjoy it, become rejuvenated by absorbing and appreciating some piece of nature you’ve never seen before, and when your vacation is over, return to your life with a positive attitude.  Smile at people, strike up conversations with strangers, find new ways to be connected to the human race.  Who knows what your kindness to a stranger, because you are relaxed, happy and content, might inspire.  Be kind to your children and teach them how important they can be to the world. 

OK, I thought about it.  I don’t think I’ll be too angry with my plasma-watching friend.  He’s done a fair share of good things in his life, including setting a really good example for me regarding important stuff like fiscal responsibility.  He deserves to spend some of his hard-earned money on something that makes him happy.  He watches movies and PBS, for crying out loud.  He’s learning all about saving the planet on this plasma.  So I think I shall not fuss at him.  He can keep it. 

Besides, he lets me watch it (while I’m trying to decide what to do with that windfall from the yardsale I’m planning), and the picture is really, really good.


Category: American Culture, Meaning of Life, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

I am a writer and communication professional in St. Louis, Missouri, a crafter of jewelry, a disorganized optimist and most importantly, the adoptive mom of two China-born daughters.

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  1. Erich Vieth says:


    I need to make it clear: I have no solution or suggestions for this state of affairs: that dollars are fungible has moralized every human activity and possession. Nothing is any longer in the non-moral zone. Those starving children accompany us to theaters, sports events, fancy clothing stores and even on those long vacations where we, above all else, try to "get away from it all."

    What does this mean? I really don't know.

    We all struggle to be generally good and decent people, but in the US it seems like our "talent" for not thinking out the consequences for our spending behaviours has reached new heights.

    If one agrees with me that no purchases are really amoral, perhaps we can see it in two ways: 1) we have blood on our hands every time we buy a non-necessity (broadly defined) and Guilt will forevermore accompany us to every store; or 2) we can take insight this as a challenge to fight the broad and deep message delivered under the radar by ubuitous advertising. We can remind ourselves that spending for entertainment and luxuries is not necessarily the guilt-free activity the merchants suggest. Not that we need to question ourselves every hour or minute, but at least occasionally.

    I realize this isn't satisfying. As I suggested in my post, it's rather annoying to come to this conclusion.

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