My bedroom has been covered in piles since I got home from China two weeks ago. I am embarrassed each time I walk into it. Embarrassed most of all, for my new daughter to see it. To see that our abundance is not always wisely used, that sometimes it merely denigrates our lives.
It has been a transition for her, learning this American culture of waste and consumerism. She has learned that the grocery store gives out candy and the fast food restaurant gives out stickers – over and over again. American life for a child from a more developing nation, even one as advanced as China, is like Disneyland everyday. Movies in school, pizza every week, book and more books, games and more games, stuff to do every. single. moment.
I recognize some of her feelings, her reactions. I have lived in rural Africa and experienced coming back to this great land we call America. I have watched how profoundly our simple actions as Americans affected our African neighbors. Each day in Africa our house worker would burn the garbage for us, but not before carefully going through each item put there, to take a pile of things home she could repurpose and use. It humbled me. And we had very little garbage in Africa, and still have little garbage compared to most Americans.
Our American home now is relatively simple – I continually find myself apologizing for the things I do not have; a tea kettle, for example. I still find that a pot works equally well for heating water, but my lack of a tea kettle seems to disorient those I entertain. For our first year here back in America we did not use our dishwasher and ran our kitchen on the few simple things we bought at Ikea: one knife, one mixing/serving bowl, a set of eight dishes. I have learned how to measure without measuring cups or spoons. Those things drive me crazy anyway, always a new mess to wash and sort and store.
I find there is a constant balance. Living this life fully, this American life, while also not forgetting the world around us and our deeper needs as humans for so much more than entertainment and abundance. Even the catalogs that come daily in the mail, thankfully precious few since we went to Africa, stun me with their color photos, their numerous pages, the pictures of things none of us really need, seeking to tempt me to believe that I still do not have enough.
Andy Ruben, writing for Patagonia, says: There is nothing sustainable about more efficiently produced bikes, jackets and blenders unless we figure out how to address the fundamental growth of the consumer based model. Eighty percent of the items in our home are used less than once a month. An efficiently produced bread maker that spends most of its life in storage is still a waste.
And this is what I am pondering this morning. How much time it takes to care for things we never really use. How amazing it feels to give things away. How free I am when I travel, only a suitcase to work with. I want to walk even lighter and at the same time I do not want my American kids to grow up feeling weightless, deprived amongst their friends. Concurrently, I am desperate not to spoil this Chinese daughter of mine, not to teach her waste and neglect, indifference and apathy, carelessness and lack of appreciation.
Today I wish for our little family to enjoy the sunshine, the clear fresh air, the feeling of our bodies in motion, making and eating good food, standing still, being present. Im crossing that big church easter egg hunt off the daily list with no regrets. I just do not believe it will bring joy, to us. Instead we will sit in the hammock, mow the lawn, and play with all the abundance we have. Mindfully, we will choose to notice our gifts and to use them well.