In Defense of Stuff

Tis the time of year where we, Americans in particular, are pulled hardest between two polls: our love of getting and giving gifts and our insistence that shopping, the acquisition of stuff, and so on is a monstrous and terrible thing.

Most of the time the narrative favors the latter side more than the former. “The best things in life are free.” “He who dies with the most toys still dies.” “People who shop on Black Friday are demonic creatures, the horrifying progeny of greed and gullibility.”

That last one might not actually be a quote. But it nails the sentiment.

And, I confess, there are certain parts of this handwringing that goes appeal to me. I worked retail in a mall for years. I have worked more than a few Black Fridays and they appear to have gotten even worse since. The creep into Thanksgiving seems to have been largely pushed back, for now, but it is easy to see a future where it surges back. Corportate retails entities do love making that cheddar, of course.

The thing is, though, I think we too often conflate the worst aspects of something with the full worth of it. Football is terrible because Goodell is a power mad fool who cannot stop legislating every aspect of his players’ lives, players who are all rage monsters waiting to either beat a loved one or die of excessive head injuries or both. Now, there is some truth there, but it is not all football is.

So, please, allow me to rise in support of stuff

I, as my wife has so succinctly put in on multiple occasions, like stuff. I like all varieties of stuff too. DVDs and blu-rays, books, comics, CDs (yes, CDs, long live physical media!), gargoyles, electronics…and so on and such of.

I know it is a source of frustration for her, a non-lover of stuff and for that, I am sorry.

For me though, stuff isn’t just, well, stuff. Stuff has meaning. It has weight and mass and memories. Yes, ultimately, my copy of, I don’t know, R.E.M.’s Monster will someday end up in someone else’s collection, degenerating to complete unusuability or, most likely, cast aside as trash for one reason or another. But until that day, it is not just a collection of songs I really enjoy, it is also a reminder of talking to my dad about the CD months before it came out. Reading to him from Rolling Stone about what the band said the sound was going to be, how the cover design would involve a bear, how my imagination of that design was so ridiculously off-base from the eventual reality.

It reminds me of seeing them live tear into Strange Currencies and feeling it in my chest. And then listening to the CD version a week later, sitting on the floor of my dorm, and being able to smell that night again.

It’s just stuff, but, you know, it’s not.

And no, not all stuff is like that. I definitely hold on to thing I shouldn’t or for too long. I’m a nostalgic by temperament and too often that guides my choices. But again, the excesses of a thing are not the thing.

I’m just in my mid-30’s and I have already had things slip through my grasp. Friendships, experiences, moments the were great that I can never re-experience fully, moments that could’ve been great that I screwed up through action and inaction. Life is about loss, ultimately, and I don’t even mean that to sound as grim as it does.

And stuff is no substitute for friends lost or opportunities squandered. But it is a physical thing that you can hold, that you can somehow take in, that can bring you some measure of… something. Fear, joy, lust, laughter…all of the above. It can just be a movie you liked the first time you saw it and it can also be a reminder of the person you saw it with, the last time you ever hung out with her. Or the first time, the movie that made a friendship.

Stuff is stuff. It takes up space. It annoys your parents or your spouses or your roommates. And many of us, myself included, have too much of it. Stuff is also a record, an object that carries with it memories that might otherwise slip away. We don’t need them all. You can probably let go of that beanie baby from third grade or that comic you only kind of liked the first time around. And you do need some of them.

I know those hoards running the aisles this time of year are not, largely, shopping with this in mind. Still, that doesn’t mean that today’s Black Friday doorbuster might not be the thing your child tearfully squeezes and drops back on her childhood bed before heading to college, the thing you might read and remember to call your dad again.

Stuff is stuff. But then, it’s not just stuff, right?