I was away for almost two years cycling through Latin America. When I came back to my childhood home, everything had changed.
Normally whenever I visited my mum I would look forward to rediscovering my room, looking through my things and get excited about forgotten stuff.
This time it was different. I had never felt like it before. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t open a single drawer until three or four days later. It was nauseating to see that I possessed so much stuff. It made me angry even. I didn’t want to have anything. I didn’t need anything.
On the road, everything you possess is on your bike. There are people who manage to carry a LOT of stuff on their bikes, but our approach was minimalist; the less you have, the more fun you can have on your bike! Tose things we had were basics that were necessary; cycle clothes, a warm layer and something for rainy weather, tent, sleeping bag and mat, stove, and a phone/tablet and a camera. If I listed all the things a generic Western person has, it would be longer than this post.
As with everything, you get used to things. A week or so in I am trying to get rid of as much as I can but there are things that I now appreciate having again – like more than a pair of undies and a real bra 😉 but we live in a world of so much excess, waste, and choice. Too much choice actually makes unhappy (“The Paradox of Choice”). Very easy to comprehend: imagine you have two shirts. Pick one. Imagine you have ten shirts. Now pick one. Of course you’ll have a harder time, it’s gonna be more stressful to choose between ten than just two.
So here we are. Society telling us how important it is to have the newest smartphone, Netflix (I’ve not had a TV and been away for so long I still don’t quite understand what it is), and how to look fabulous. People in poor countries suffer for our consumerism; they work their asses of for pennies. What is life if it’s only work and no play? Unfortunately, we don’t just have a problem with abundance of stuff, but also food. Ironically, there’s abundance here but lack in many developing countries. Many people starve at the same time as we go through ailes of produce. Why do we need to be able to choose between fifty brands and on top of that between fifty types? Dumpster diving should not be illegal; I’ve seen the things that are in some bins, binning them should be illegal. There are many ways to get rid of excess food – giving them to a food shelter, for example.
One thing leads to the other, the environment suffers. Huge houses filled with stuff, cities filled with junk, garbage hidden away, food going to waste.
How on earth could you raise a child in a society like this without it becoming like everyone else?
I was the same! I loved shopping for nice things, giving presents to people, and making stuff. And I can see the same happening to my little sister. She is so happy that I’m getting rid of stuff as it means new stuff for her. But for there to be change, there needs to be awareness, and there needs to be early education.
I have become so aware of problems in western countries because I was happy with very little, and so are many other people around the world countries. While I have to admit that I really appreciate things like electricity, a mobile phone, a computer, pastries and chocolate, it doesn’t mean we need so much of everything!