Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Material Girl

When I was backpacking through India in February, I met an Australian named Sarah.  At the ripe old age of 24 (or maybe it was 25) Sarah looked around one day and realized that she had it all:  a PhD, a job at a vet clinic, a live-in boyfriend, and loads of material things including a house.

Sarah was surprised to realize that, despite having everything a person could or should want in life, she felt like something was missing.  Her subconscious kept whispering, "There's more to life than this.  There's more to life than this..."

Sarah then did something that amazed me.  She quit her job, broke up with her boyfriend, and sold her possessions so that she could travel the world for several months and relocate to London.  When I met her in India, she was carrying everything she owned in her backpack.

Sarah's story was the first travel experience that really got me thinking about possessions.  I've never pinned myself as a Material Girl.  I kept my apartment sparse, preferring quality to quantity, but the thought of parting with the little I owned was terrifying.

As days on the road turned into weeks, I thought less and less about possessions.  There was so much going on around me that material things seemed secondary.  I felt like I was a child again - everything was new and novel and I was experiencing it for the first time.

For the second time since Afghanistan, I saw poverty.  But I also saw people that were happy.  They did not own a glitzy house, designer clothes or a sports car, but they drew happiness from religion, family and friends.  Many people appeared happier than my American friends.

After nearly forgetting I owned anything, I was jolted back to reality when I landed in Minneapolis on Sunday night.  Looking around, I was amazed to rediscover all of the things I left behind.

I sat in my parent's guest bedroom fingering strands of pearls, gazing at cocktail rings, and sniffing Calvin Klein perfume.  I stroked silk blouses, and cashmere sweaters.  I surveyed my Toyota Prius, Vita Mix blender, Specialized mountain bike and Macbook.  I perused my book collection and drove to a storage facility to peer at my mahogany kitchen table, queen-sized bed, and other furniture.

I do not believe I own much compared to the average American (nor have I ever felt as attached to material things as some of my friends).  When I left for India, the bulk of my possessions fit into a 5' X 10' storage facility.  But after living out of a 50 liter backpack for 19 weeks, and seeing real poverty, I feel different.

I feel like I own a massive amount of stuff.  I feel spoiled.  And for the first time in my life, I feel more attached to and controlled by material things than I realized.

I'm sickened not only by what I see in the guest bedroom and in the storage facility but also what I see in society.  Ads on TV implore me to buy.  Ads on the radio implore me to buy.  Billboards on the highway implore me to buy.

Everywhere I look, something is for sale, and unless I buy it I'm not "cool" or "good enough."

Since I've been home, I've had the weirdest feeling.  I feel overwhelmed by my possessions and I want to give them away.  Another Material Girl can have my blender, my cocktail rings, my cashmere sweaters.

I want to throw that 50 liter backpack on my back and walk out the door.  Catch a plane and land in some dusty little "hell hole" of the world where possessions fade into the background and I'm dazzled again by the rawness of the world around me.

1 comment:

  1. And, now I feel blah about the stuff I own. I'm happy for you, Lori, that you've become so comfortable within your own self - that you'd WANT to part with your material possessions. I hope that I get to that point, someday. Or, at least, be OK with it - cuz, right now~ I couldn't part with EVERYTHING. >_<:: I'm a pack-rat, and hope to change that soon. It's ridiculous how much stuff I've accumulated over the years.
    Welcome home, by the way. :)