All the stuff

It’s tough to ignore the constant cultural bombardment we experience as Americans that teaches that we are what we buy, that our worth and happiness are tied inextricably to the amount and type of stuff we possess.

And it’s therefore easy to get caught up in the syndrome of constant consumption (as well as constant work that provides the money that feeds that consumption).

Not surprisingly, all this leads to vast piles of stuff.

I am one of those people who live in a home with a two-car garage that is barely navigable by foot, so stacked is it with broken furniture, family memorabilia, damaged computer parts and a zillion boxes, unmarked, that contain everything from Christmas lights to old dishes to discarded (but not yet donated) clothing. And though all the stuff amassed and later “garaged” by my husband and me wouldn’t really get us ranked, thankfully, on the list of Americans who take their “stuff” too seriously, we seem to gather it at a pretty good pace anyway.

What happens to everybody’s stuff?

In this week’s SN&R, Jaime O’Neill writes about one Sacramento family of auctioneers whose very mission in life is to deal with the stuff (at least what doesn’t go to the landfill or get immediately recycled). At the Auction Block Co. on 57th Street, a few generations of the Metzinger family purchase, organize, catalog, display and ultimately sell off at auction everything from furniture and jewelry to pottery and paintings. (See “Going, going, gone!”)

The story is terrific in its detail about how life works out for the things and the people who sell them in this “museum of memories,” as O’Neill calls it. But it’s also a giant reminder that the material stuff we so treasure is only ours for a little while; that our lives had better, therefore, be about more than the stuff.