The culture of things

One of the qualms that comes with an international move (apparently) is that cultural values in regards to things, abundance, and excess inevitably don’t quite match up.  

I mentioned that in China, many of my friends only owned one or two pairs of clothes, many families had just a few possessions, the insides of their homes, some with dirt floors and concrete walls, appeared barren to my Western eye.

Before we moved to China, my husband and I sold many of our possessions.  But another young couple used most of our furniture for the two years we were in China, and we had other treasured things–wedding photos, souvenirs from travel, and books–stacked in footlockers waiting for our return.

We’ve all but completed our move and our set-up here in our new apartment in New Jersey, and the business of making a home is fun, and one that was made quite a bit easier and more affordable given the items we kept those few years.

But everything I’m reading lately (see here, here, and here) reminds me that we live in a climate of excess here in America.  Every time I go out to eat and a huge portion greets me, or even when warm water runs over my hands in the kitchen sink, or when I’m sorting through boxes of items that we’ve amassed over the years I’m embarrassed, stunned, and overwhelmed by things and their hold over me.

Views of the countryside in Yunnan province. Photo by Evan Schneider.

A fellow blogger recently discussed the growing materialism in China today, while also remarking on the lively debates we Americans get into over PC vs. Mac, or the way we caress our computers and phones.  She argues that Americans are simply unaware of their materialism, to the extent that they are unable “to separate material (especially techno-consumerism) from their identities.  America is so accustomed to its wealth that we are loathe to part with the products that make us who we are.”

We speak of things we need that we don’t really need.  We choose to feel inadequate when we don’t have enough “furniture to fill the space” and we buy more things as we can afford bigger spaces.  This morning I heard on NPR that the average cost of raising a child from age 0 to 18 in America is $250,000, but that’s relative to your income–as in the more money you have, the more money you will spend on a child.  

How does God desire that we live, and is that living relative to the country or the continent on which we find ourselves?  

I’m asking you this morning because I’m still parceling these things out as I go.  I’m still reeling from this new context in which I’m making my home and trying not to live in a nostalgia for China that romanticizes poverty, but rather a life that realizes authenticity and simplicity.  And God knows I’m finding it difficult…what about you?

 

 

 

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