Wind Sprints: Religious recycling in a time of kipple and Kondo (editor’s column)
November 25, 2016
I asked the librarian if I would have visitation rights. She smiled and assured me I would. "You can come back and see them anytime," she said.
I knew my books, all 15 boxes of them, would have a good home at the Summit County Library in Frisco. Nevertheless, it was hard to let them go.
I fancy myself as someone who is downright ruthless when it comes to purging clutter, especially if that clutter belongs to other members of my family. But donating my books? That felt personal. There's an Arthur Schopenhauer quote I first heard from the late, great singer-songwriter Warren Zevon: "We love to buy books because we believe we're buying the time to read them."
It's a brilliant quote because it could be adapted to fit anything we buy: Clothing, a set of watercolors, exercise equipment, a Moleskine notebook, a new set of skis, you name it. Many of our purchases begin on a warm, dopamine-fueled wave of optimism.
But that euphoria soon wears off and crashes into a rocky shore of junk we no longer want.
There's a classic routine from the comedian George Carlin (a philosopher on par with Schopenhauer) on the nature of stuff: "That's the whole meaning of life, isn't it? Trying to find a place for your stuff. That's all your house is… …your house is just a place for your stuff." He goes on to conclude: "Other people's stuff is ****, your **** is stuff."
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Like most Carlin jokes, it underscores what a strange and silly animal man is. We accumulate far more things than we really need and become enslaved to those things. In our age of single-use packaging and planned obsolescence, it sometimes seems that our full-time job is managing the flow of our possessions.
Carlin misses one thing, though, about our fraught relationship with objects: Deep-sixing our stuff can be just as pleasurable as buying it.
Just look at the cult surrounding Japan's Marie Kondo, the elfin queen of de-cluttering who wrote the 2014 hit, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." The crux of her philosophy is that we should trash anything that doesn't spark joy.
A New York Times Magazine writer had this to say about Kondo's curious popularity: "By the time her book arrived, America had entered a time of peak stuff, when we had accumulated a mountain of disposable goods — from Costco toilet paper to Isaac Mizrahi swimwear by Target — but hadn't (and still haven't) learned how to dispose of them. … We were burdened by our stuff; we were drowning in it."
I've tried Kondo's approach (though I haven't talked gently to the things I plan to jettison, as she suggests), but no matter how aggressive I am, I can never seem to stem the tide of crap. I'm in a constant war with clutter, but it always feels like a losing battle.
The science fiction writer Philip K. Dick coined a fittingly ominous term for this insidious variety of stuff: kipple. The term refers to junk mail, receipts and mysterious power chords that seem to enter our lives independent of our will. Late at night, when we're sleeping, the kipple breeds.
Recycling has become one of our most-deployed and effective tactics in the campaign against kipple. It appeals to us because it has a moral dimension that ennobles the brute act of casting aside. We didn't just scrap something — we gave it new life. That's the feeling I ultimately had after donating my books, though I freely admit I'm a recycling slouch.
Recycling is a religion for many of us. It's a coping mechanism, and act of faith, that is currently threatened in Summit County. A budget shortfall threatens to decimate the available funding for the Summit County Resource Allocation Park and to close two popular recycling drop-off centers in Breckenridge and Frisco. Understandably, residents are furious and the county is now looking for ways to keep it alive.
Across the country, the economics of recycling has come under increasing scrutiny. It's expensive and doesn't support itself. It also doesn't seem to do much to limit the amount of stuff both produced and consumed. Writing for the New York Times, journalist John Tierney recently said this: "Recycling has been relentlessly promoted as a goal in and of itself: an unalloyed public good and private virtue that is indoctrinated in students from kindergarten through college. As a result, otherwise well-informed and educated people have no idea of the relative costs and benefits."
It's a hot topic and that's why we're making it the focus of our next What's Brewing. Please join the Summit Daily News and representatives from the High County Conservation Center for a coffee talk on the future of recycling in our community. The town-hall-style meeting begins at 9 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 2, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center.
Marie Kondo might have the answer to all of this, but I'm not really in the market for a new book at the moment. I'm hoping Summit Daily readers will help show us the way instead.
Ben Trollinger is the editor of the Summit Daily News. Contact him at (970) 668-4618 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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