It is said that home is where the heart is. And for some of us, home is also where the mess is. I’ve been thinking about how much stuff I own and it makes me wonder why it is necessary when the immigrant relatives of my past had so little. Keeping up with work and my personal life is hard enough at the frenetic pace of today’s world. When I come home, the last thing I want to do is clean up; tidying the garage or organizing my paperwork is far closer to punishment than a way to unwind. Unfortunately there is so much stuff – acquired by me, given to me…sometimes I think it multiplies when I’m not looking.

Why have we become a society dictated by things? When I was a kid I craved certain toys, but I was choosing from limited options (whatever was in stock at Toys “R” Us). My mother had one toy as a child – a doll that was disposed of after being set on fire by a distant relative with a wayward cigar. Today a search for “toy” on Amazon returns over 3 million results.

So when did we become so obsessed with stuff? Where did it all come from? And where is it supposed to go?

In the 19th century, immigration to the US spiked, in large part resulting from steam-powered ships. Millions of hopeful travelers left their homes behind for a tenuous journey across the seas. Most brought items they needed to survive and perhaps a few mementos, but the ships were packed full with people and little room for luxury. With careful consideration, immigrants selected the things that meant the most, and that would survive the journey.

Perhaps it was the descendants of those same voyagers that began acquiring for the sport of it, hoping to fill the void felt by their immigrant ancestors. I sometimes wonder if we are just trying to replace the many precious belongings that were left behind by someone we have never met.

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