A friend of mine was asked to bring an iPad to a friend in Italy. He obliged: he packed the device in his carry-on, with all the documentation but sans the bulky box. His friend’s reaction? Thank you, but could you also send me the box when you can, please?
My friend laughed away this quirkiness when he told me the story. His friend was raised in a village culture, he said, and so he felt the urge to keep everything he is entitled to own.
That surprised me, since I had not thought of any connection between accumulating stuff and the simplicity of village life. That would be contradictory, because we associate consumerism with urban, modern life and the concept of capitalism itself which goes contrary to traditional village culture.
But keeping stuff is not the same as consumerism; it could be in fact the opposite of it. Consumerism is indeed the constant acquiring of new products, but also quickly throwing them away. Consumerism, in a way, is also buying things instead of making them personally, and it also means that they are available for purchase constantly. Seasonal availability has a much smaller role in a modern society than in a traditional one.
Village culture, which would be a label for traditional society for me, is based on personal/household production of most of the things a person needs. Food production is necessarily seasonal and the same goes for other products as well. So storing food (and other stuff) is a priority for a village household so its use is spread out for as long time as possible.
There is something else that plays a big role in what would be considered borderline hoarding for a small urban dwelling: using up products as much as possible. Striving to avoid waste doesn’t just mean recycling – which is a new phenomenon – but especially reusing. Most houses in my grandparents’ village have a summer kitchen in the back yard. My grandfather kept there all sorts of things that normally would be thrown away these days: pieces of plastic, wire, glass jars and lids. Everything had a purpose for future use, even if it wasn’t obvious at the time it had to be stored. Everything could be repurposed. My grandparents’ actual trash – things that could not be reused in any way – was so tiny that it barely had to be disposed of once every two weeks.
And you can bet that this kind of waste and resource management takes a lot of mental energy. Keeping track of what you have and finding a creative purpose for it. It also implies a lot of cooperation. If you have something you don’t need currently, you can give it away to your neighbor when needed. This way you free up some of your storage space while ensuring your neighbor’s good will next time you need help.
Yes, it would be extremely difficult to live this way today, when packaging is so big that it would be difficult to find a use for every box and bag we buy our stuff in. But the good part is that it’s not impossible to live this kind of culture today to a certain extent.