Emptying the barn

When we were just married, my wife and I packed up and moved from Albany, N.Y., to Denver. Everything we owned fit in a Volkswagon Beetle. I mean everything. Two years later with graduate school done, everything fit in a Volkswagon Squareback, including books.

John Kehe's art (right) suggests how we'd have to pack today if we were to move. The illustration perfectly complements Brad Knickerbocker's story about the stuff we acquire, the stuff we use that has become part of our daily lives, and the cost this levies on the environment.

Both art and article recall words I read in high school by Henry David Thoreau, who in the 19th century railed, albeit wittily, against the evils of overconsumption.

His musings in "Walden" about the way such acquisitions can rob us of life's essence is as timely today as then, however simple and agrarian those times may look.

"How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered ... creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot!"

Mr. Knickerbocker reports on how we might empty the barn a bit. He does so in a way that resonates for our market-driven, consumer economy - he hits us in our pocketbooks.

Individuals and corporations are making a difference in how and what they consume. Renewing and recycling make economic sense, not just environmental sense. As with Thoreau, they also make spiritual sense, too.

*Comments or questions? Write to Ideas editor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, or e-mail Ideas@csps.com

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