Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Art of Sprint-Packing (Need v. Want)

sprint |sprint|verb [ no obj. ]run at full speed over a short distance: I saw Charlie sprinting through the traffic toward me.
pack 1 |pak|verb [ with obj. ]fill (a suitcase or bag), esp. with clothes and other items needed when awayfrom home: I packed a bag with a few of my favorite clothes | [ no obj. ] she hadpacked and checked out of the hotel.

Today, I spent three hours sprint-packing. I ran from room to room, tossing things here or there, ending up with three distinct spaces in my living room: boxes for the movers, items for my brother's new apartment, and trash. After the cartoonish charade, I sat on the sofa (which is full of blankets and pillows) and drank a beer, staring at the middle "space," the trash. I found it troubling.

I have thrown away six huge bags of trash (like the kind usually reserved for grass clippings and yard waste) and given away three equally large containers full of clothes. This, in addition to a few boxes and bags of trash here and there, and donated items too large to be boxed or bagged. Several times I have uttered in disbelief, "How do I have so much stuff?" My future roommate refers to this "stuff" with a less child-friendly term that begins with the same letter. "We live amongst it," she says. "And now, every day, all I deal with is [stuff]."

It is troubling because in reality, I need very little and yet I have so much. And there are those that need so much more, and yet they have so little. Not just people living across oceans in developing countries, but also people in my country, city, down the street from me. When I put an add for a 5-year-old, $30 (at the time) small microwave in the free section of Craigslist, I received 30 responses within an hour. Many of them pleaded, stating that they resell used items to feed their family, or they haven't had a working microwave in months. And before Susan (the future roommate) suggested the ad on Craigslist, I actually considered just throwing it away. "Who would want this old thing?" I wondered. How incredibly insensitive, privileged and thoughtless.

I believe people should have nice things, and it is okay for people to have nice things. I hate it when people say, "I heard so-and-so gets food stamps but they also have an iPod. If they can afford an iPod, they can afford to buy their own food." That is so short-sighted, to believe that low-income people don't deserve to listen to music, watch TV, go to movies, or be otherwise entertained. My father (the labor economist) taught me the difference between need and want. "Do you think we need a TV?" He asked me when I was in middle school. "I guess not," I replied, shrugging, assuming I got it. "We do, in a sense," he said. "It's more complicated than that. People deserve entertainment, they need recreation. And they want a TV to fulfill that need."

Personally, though, it is important that I downsize to two suitcases and two carry-ons because I need to grow in non-material ways. I need to find a balance, and possibly some new forms of entertainment. Because what I'm finding, in my sprint-packing experience, is that there should actually be three categories in my dad's economic lesson: needs, wants, and [stuff].


  1. I've thought a lot about poverty since living overseas. Poverty is real all over the world, but it looks different in the US than in other parts of the world.

    I hope you have a chance to visit some rural villages :).

    Janet | expateducator.com

    1. Janet, I agree that poverty looks different abroad. I've spent time in Guatemala and lots of time in Ecuador, including rural, impoverished areas.