Janie Cheaney: Divesting


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, February 6th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Hey, guess what? The survey’s in! You want a travel mug. You need a travel mug. It is essential!

EICHER: Right, the Podswag is democratically elected.

The Russians did not hack this election. They did not interfere. This was all Americans, handful of Canadians, but they had to email us. Nevertheless, this was a fair and legitimate election.

We are ordering travel mugs with The World and Everything in It logo, and we’re offering them to you simply for sharing the program.

REICHARD: So here’s how you get your travel mug: First, you need to share the program with three friends. Tell us, by visiting wng.org/podswag. That’s it.  

EICHER: Maybe you’ve already shared this program with three people. This is purely an honor system program, so just where to send your mug. Just go to this address to make your claim: wng.org/podswag. Follow the prompts and voila! Soon you’ll be sipping coffee out of your brand new mug.

REICHARD: Alright. Now there was a reason I referred to our Podswag travel mug as a necessity, because next we’re going to be talking about nonessentials.

I saw some statistics that made my eyes pop. The average American home has 300,000 items; the size of the average home has almost tripled over the last half century; the nation has 50,000 personal storage facilities.

EICHER: We spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods. Things we don’t need. Stuff. Here’s Janie B. Cheaney to talk about decluttering.

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: Photographer Peter Menzel published a book called Material World in 1994. It documents his global travels, persuading families to empty their homes of all durable goods: appliances, dishes, books, clothing, even furniture.

The photos are fascinating. The Ukita family of Tokyo stack their possessions as compactly as their tidy apartment along the sidewalk. The Natromos of Mali smile from their rooftop surrounded by earthenware pots and utensils. Most of their clothes are on their backs. In northern California, the Cavin family property sprawls across their suburban lawn: tools, toys, and toddler ware, necessities and luxuries tumbled together.

We tend to fill the space we have, and then some. Just look at the boom in storage units.

My husband and I moved 23 times in our first 25 years together. For our first big move we got all our stuff in a pickup truck and a VW bug. For our last, we required all of a U-Haul van—twice. At every stop we filled up more space.

But now it’s time to think about divesting.

The verb divest has both a positive and negative feel. To strip, or to deprive: that’s harsh. But to be free—oh joy!

I’ll give you four reasons to divest:

Reason 1: As the years pass, a kind of stratus-layer buildup takes place. What’s in that storage bin? I don’t even know. Maybe detritus from my mother’s estate, squirreled away before I could figure out what to do with it. Like bad cholesterol in the bloodstream, it’s not going away and will make itself known at some inconvenient time.

Reason 2: That inconvenient time may be when I croak, or take a serious turn for the worse. That’s when my kids, who now have lives and families of their own, get the unwelcome task of my divestment. In the old days, family possessions were handed down through generations, but now—who uses silver? Or, much less, china? Don’t assume your kids want your antique steamer trunk.

Reason 3: Our culture is scaling down, for reasons not entirely good. It’s fine, for example, to get by with less stuff; not so fine to get by with fewer babies. But that’s the trend: digital vs. material, disposable vs. durable, temporary vs. permanent.

Reason 4: Old age is the time to go deep—not wide. To spend down portfolios and build up relationships. To mend what’s broken and savor what isn’t. Possessions become a burden the minute you no longer need them, or when your unsteady hands can’t control the scissors. I’m not that old yet, but it’s time to start loosening my grip. Soon enough I’ll have to let go.

So divest while you’re able. Then enjoy your freedom.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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