Monday, June 21, 2010

Too much stuff

This morning I woke up thinking about Bainbridge Island's 50th Annual Rotary Club Auction, which will be taking place this coming weekend.

The Rotary Auction is all about STUFF -- CHEAP stuff, and piles of it. Piles and piles of it. And piles and piles of people, too; thousands and thousands of people come from all over the Seattle area for a chance to buy all this Bainbridge Stuff. Because the sale, as you can see from the map below, is HUGE, filling an entire school, all of its parking lots and playgrounds, the cafeteria, the gym...

Lots of what is sold is of limited value, like these gas cans and lifejackets. But some stuff -- like this adorable sailing canoe -- is quite desirable. The really desirable stuff goes on silent auction, and people hover around the piece of paper associated with their particular item, hoping desperately to get in the last bid before the buzzer goes off. And if it gets REALLY competitive, a volunteer steps in and it becomes a live auction item, and then the prices can go up into the stratosphere.

And after the sale is over, all the stuff that isn't sold -- like these computer monitors -- gets thrown into giant boxes and carted away by the truckload. It's amazing how much stuff there is to give away at the end; there's a sort of loaves and fishes quality to it all. But what's even more amazing -- and what allows all of us shoppers to justify our annual madness -- is that last year's sale made over $341,000 -- most of which is given away to support the local schools and other educational programs Rotary sponsors. So of course this year, being the 50th, they anticipate an even bigger and more successful turnout.

I can't deny it: the Auction is fun, and it's exciting, and we always come home with stuff: one year my daughter fixated on a velvet recliner in a particularly heinous shade of chartreuse (broken, of course) which has been a party favorite at our house ever since. My husband likes to browse in the books (which fill an entire gymnasium) and I love the bag sale at the end of the day in the clothing section (that one takes up an entire basketball court, and that doesn't even include children's clothes or the high end clothing items); it's a great way to collect random fabrics for quilting projects.

I get that it's all about recycling, which is good. But some other part of me is appalled at the sheer proliferation of stuff -- especially in light of the gulf oil spill. It has a way of bringing the profligacy of our society's consumption habit into disturbingly plain view -- sort of like George Carlin's famous "Stuff" routine. Unfortunately, the opportunity to acquire stuff we kinda need but don't care too much about -- lamps, or picture frames, or TV tables, or a replacement coffeemaker -- is enough to draw us in year after year, and so we return for the madness of it all. And it is, of course, a primo social event; all your friends will be there, running around collecting whatever stuff they're lusting after this year. We all look a little sheepish, but we grin and laugh and show off our acquisitions -- half of which will end up being given away to next year's auction.

It's all for a good cause. But still. I wish we didn't all seem to need -- and buy, and keep, and store, and eventually throw or give away -- quite so much STUFF.


Maureen said...

Wow. I thought attending the February Baltimore show of the Craft Council was big. This beats that and then some. Wishing you good browsing...and fun.

Love the pic of the chair.

Louise Gallagher said...

Wow -- is right. This is huge. and yup, a lot of stuff. If we didnt' buy what we don't really need in the first place, we wouldn't have to turn around and donate it to a rummage sale.

Go figure. We humans are so fascinating!

Have fun!