Infants have very few possessions. The things they do own can be dropped anywhere without having to worrying about it. Big people trip on them, pick them up and put them away. If one of the things happens to break it is not important. It is only necessary to scream loudly until an ice cream comes along or a replacement is provided. This happy state of affairs continues until about the age of three or four when phrases such as “Share your things” and “Let Mickey have a turn dear” begin to be uttered. This is a vulnerable time for infant minds, a time of decision.
From that moment on the world becomes a much more complicated place, a place dominated by the need to possess things and the need to prevent other people from taking them once you have them.
In early childhood the main provider of things in terms of volume and value is a man with a long white beard who lives at the North Pole. Unfortunately he is only active once a year, and is a dilatory correspondent. Met with in person during a visit to a department store or at a Christmas party he is absolutely terrifying. He smells of stale cigarette smoke and mothballs. The elves he employs in his packaging department regularly get orders muddled. In some cases they provide a thing specifically requested by one child to his sibling instead, or even to the neighbour’s kid. This disastrous situation can be remedied by the timely intervention of a grandparent who is personally acquainted with Father Christmas.
Grandparents are in fact the next best source for things that children want, especially on birthdays, the other vital day in the childhood calendar. They are followed in order of importance by mothers who provide things that they think the child needs and fathers who give things that they would like to play with themselves, such as train sets and model boats. Aunts and Uncles complete the short list of regular givers by contributing unimportant items of knitwear and unwanted writing instruments.
During their teenage years young people discover that the most desirable things are those that their peers think are cool. Everything else is rubbish or at best can only be worn or used at home. It also becomes apparent that not all things are the same although they may seem identical, apart from the brand name and the price. This applies particularly to footwear and clothing but may also extend to electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers.
Although a teenager’s interest in things appears to be obsessive it is not in fact so. Things, in themselves, have no intrinsic value in the ever-changing teenage world. They are often carelessly abandoned in the park or in a shopping mall or are discarded in favour of other things with different labels. In the latter case tiresome negotiations with a parent are usually necessary to effect the change.
“Money doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
This is the final, awful revelation. Until this happens money has little significance, being merely a lubricant in the process of acquiring things from shops as opposed to relatives. Where money comes from is an enigma to the teenage mind though not one worth wasting time over. The realisation that money actually plays a pivotal role in the whole process changes everything, coinciding as it does with the desire for social independence and also for bigger and more complicated things such as a Lamborghini and a flat in Paris.
Few of us escape the dominion of things throughout the rest of our lives though some are more possessed than others. In extreme cases individuals find that they need capacious mansions and even beach houses and flats in the city to house the things they have acquired through a lifetime of honest toil or a whopping inheritance. Such folk lead a narrow existence being chauffeured from one auction house to the other in pursuit of Queen Anne chairs and Rembrandt paintings. Their free time is spent in worrying about people who have a similar obsessive desire for the finer things of life but a distinct lack of money to acquire them, namely con artists and cat burglars.
Most of us spend our time dreaming about things we can never have, particularly sports cars and condos in the Bahamas. We envy the very rich and all their things despite the fact that so many of them seem unhappy, at least according to the popular press. We pretend to admire those who eschew the pursuit of things in favour of a sparse life of mystic contemplation while being privately pleased that we are not like that ourselves.
At the end of our lives we cannot take things with us, and so they remain behind. They find their way to rubbish dumps or into attics. A few things, those that do not require batteries, quietly attach themselves to the next generation.