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Being a Creator in a World of Too Much Stuff

"The Plenitude" by Rich Gold.
“The Plenitude” by Rich Gold.

While I was at the Twin Cities Book Festival, I picked up a few books at the used book sale. “The Plenitude: Creativity, Innovation, and Making Stuff” by Rich Gold was one of those books. It’s a slim volume, so it only took a couple of days to read. It expressed in written form a number of ideas I’ve had about being a creator in a world of too much stuff.

Rich Gold was an uber creator, designing lots of stuff across several fields before dying at the age of 53. He was deeply concerned (as am I) about all the stuff in the world. We are drowning in all the things we humans have created, depleting the earth’s resources in order to keep creating and keep the economy going. It’s madness.

It’s part of why I’ve shifted from art making to writing. How many hats, bags, scarves, paintings, and wall hangings made by my hand are needed in the world? I have 2 large portfolios from my college years kicking around the house, filled with art that is unseen most of the time. Who is really going to want these after I’m gone? It’s like the situation with the 300+ large landscape paintings my grandpa left behind. They are sitting at a cousin’s house, the family unsure of what to do with them all. Hubby and I have one that Grandpa gave me before he died. For years, I stored it, face toward a wall so it wouldn’t fade. I kept waiting until the day I would get it framed, but, because it is painted on a large piece of Masonite, it’s not easy to frame. I finally put it on my lowboy dresser (dresser refinished by my talented Hubby) and leaned it against the wall (face forward this time!) so we can enjoy it. In that same spirit, I pulled one of my college drawings out of a portfolio and hung it on a wall using a couple of bulldog clips. No frame necessary. I’d rather risk having it fade or get ripped than leave it unseen forever.

In “The Plenitude,” Rich discusses the joy of creating and why we are driven to do so. At the end of the book, he turns to possible solutions for dealing with all the stuff we have created. Ideas he shares include limiting how much stuff we make, rejecting the Plenitude by not consuming so much, favoring fewer goods of higher quality, having zero-growth economies (including making everything fully recyclable or degradable), just making the good or necessary stuff (not the cheap crap), and having fewer people on the earth so that we need less stuff. His final option is for us to just accept and love the Plenitude, crazy-overwhelming as it is, destructive as it can be.

I have thought about each of these options before, so was glad to see that someone else had too. However, I have a couple of other options for dealing with the Plenitude. Likely, they would fit within one of Rich’s categories.

  1. Make slow art, detailed stuff that takes a long time to make. Slow down the process of creation. We can still create, just not at a break-neck pace.
  2. Make smaller stuff in terms of resources used. So, for me, rather than creating large paintings that take up lots of physical space, I write in notebooks that take up less space. Or, if I wanted, I could make tiny paintings.

Couple working slowly with condensed physical creations (when practical, of course — a dresser won’t be useful if it is infinitesimally small) and we can still engage in the urge to create, but we won’t be using as many resources or taking up too much space. You can fit a lot of data on a standard piece of paper and it doesn’t take much room to store. That’s one aspect of writing that I enjoy.

I’m keen on most of Rich’s other suggestions for dealing with the Plenitude and practice many of them is some form or other, just not to the extreme. All of them are useful working in concert. Let’s have fewer people, using and making stuff of higher quality with components that can readily be recycled/reused/biodegraded, and concentrate on producing just the good/slow/small stuff while enjoying it all.