Lost and Found in the Age of Affluenza


I’m always tempted by those clever hooks for purses to keep better track of our keys. They’re usually hidden in my bag under a bushel of important papers, hair ties, various wallets and glasses. Digging for keys is adding years to my life. It’s that stressful because disorder complicates my life.

key hook

There are people out there called professional organizers who charge hourly rates to box and label the accumulation in our homes. And everywhere you look, there are attractive storage boxes and baskets for sale to keep things in their proper places in our offices and homes. What I wouldn’t do to keep my family’s things in their proper places. I would glue them down if that worked.


The middle class is begging for these gadgets and services. We are not only being buried alive by constant connection and information, our accumulation, too, is taking over and greatly complicating our lives.

It doesn’t matter that I’m attempting to go paperless by saying no to receipts at the register or reading my news and paying  bills online. It doesn’t matter that I spent last weekend eliminating clothes from my daughters’ closets and retiring enough garments to fill five supersize garbage compactor bags. Today, my husband is hauling them to his mother’s so that her nurse can ship the items to her poor family in the Philippines.

As I strive to reduce excess and clutter to make my home the simplified, functional haven I envision, I continue to do battle with the nagging phenomenon of  losing shit. Shit! I’m sick of it.

“Where’s the English paper I printed out?”

“Who moved my tax documents? They were on kitchen table!”

“Have you seen my new skinny jeans? I’ve looked in the hampers and in everyone’s rooms and I can’t find them.”

Yes, playing the surprisingly unrewarding game of lost and found remains the most aggravating symptom of the consumption syndrome known as affluenza, aptly defined by Wikipedia as “the portmanteau of the words affluence and influenza and a socially transmitted condition of overload resulting form the dogged pursuit of more. ”

First, allow me to point out that the mother is the sole proprietor of the house capable of locating lost articles. And once the lost treasure surfaces, I rarely see the results I would expect, i.e. a big hug and overwhelming expression of joy on their faces. “Goodness, Mother, how can I ever thank you?”

Take my husband, an intelligent eco man who acquires the least, loses the most, and can’t find objects that are literally under his nose. One daughter has inherited this same bizarre gene. The other daughter was once a registered bloodhound like her mama, but is now losing her shit, and has succumbed to the same bad habits as her influential sister such as getting undressed and leaving belongings strewn on the floor of various rooms. (They also both bite their fingers and devour chocolate like wild beasts, habits I link to the bizarre genes inherited from their mother.)

Every so often, like last weekend, I get on a roll and rifle through closets, sort my kitchen desk nook, organize the kids’ bins of art supplies, and perform the most dreaded and vapid chore of all – filing. Man oh man, does anyone loathe filing as much as I do?

I wish I could get that organizer lady back here to help me make new files and sort all the junk. She made professional labels on her label maker. She was great. I wanted to marry her. I want her to move in and take over and take me away. She’s Calgon to me, minus the harsh chemicals. But wouldn’t you know it, I don’t know where I put her number.

I try not to beat myself up about all of this – to follow the advice of modern clergy and therapists and be compassionate with myself. Sure, I’m a bonehead about keeping order, a little better than some of my most eccentric working friends, and not half as good as most stay-at-home moms.

It’s really a matter of overcoming the selfishness which leads to the over-consumption of material possessions, according to the author of the website My Super- Charged Life. As he sees it, the disease of deriving happiness from the next new toy “is a fruitless pursuit that will quickly leave a person depressed, disillusioned and broke.”

I feel depressed when I drop my girls off at their private school and pass the lost and found corner which is so generously stocked, it resembles a second hand store. Piles of forgotten lunch boxes with rotting contents, abandoned warm winter jackets, essential classroom binders and adorable stylish tee shirts: They all abound in the unsightly lost and found – glaring symbols of affluenza.

At the end of each month, a volunteer parent named Tila from Colombia ships the unclaimed items to the poor in her homeland. The children there are appreciative. Children who barely have enough food to eat don’t snub their cheese sandwiches and abandon lunch boxes on the black top. When you own just one winter jacket, you don’t leave it behind when you board the bus for home.

True, kids will always be forgetful. I was once a forgetful child. But unlike my daughters, I had less and kept track of it. My walk-in-closet contained about five pair of shoes and two toy boxes, one with Barbies, one with stuffed animals. It was easy to clean up after play. It was freeing.

Guess it all adds up to wanting to be free, again, free from the clutter and feeling that fleeting high from getting something new, a wired emotion we don’t feel by accident.


In the ’30s, Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (known as the father of public relations) figured out how to mold public opinion via third party propaganda campaigns for selling everything from bacon and eggs promoted by the nation’s doctors to cigarettes, soap and books. This marketing strategy dictated to the receptive nation eventually became a familiar meme: Linking the accumulation of goods with feelings of happiness and success.

Ironically, I’m now finding happiness is attainable not by adding but subtracting. If anything should get lost, it is the brainwashing (and sometimes greenwashing) that the more we amass, the better we feel.

I strive to find the simplicity of less. Even more than ignorance, I suspect it is the route to bliss. In other words, it is time to bench Team Edward.

This is the latest installment in Luanne’s column, Life in the Green Lane.

Main Image: Evelyn is Here

Images: Jeffrey Beall, It’s a Purse Thing, Squidoo, Wikipedia

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.