We tend to think of materialism and a desire to hold on to and collect physical objects as a modern day enigma, one born of mass production and fast fashion. Imagine my surprise when this theme popped up unexpectedly in the strangest of places, the final chapters of The Little House on the Prairie.
The book ends dramatically when the Ingalls family finds their homestead, along with a few of their neighbors, is unintentionally but illegally located on Indian Land. Rather than face the soldiers tasked with removing these settlers by force, Pa decides it’s best for the family to move along before the soldiers arrive. As the restless spirit in the family who initiated the move out west, it’s easy to see Pa moving along without regrets. He is akin to the modern day uber minimalist, packing furs and rifle in lieu of the mandatory modern minimalist back pack and laptop. You can just see Pa nodding a curt goodbye to the house, the well, the garden and the year he spent building, digging, planning, planting, and trapping. You can just see him moving along to the next adventure without a second glance.
For Ma and the girls, the disappointment is a bit thicker, but they face their reality head on with chores and no tears. When everything they own is loaded in the wagon, Laura and Mary’s only sentimentality is a request to watch the little house disappear behind them as they roll away. It’s hard to imagine any modern child (or adult for that matter) packing up their belongings as quickly or calmly as those two little prairie children asked to vacate their beloved home in such short order.
As the family heads towards Independence, Kansas, they come across a couple stranded in the middle of the prairie, the victims of a horse thief. When the Ingalls family offers them a ride to Independence, the couple refuses. They won’t leave their belongings.
Knowing full well the dangers the couple face alone in Indian Territory, Pa offers the ride multiple times, practically begging the couple to join them. Each time, the couple refuses, opting instead to stay in the prairie with wagon full of (now useless) belongings.
As Pa drove off, burdened now with the knowledge of these people choosing to stay stranded in a very hostile land, I was left contemplating the situation. It was impossible not to compare the stranded couple with modern Americans.
How many of us let our belongings dictate our future and hold us hostage, sometimes in dangerous territory, just so we can hold onto them?
How many of us have forgone a dream vacation or chance of a life time trip around the world because we couldn’t let go of our apartment?
How many of us have declined to take that exciting job opportunity in a field we love because it meant moving all of our belongings cross country?
How many times have our friends or family members stayed in a relationship way beyond the expiration date, simply to avoid giving up their stuff?
How many of us have taken on the burden of homes that chain us to the porch with the mortgage?
How many of us have taken on careers we actively despise or work multiple jobs so we can afford our wants?
How many of us are giving up our lives for a wagon full of useless shit?