Sunday, August 30, 2009

U.S. Collection of Tchotchkes Enough to Clutter World's Homes

A new study by a consumerism expert found that the U.S. populace has enough tchotchkes stowed in their houses, garages, apartments, condos, Public Storage Units, vacation homes and trailers to clutter up the houses, shanties, igloos, wigwams, longhouses, and gutters of the world's 6.7 billion inhabitants.

"It's a question of distribution," said Jamie Hao, consumerism expert. "Just as there is enough agricultural output in the world to feed everyone, yet millions still go hungry, so there are enough ships in glass bottles, stuffed animals, Russian dolls and decorative spoons to give at least each person in the world five tchochkes of their very own if Americans would just share. And that's a conservative estimate."

One reason for the high per capita tchotchke level in the United States is Americans' penchant for giving awards. Billions of plaques, crystal paperweights, medallions and door stoppers are bestowed annually to "employees of the month" and for graduations, retirements and other events.

Summer camps are another tchotchke-producing treasure trove. Hao said that her children returned from camp laden with lanyards, dream catchers, and wooden whistles they'd whittled that didn't actually make any sound.

"Americans are also very sentimental," Hao said. Even though they may stow away the paper mâché mask that their kid made in third grade and not look at it more than once a decade, that doesn't mean that it doesn't give them some sense of satisfaction when they do look at it."

Hao estimated that at least half the tchotchkes are ones that people hang onto out of family sentiment or guilt -- like the gold frosted pine cones in a glass bowl that Perry Ramstad inherited from his grandmother that were from the trees in her backyard. Ramstad admits that the pine cones themselves are unremarkable and in poor shape, with many scales missing and an amateurish paint job. Nonetheless, even though he says he's spent at least $100 shipping them around the country for various moves, he can't bear to rid himself of them "since no one else would appreciate them the way I do."

In fact, Ramstad's statement perhaps speaks to a large truth. Just because they United States could provide tchotchkes for the entire world doesn't mean that the rest of the world actually wants them.

A qualitative poll of Palestinian refugees, Cambodian farmers and Sudanese emigres found that tchotchkes ranked last on a list of priorities that they would like the United States to provide after peace, prevention of genocide, a homeland, running water, electricity, sufficient food and iPhones.

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