I have a lot of stuff.
I have too many clothes, and too much food, and too many hairbrushes and power chords and packs of gum. Not only do I have to have all these things, but I also have to have them close to my person at all times. The hairbrushes come to work with me, all of my clothes have to come back from university each semester and I’m known as the “mom friend” with deodorant and Q-tips in her purse.
For me, this anxiety is very closely tied to my Jewish identity. It is also very inherent to my mother’s Jewish identity, whom I like to think that I take after. She likes to overstock our pantry, always buying the Costco-size. She keeps stashes of makeup, bottled drinks, coffee pods and toiletries in the garage. Expiration dates are a suggestion because everything is “usable.” When I ask her why we have so much of… everything, she says “just in case.” But what she really means is: when the world ends again, we will be prepared. When the next disaster — a Holocaust, perhaps — rolls around, we will be ready. And in the meantime, it all comes in handy. I am simply never out of cereal or makeup wipes.
We’re not crazy, we don’t need to be on “Hoarders” and we’re not doomsday conspiracy theorists. (Overconsumption has become a global phenomenon after all.) We do what I like to call, “Holocaust Hoard.” My mother’s father was a Holocaust survivor and, despite having very little when moving to the States, he was determined to be prepared for the next crisis. While my grandfather did not necessarily stockpile material things, he certainly demonstrated this preparation anxiety for my mom.
“I think he learned to live with the minimum,” my mom tells me. “But he hid cash all over the house.” After my grandfather died, my mom would find small piles of money in strange spots all over his apartment. There was always an extra stash, just in case. Now, my mom and I stash food and clothes, instead of cash.
As an HSO (Holocaust survivor offspring), I think a lot about how my generational trauma drives my overconsumption. However, I have a complicated relationship with having too much, even if it’s “just in case.” I am also studying to become an astronomer and a planetary scientist, and so I hold a staunch belief in planetary conservation. I have a strong opinion about every piece of plastic that is littered in Earth’s oceans and every piece of metal that is left on Mars. So, how do I ethically grapple with both sustainability and overconsumption? How does a Holocaust Hoarder be both eco-conscious and prepared?
Firstly, it involves a little forgiveness. I can recognize that I have these anxieties for a reason, and be gentle with myself when I feel unprepared. Especially considering the current state of American antisemitism, it is only reasonable for HSOs to feel a certain level of worry. It’s important to be understanding with yourself, and also with the family who taught you to prepare.
But also, there are lots of ways for younger Jews who experience this generational trauma to mitigate their overconsumption more practically. Of course, this can include standard sustainability practices like composting, buying reusable containers and repurposing furniture or clothes. But many tools can be integrated into HSO sustainability practices.
For one, it is important to practice mindful consumption. Mindful consumption involves conscious buying choices and recognizing why you own something, even if you don’t need it. It involves deciding whether an item serves an emotional or practical purpose. For those who Holocaust Hoard, this might look like considering whether your things will aid in your preparedness. Could you use it in a crisis? Could your family? How imminent is the next crisis? Am I being realistic? These are all questions to ask ourselves.
Additionally, practicing eco-conscious consumption habits can be a sort of “preparedness” itself. One of the most pressing disasters of the last decade is climate change. If you’re looking for the next crisis the tackle, that’s the one. Channeling overconsumption efforts into climate crisis mitigation can help HSOs gain feelings of control and preparedness. (I recognize that climate change mitigation efforts can sometimes feel fruitless for young people. However, it is important to recognize the climate crisis as a clear, emerging issue where more tangible human efforts can be made.)
This one comes from my mom. When she comes across a bottle of hand lotion or a pair of shoes that she hasn’t used in a while, she pulls these items to the front of her mind. They will be the next things she uses so that they don’t go to waste. If you’re noticing that you have over-consumed, plan your next usages and try to work these items into your life. Oftentimes, using what you have can replace the next lotion purchase.
There are people — including people within the Jewish community — who are less prepared than you. While donations can often end up in landfills, smaller community efforts can be a good way to repurpose “usable” items. Can you donate or repurpose your things to equip others? If a neighbor needs a winter coat and you own six, perhaps it is all right to let go of one of them.
Invest in Eco-Based and Earth-Based Judaism
HSOs can carry on Holocaust survivors’ lineage through all sorts of Jewish practices — not only the ones driven by generational tragedies. Eco- and Earth-based Judaism has sprouted (no pun intended) from Jewish traditions like tikkun olam, or “healing the Earth.” Carrying on these traditions and practices accomplishes two purposes: honoring Jewish legacy and taking care of our planet.
It may be an unpopular idea, but for many who Holocaust Hoard: excess is not bad! Consuming may often feel like a necessity for future crises. However, there are lots of methods to ease some of the madness. The goal is to be compassionate with yourself and balance your desire to prepare with a reluctance to consume. Take care of your mental health, do your best to be sustainable and always thank your mom when she buys you two boxes of cereal, instead of one.