Friday, March 30, 2012

On The Subject of Stuff

I think today we'll talk about stuff. It's an issue that has been on my mind a lot lately as quite a few friends have mentioned having too much of it and not knowing what to do about it. This seems to be a common problem and yet most of us continue to accumulate more, more, more, all the time! The latest gadget. The most stylish clothes. Maybe you have a thing for shoes and own 30 pairs, or maybe it's jewelry and you need an entire piece of furniture just to house it all. Many of us have garages, basements, attics, or even storage units we pay hard earned money to rent, full of stuff we don't need, and often don't even remember we have (I heard recently that the self-storage business is a 22 billion dollar industry - that's 22 BILLION spent annually to keep excess junk around)! And don't forget your closests, cabinets, and shelves that are crammed so full it's downright embarrassing to open them up in front of anyone (Monica's secret closet, anyone?).

As a nation, we are accumulating more and more all the time. And it's no wonder, really. We live in such a fast-paced society where we are expected to do everything, remember everything, be everything (wife/ mother/employee, husband/father/employee/church-leader) and somehow stay sane. If you don't have an expensive home, the latest model vehicles, or designer clothes you're viewed as a failure at life. It is inconceivable to many American's that anyone could actually be happy with less, and if you say you are you must be lying. We want bigger, newer, better. The problem is, we're never going to find lasting satisfaction in more, newer, or the most costly of material possessions. Even scripture warns about the uselessness of keeping too much. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21) Scripture also tells us that if we have clothes on our backs and food in our bellies, we should be content ("But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." 1 Timothy 6:6-8).  Everything else is just icing on the cake!

I am not anti-"stuff". Come into my home and  you will see that I have more than I actually need to survive. Some of it helps me to be a better hostess. Some of it makes me happy just because I like to look at it. Could I happily do without a lot of it? Yes. Is it a nuisance, a mess? Does it make finding that one thing I need impossible? Do I feel stressed out when I see it, or force myself to ignore it so I don't feel frustrated by one more thing still undone? If I were to die tomorrow, would it cause others undue stress to try to deal with it all? No to all of that. My point is that I am not arguing against keeping things. I don't think we should get rid of everything that isn't absolutely necessary to survival, or never have something we like purely because we like it. But there are two major things that I think we have to be careful of when it comes to our earthly possessions, and that is: #1. That we don't make an idol of our "stuff". It's easy to do, even for Christians. Think long and hard about what you're keeping and why you're keeping it. We cannot serve God and *money.  #2. That we don't allow our things to own us. Clutter is a source of stress to anyone (don't try to pretend it doesn't bother you!), and whether you realize it or not, holding on to "stuff" can harm your physical health, as well as your spiritual health (see point #1). Stress is something we all experience way too much of in our modern society; why add to it with the burden of "stuff"?

An article in the NY Times online says, "Excessive clutter and disorganization are often symptoms of a bigger health problem. People who have suffered an emotional trauma or a brain injury often find housecleaning an insurmountable task. Attention deficit disorder,depression, chronic pain and grief can prevent people from getting organized or lead to a buildup of clutter. At its most extreme, chronic disorganization is called hoarding, a condition many experts believe is a mental illness in its own right, although psychiatrists have yet to formally recognize it."

The article goes on to explain how one doctor decided to study the brains of compulsive hoarders, and found significantly increased brain activity in those with hoarding tendencies when faced with a decision to keep or discard something, compared to those without hoarding tendencies.

So how does it happen, the accumulation of "stuff"? Most of us start out with very little. You're in school perhaps, or you get your first apartment and you're probably doing well if you have a bed to sleep in, a table to eat at, and real dishes to eat off of! But in this society, accumulation of "stuff" is a status symbol. The more you have the better. So over the years we collect. We gather. We hoard. Before you know it you're moving out of that first apartment because you've run out of room for all your stuff! Then you get married and from there it's a house, 'cause you've got to have a garage now to fit all of your stuff along with your spouses. Before you know it the attic is full, the garage is a mess, and if you have a basement it's probably full of useless junk collecting dust, too. Then you might start saving things for your kids first homes, you've got Aunt  Matilda's dishes, Grandma's pots and pans along with all her kitchen decor, because the retirement home she moved to is so small she couldn't keep it. Then your husband has his father's old sports equipment, along with all of his own, plus enough fishing gear for a small army and he hasn't fished in a decade (probably not because he doesn't like it anymore, but because he has to work all the time to pay for all the stuff). Then there's all the unfinished "DIY" projects you've started and tossed into the garage which includes paints of all kinds, furniture you want to refinish, that old guitar you've been meaning to sell on eBay for 5 years. Then there are the boxes full of baby clothes in the attic that you keep around for sentimental reasons. At first it was "just in case" but as your kids grew up it became harder and harder to say goodbye to all the sweet memories, and now that grandkids aren't all that far off, why throw them out at all?

Any of that sound familiar? If it does, listen up! You can get out. You can break free from the bondage your "stuff" has you in! I know it's overwhelming to think about trying to tackle the clutter, the stuff. But you will find yourself feeling so light and free once it is done.

So, where to start? Well that will be the topic of my next post, so check back soon!

(*Greek mammon, a Semitic word for money or possessions)  

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