Skip to main content
Essay

Stuff

By July 30, 2012 No Comments
Listen To Article

I’ve got stuff on my mind. Literally, stuff. I’m moving this week (Boston to Nashville) and packing up my worldly belongings again. Stuffing stuff in boxes. As with previous moves, the transition is an opportunity to reassess, to sift through my things and determine what is still useful and valuable enough to earn a spot in the moving truck. It brings up all the angst of living in a consumer culture though–how much do I really need to own? How much should I donate so someone else can use it? What goes in the trash? What can be recycled? What things should I just buy anew when I get there (and is that justifiable environmentally, financially or otherwise?). How many sentimentally-valuable and trinkets and mementos should I retain? Pretty quickly I reach a point where I resent the time and energy it takes to be curator of my belongings, and I wonder how freeing it might feel to be one of those people who live in teensy apartments that are 400 square feet or less http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1tg4B93hTQ.

It is certainly refreshing to give things away and pare down to the essentials, to feel less encumbered by the effort of maintaining stuff. Stuff takes so much work–it has to be cleaned, stored, maintained, insured, dry-cleaned, repaired. Or, it needs to be replaced to keep up with technology and trends–that’s of course the option our economy depends on. When you get a chance, watch this video, “The Story of Stuff.”
For the time being, I won’t be partaking in the self-storage industry; I’ll leave the 2.35 billion square feet of that (the size of Manhattan) to the hoarders and to the folks that genuinely need it for a season of life. I’ll try to be a good steward of my stuff and hopefully avoid excessive preoccupation and guilt over what to do with it. I will try my best to resist drinking the Kool-Aid of Target and Bed Bath and Beyond even though they will keep plying me with cheap and attractive housewares and gadgets. And maybe if I need some harrowing incentive to keep my possessions lean, I’ll pick up this new book I read about recently, It documents a four-year study of how 32 American families live and concludes that we’re stressed and burdened by our stuff, and often so ensconced in it that we often can’t park our cars in our garages.

A couple weeks ago I was moved by the appealing simplicity of the monastic lifestyle, when I saw a seminary friend who is in the process of becoming a monk. One room of minimal personal belongings, and everything else–material and otherwise–shared in community. I did, however, ask him where all his “stuff” is these days. In his parents’ basement, he replied. I guess we all have our stuff somewhere. Well, at least his daily life is detached from it. I wonder what the statistics of the self-storage industry would look like if they accounted for “parents’ basements and garages” as a storage category. Certainly very popular among the young adult demographic!

I can’t help but also think of the haunting story of the rich and apparently righteous young ruler who was very disappointed to hear Jesus ask him to sell his possessions and give to the poor.  However materially or spiritually we interpret what Jesus meant in that exchange, and what it might mean for us in this day and age, there’s no escaping that scene. There’s a connection between our hearts and our stuff, sizeable enough for Jesus to address publicly and weighty enough to make it past the edits in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Sobering, and mysterious. Serving a gracious lord is liberating, while servitude to all the stuff of wealth and status turns out to be oppressive. It is way too easy to lose sight of that in our American abundance.

Enough. Back to packing.

Advance thanks to RCA friends Jennifer and Barb who are heading to Nashville to help me unpack my stuff!

 

 

Leave a Reply