January 9, 2013

Too. Much. Stuff.

It's in drawers and cabinets, boxes, bins, closets, and laying around on shelves.  Papers, articles of clothing, cooking equipment, toys, cleaning supplies, linens, candles, knickknacks, and more books than I will ever have time to read.  It is piled, folded, stacked, dumped, sorted and unsorted, useful and useless.  Some things trigger sentimental memories; others I never remember having seen before in my life.  It's mine or my husband's from before we were married and since and the kids' and the cat's and the dog's and all of ours -- except for what we've borrowed and not returned.  It's what we've purchased, inherited, found, and received as gifts.  I don't believe any of it is stolen.  But I could be wrong.  I wash it, wipe it, pick it up, put it down, take inventory of it, move it from here to there or from there to here or one way and then back again. I sometimes lose it, which I particularly hate, because I don't always find it again.  However much I have, I always seem to be buying more.

How much of my life is consumed with stuff?  If I live the average lifespan for a woman in the U.S., I will get roughly 708,000 hours.  A third of those I'll be sleeping.  That leaves approximately 472,000 hours, of which I have already lived more than half.  If I'm lucky, I'll be active for the other 400-odd thousand.  If today is in any way average, I will spend 399,000 of them dealing with stuff.

Does it have to be that way?  Certainly there must be some minimum threshold.  There are meals to shop for and make.  Clothes, towels, and linens need to be laundered.  Dirt needs to be cleaned away. 

There was a time when all my earthly possessions could fit in the hatch of my Ford Escort.  Now I live in a 2400 square foot house and there never seems to be enough room for everything I need to store.

Which raises the question:  What do I really need?

I fantasize sometimes about giving away everything I could live without:  Extra dishes.  My second bathrobe. The dishtowels I bought because I love their colors, but which are, alas, water repellent.  The empty scrapbooks.  The ugly sweaters.

It's not that I'm a hoarder.  I'm not.  I often give away bags full of things.  I have culled our book collection any number of times.

But, somehow, the overall glut of stuff never seems to vary.  Something goes out, but something else has already come in to replace it.

Here's what Jesus has to say about possessions, according to the 12th chapter of Luke (vv 16-21):
And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
It's funny, but when I've read "This very night your life is being demanded of you" in the past, I've always assumed that the rich man was about to die.  But what if he wasn't?  I think that my life is being demanded of me this night -- and every night -- by the God who wants me to stop storing up treasures for myself and become rich toward Him.

I don't think it's all about material possessions either.  I may not actually hoard stuff, but I hoard other things -- my time or my attention for instance.  Sometimes I hoard food.  I know people who hoard experiences or their affections.

Christianity, in its earliest expression, reflected the very opposite of hoarding.  In Acts (Luke's Part II), we read:  "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need" (Acts 2:44-45).  They shared.  And everyone had enough.  They didn't each need everything, like neighbors who have one snow blower for the block or twenty-somethings who car share.

How could my life -- or yours -- be different if I quit storing up so many treasures and shared more of them instead?  If I stopped spending so much time tending my stuff and spent more time tending my soul?

Think of the time I'd save.

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