“How Did We Get So Much Stuff?” A Poke at Our Piles of Things

Girl with overfilled luggageMy goal of finding 40 bags of items to donate or recycle this Lent has sparked some spiritual pondering.

While sorting through many items that we have not looked at for several years, I began to reflect upon one issue in particular:

“How did all of this get into the house in the first place?”

  • Some of the items were well-meant gifts from friends or family.
  • Some we purchased because they were on sale for a great price, but in the end they didn’t fit or they weren’t the right color.

No matter how the items got here, they are now my possessions…and in a sinister sort of way, they also possess me.

They take my time, treasure and talent in order to maintain, sort, and store them. Even if I don’t particularly want all these items.

It’s easy to acquire, but much more difficult to divest.

Rich Young Men (and Women) Don’t Give Up Stuff Easily

I thought about the story from Luke 18 of a wealthy man who came to Jesus and asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Part of Jesus’ answer was to sell all that he had and give it to the poor. The man was greatly saddened by that answer.

I used to look down my nose at that man for not jumping at the chance to follow Jesus, but as I look at how much stuff has accumulated in the house, I think that maybe the clincher was thinking it’s just too much work to sell all this stuff. Maybe it wasn’t his love for all his possession that held him back…instead, maybe it was the burden of all the work it would take to liquidate it.

It certainly saddens me to look at all the bags of things I’ve sorted and determine how to get them out of the house.

Perhaps that is our problem as Christians today. We are reluctant to give our all to Christ because we are so overwhelmed with material items.

Materialism is Expensive for Everybody

I used to think that the label of “materialism” was aimed at rich people, but the label fits a vast number of us. Every item that passes through our hands, whether it’s a gold watch or a plastic fork, is “material” and takes up space.

It exists and therefore it needs to be managed.

Both the watch and the fork need attention. One is carefully stored in a safe, the other stored carelessly in a drawer. I can safely bet that everyone who is reading this blog has an excess amount of material goods filling purses, drawers, attics, garages, and storage facilities, that will eventually end up in landfills.

We have too many material goods, and inevitably with these goods comes a price. The price of dealing with it. Of wondering whether the items are worth anything or not.

A stack of newspapers that need to be recycled can take as much time to move as a stack of collector comic books to be sold on eBay.

The worth of the items are irrelevant when it comes to materialism, because things are things.

Stuff is stuff.

After I tackle my 40 bags, I will set a new goal to better emulate the spirit of Pope Francis to live simply. Use less. Want less. Give more. I want to be free of the materialism of this world so I can better serve Christ and follow His call on my life.

Emily Cavins

Emily received her BA in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology from the University of Minnesota and is a tour leader of annual pilgrimages to Israel and other Bible related destinations. Her most recent publication is Lily of the Mohawks: The Story of St. Kateri, the first Native American Saint from North America.

She is the developer of the “Great Adventure Kids” bible study materials. She co-wrote the “Walking Toward Eternity: Making Choices for Today” Bible Study Series One and Two with her husband, Jeff. She is also the author of “Catholic Family Night,” a series of lessons covering all three liturgical reading cycles with one lesson per week throughout the entire year. Emily lives in Minnesota with Jeff, her husband of over 30 years.

  • Weng Nacario

    I praise and thank God for the chance to read this article. And thank you Emily for letting me realize that the stuff (bags, wallets, shoes, etc) that I gave away just hours ago were not enough. That I should dispose of the remaining stuff which I classified as “to keep”…..because they are time and space wasters.

    • pnkyB4brain

      Wend,
      I find it ironic that I seem to covet things and make them as important as the “soul food” God gives to me each day through His graces, wisdom and blessings. What Emily said is a major wake up call for me! I find it so wonderful and blessed that God works through others to wake up the spirit in each of us!

  • bmo

    This comment says so very, very much: “maybe the clincher was thinking it’s just too much work to sell all this stuff.” It is very difficult to get rid of “stuff” especially when we have an emotional attachment to the items.

    I recently gave a jacket to my brother that I could not wear–it was much too big for me, and a man’s jacket looked ridiculous on me, a lady. My Mother gave it to me right after my Daddy passed away. I held onto it for 15 years only because it was my Daddy’s, and I miss him so much!

    I know my brother will be able to use it, and he loves our Daddy just as much as I do. I was so selfish to keep that jacket for myself, only to have it hang in a closet for a decade and a half. How much better it would have been for my Daddy if I had prayed for the repose of his soul over those years, instead of indulging in my personal feelings of loss! My neglect of him as he faces purgatory (as every one of us sinners will do) appalls me.

    I, too, am thinking twice about looking down my nose at the wealthy man in Luke 18…how much of him is reflected in my own life?

  • pnkyB4brain

    Emily,
    I couldn’t say anything better. You certainly hit the nail on the head. I, too, have so many material items that have seemed to take over my household and my spirit. I, too grapple with giving it away because of the enormous time and effort one puts into a task like that. I, too dislike having to make the decision if something is kept or given away as some items are near and dear to my heart.
    After rereading what you wrote, I thought that this might be the way I look upon my relationship with God on a day to day basis. I have choices about material items and what to keep. I also have choices on how to follow God. I am at times way to busy to make time for God during any given day. (Work is very demanding.) With items that have become far too important in my life, I allow these “things” to become more important than my relationship with God.
    I so appreciate that you brought up this subject because I can see how easily one can fall into a quagmire of forgetting what is the most important part of one’s life. The resounding answer is God!