Sick of Stuff

A New York Times article today discusses stuff and the people who have it. More specifically, it talks about the rise in storage-unit usage for all the stuff us Americans can't get rid of or fit in our house.

The people interviewed in the article have stuff - collections, furniture, general clutter - that they pay to keep elsewhere, getting it out of their house so they can accommodate more stuff. And this isn't just a few OCD types, either.
According to Michael T. Scanlon Jr., president of the Self Storage Association, a trade group, 11 million American households currently rent storage space, an increase of 90 percent since 1995 — even as the size of new American houses has grown and the size of the American family has shrunk.
We have fewer people in bigger houses, and we still accumulate stuff - more than we can keep close-by or ever use. It sounds crazy. Why would we gather things to ourselves only to put them away and not use or see them? Christian author and theologian Richard Foster puts it this way:
The lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.

I stole that quote from my pastor's sermon a couple weeks ago. The topic is Practicing the Economics of God's Kingdom, and the second catalyst he talked about to encourage us to change the way we think about money and wealth and stuff, My personal economics will begin to change the more I am sick and tired of the material lifestyle I am living. (FYI, the other three are equally as important: "My personal economics will begin to change the more I grasp who owns it all", "My personal economics will begin to change as I am captivated by God’s purposes and dreams for His world", "My personal economics will begin to change the more I am aggravated and alarmed by the plight of the poor and marginalized"- I talked about this one. Check out the sermon series study guide)

I've talked about simplicity before, maybe it's trendy, but I think perhaps the idea of simplicity isn't being communicated well. From the article:
For many, the appeal of renting storage space is the way it seems to represent the pursuit of simplicity: by transferring excess stuff to a storage unit, people can free their basements, attics and living rooms from years’ worth of clutter, and create the impression of a pared-down life.
The point of 'paring down' is to release ourselves from the burden that stuff brings, not relocating the burden down the street. Another stolen quote from the sermon series:
Riches and abundance come hypocritically clad in sheep’s clothing pretending to be security against anxieties; and they then become the very object of those anxieties.
- Soren Kierkegaard (19th century Danish theologian)

We think that, with a little more, we won't worry anymore, and then we start worrying about those very things. These people must be straining their finances, both by paying thousands of dollars a year to house their stuff, and then filling their house with new stuff. This creates worry and anxiety. As a friend of mine recently observed, it is freeing to get rid of stuff rather than hoard it. I agree. It's not my reflex to give or throw stuff away, but perhaps it should be. Hoarding makes no sense. Accumulating makes no sense. The Depression-era saying "Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Do without" does make sense, but living that out in this culture is backwards.

I'm OK with being backwards if it means being free.


Ashley said...

Oooh great post, as usual. When I was growing up, our maid was always wanting to throw away our things as she was cleaning. My parents asked her why, and she'd always say "You have so many things, too many things." We visited her house once and I was amazed at how barren the rooms were.

I'm a stuff hoarder. A pack rat. I like to collect things. Example, I'm addicted to $5 DVDs... I say to myself, I like that movie and it's only $5. Paul says, you don't need to own everything you like. I know, it's my tragic flaw. He says I'm like a majority of Americans in that I like to own things. (It doesn't matter if I use it.) Power? Influence? Feeling as if I've "arrived" because I own a lot of movies? Filling a void in life that should be filled with Christ and contentment? I don't know...

beth said...

We finally got rid of our storage unit just this past month! It had our bikes, washer, dryer, fish tank and stand (it's a 55 gallon tank), and a tub full of stuffed animals and tae kwan do stuff. Sadly, the only thing we threw out was the dryer.

I hate throwing potentially useful things away because I know I don't have the money to buy it again if I ever need it. My favorite way to keep useless stuff? They become Olivia's toys. She has all our old pots and pans and a grand collection of sea shells that are actually among her most favorite toys.

I'm glad you post things like this; it challenges me to put my "kingdom goggles" on and see the world and my possessions from the point of view of Christ.


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