Simplifying our complicated relationship with stuff

I cleaned out my fridge and freezer today.  There were some real surprises in there.  It also revealed some of my behavior patterns when I grocery shop.  Like the obvious pattern that I never check to see whether I’ve finished the last bag of baby carrots before buying two more bags of baby carrots.  So many half-bags of baby carrots.

Is January a cleaning-out-and-organizing month for anybody else?  For me, the stage starts with the necessary cleaning up after Christmas and figuring out where to put new things, then I end up enjoying the feeling of productivity so much that I keep going.  I don’t go too crazy with the organizing, though.  “I need to do a closet purge” is a sentence I’ve heard regularly for a few years now, but the term “purge” always sounds a little too witch-hunty to me, like Senator McCarthy’s hunt for Communist sympathizers in the 1950s.  It sounds like the unwanted clothes in those closet purges have committed some terrible deed and must be forcibly removed for the sake of the whole closet.  If you want to get rid of some of your old clothes, that’s fine.  But remember that it’s not a moral imperative.

We have a complicated relationship with stuff.  Our own stuff.  Other people’s stuff.  Things we want to own, but don’t.  Even things that don’t really belong to anybody, but suddenly require our attention, like leaves that get tracked onto the floor.  Outside on the sidewalk, that leaf wasn’t my responsibility, but my shoe brought it into the house and now it is my responsibility.  And every object brings with it the complicated questions of ownership and stewardship and status and practicality and envy and usefulness and Material vs. Spiritual – it’s complicated.  It is also very difficult to ignore stuff, because there is just so much stuff about.  Many parents have asked themselves WHY DO WE HAVE SO MUCH STUFF?? right after stepping onto a thin, painful layer of lego pieces.

Okay, so our relationship to stuff has always been complicated and will probably always be complicated, but here are few ways to make it is a little less complicated.

1.  Don’t worry about other people’s stuff.

Not worrying about other people’s stuff simplifies things a great deal.  Actually, this principle can be taken even further:  Don’t Worry.  Worrying doesn’t accomplish anything.

Jesus went into specifics on this very subject in Matthew 6:25-34:  “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?  So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

It’s like He anticipated all my questions.  He covered all the things I feel justified in worrying about – food, clothing, shelter.  Trust God and don’t worry.  That’s a good reminder for a new year, isn’t it?

2.  Randomized guilt isn’t a good thing.

Don’t feel guilty about your possessions, unless there is something specific to be guilty about.  If you stole a car, the guilt is justified and the guilt should drive you to return what you stole and make restitution.  If you feel guilty because you own a car, but Mr. X down the street can’t afford to buy a car, stop feeling guilty and offer your neighbor a ride to the grocery store.  If you feel guilty because you misused money, buying new clothes with the money set aside to pay the utility bill, that is a justified guilt.  But feeling guilty because you haven’t worn an item of clothing very much is a waste.

It is easy to confuse guilt and feeling bad about something, but if you feel “guilty” about owning something, don’t just sit under that cloud.  Figure out the root cause of the guilt and if it is actually a sin, confess it and make amends.  If your guilt is too nebulous to pin down and you feel bad about all the stuff you have, you might need to confess ungratefulness.  Guilt is a bad place to live.  I think one of the most easiest places to see this is with food – are you constantly guilty about what you eat?  Give thanks for the gift of food and stop worrying.

3.  Be grateful!

We have all been given so much.  Every breath and heartbeat is a gift.  And after Christmas, we should be especially grateful, as we try to shuffle our current gifts around to make room for new gifts.  How delightful is that?  A house overflowing with new things can be overwhelming, but let those overwhelmed feelings lead you to gratitude, not guilt.  Is it messy?  Sure.  Is it is wonderful?  Absolutely.

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