I’ll Be There in a Minute
A friend, widowed and with no children at home, has a house that’s too big for her. She dreams of a small, economical apartment, but she won’t move. Why? Too much stuff. Her attic and garage and basement are full, her closets and drawers heaping with old clothes and handbags, dishes, tools she never uses, and books she’ll never read.
A couple was threatened with eviction from their apartment. They pay their rent on time. They don’t throw rowdy parties, the neighbors never complain. So why the threat? Their home was crowded with so much stuff it was impossible to clean. The kitchen counters and table, beds and desks, couch and chairs, and much of the floor were overflowing with…everything: mail, laundry, dishes, toys, books, DVDs.
A mother buys new clothes rather than brave her overflowing laundry room and often buys new shoes when her children can’t find one of a pair.
Thanks to big-box stores and online shopping, luxury has been democratized—now everyone can have too much. This epidemic afflicts Americans in cities and suburbs, of every economic circumstance and educational background, and of every age.
The Desire to Acquire isn’t new. It’s as implanted in us as in a squirrel that hides nuts for the winter. We’re programmed to feather our nests. But it used to be that when we wanted a new sweater, we started with a sheep. Now we order the finished product from a catalog or go online or drive to a megamall. The economy-minded shop garage sales and second-time-around stores.
No wonder the storage industry is one of the fastest growing in the United States. The Self-Storage Association says each U.S. household has about twenty square feet of self-storage space. That’s over seven square feet for every man, woman, and child in the nation.
Self-storage is an apt name. Everything we own claims a little bit of our self; we don’t own it as much as it owns us. Even when we get it cheap, we still have to make space for it, clean it, walk around it, and eventually get rid of it. Unless you consider your time and energy to be of no value, that’s not cheap.
I like the advice of designer William Morris (1834–1896): “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Or that of Jesus (Mk 6:8): “Take nothing for the journey.” Christians are supposed to travel light—not just to avoid paying extra luggage costs when we fly, but always.
Let’s say we jettison everything that’s not useful or beautiful. (By the way, useful now, not someday.) We could channel our Desire to Acquire into Discipline to Take Care. Imagine your home with just a few comfortable pieces of furniture, a closet with only the clothes you actually wear, drawers and cabinets with ample space around things. It would be so easy to care for your home. Life might be simpler, with room for doing instead of acquiring, for attending to yourself and others.
In this month’s Sunday Gospels, we’ll hear of those who dropped everything to be with Jesus: from the Magi who followed a star into the unknown to the disciples who left their nets at the sound of his voice. Do we want to start 2009 so entangled in our nets that we’re not ready to heed his voice?
I know what my New Year’s resolution is: that closet in my study needs work!