Monday, February 4, 2013

Get thee behind me, old sweaters!

Stuff... It's running out my ears, spilling from my dresser drawers, and fighting with itself for space on my closet hangers. I know I don't need much of this "stuff" that occupies so much of my floor space, because much of it has been either shoved under my bed out of sight for the past 3 years, or it's hiding in Rubbermaid containers in the attic, or it's crammed in tight spaces at the backs of drawers with no hope of ever seeing the light of day.

In the closet at our front door, coats compete with lovely dresses from a late aunt, the trim from which I thought I might be able to salvage for dance costumes (note: I can not sew). A punch bowl tray with a diameter of what looks like at least a meter (because I host so many formal punch-worthy events) competes against a 3-drawer organizer for floor space. I haven't looked inside the 3-drawer organizer since we put it in that closet when we moved into the house some 6 years ago, but I suspect it contains remote controls and cords from various electronics we no longer own (or that are lurking with the other moldy oldies in the attic).

On my side of our bedroom closet, clothes from fieldwork I completed 10 years ago while working on my master's degree in wildlife science are shoved (mud stains and all) onto a shelf, next to about a thousand winter scarves, hats, half-pairs of gloves, and a half-dozen ill-fitting zippered sweatsuit jackets. Shoes I never wear share floor space with the pack-n-play we haven't used in 2 years. Ironically, I find I tend to wear the same 4 or 5 pairs of pants and 6 or 7 shirts every week, while the rest sits unworn, waiting on someone to "love" it.

When I think about all this stuff, I feel a mixture of annoyance (at the thought of having to sort through it all), gratefulness (at the ability to have bought the stuff in the first place), and shame (at the utter waste of having so much that is going unused). I am also completely overwhelmed.

A recent article in Compassion International's magazine talked about the American phenomenon of "stuff accumulation" whereby we actually need to spend money on storage units to house all the stuff we never use. Good items that could be making someone else's life easier sit unused, molding, or becoming obsolete all across the United States. Obviously, there are times that storage is necessary--if you are in the military or relocating, for example--but for many, a storage unit is simply a reflection of our culture's fixation on "stuff" and our unwillingness to let go. We might need that broken weed eater one day, right? We simply can't sell that cracked tea cup--it belonged to our third cousin twice removed--it's a family heirloom!

The reality TV show "hoarders" is absolutely fascinating to me for this very reason. We in the west are quite literally drowning in "stuff"! But Jesus commanded his disciples to sell all they owned and give their money to the poor. Jesus knew that there was no freedom in the accumulation of "stuff". Freedom is in Christ, not t-shirts, shoes, worn out toys, or long-forgotten souvenirs. Holding on to items that have run their course in our lives is evidence of fear--fear of letting go, fear of confronting the emotions that will come with acknowledging that things change, people die, priorities shift. But the beauty is, God is constant. Jesus never changes. His priorities remain eternally true and sure.

As I consider my Compassion kids, and how little they have, I am confronting the lazy "stuff-itis" in my own life. As I watch my son play happily with a "soccer ball" made out of wadded up plastic bags held together with twine while he ignores the heavily (and effectively) marketed toys piled in the corner, I am re-thinking what we "need" to be happy.

My hope and prayer is that this year will be the "year of the yard sale" at my house, and that I can take that money and use it to help better the lives of my Compassion families, as Jesus commanded. Won't you join me?

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