BreakPoint: Clutter Gone Wild

Are Christians Being Sabotaged by Stuff?

According to the experts, millions of us have made a real mess of our lives—literally.

One of the biggest bestsellers in recent years is the little book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. Over six million copies have been sold—which means an awful lot of us seem to have trouble dealing with our junk.

But did you ever consider that piles of clutter may affect your spiritual life?

Americans, it seems, are overwhelmed by their stuff. For instance, their garages are so full of junk there’s no room for a car. Papers pile up on counter tops. Clothing—much of it unworn for years—explodes out of our closets. And you become absolutely certain that the kids’ toys are somehow secretly breeding—especially when you stab your bare foot on a Lego or trip over a Batman action figure.

Many parents, having spent good money on books, Barbies, and Beanie Babies, hesitate to throw them out—even when their children are fully grown—because they cost so much money. After all, their as-yet-unconceived grandchildren might like them!

This hoarding can even damage our health. The authors of a book titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century” warn that trying to manage all the stuff we collect causes the levels of stress hormones to shoot up in mothers.

And of course, even Christians are being influenced by their consumerist culture. Jesus tells us that if we have two coats, we should give one to someone who has none. So why do so many of us have 25 coats in our over-stuffed closets? Not to mention dozens of pairs of shoes, pants, and shirts. You name it, and we have way too much of it.

TV and Internet ads turn our kids into consumers, too. But do they really play with their toys? Or do the toys gather dust while your children watch TV?

Even our spiritual lives can be damaged by clutter. After all, how can we properly focus on God during our devotions if we can’t find our Bibles under the rubble, or if we’re so distracted by the mess all around us that we can’t focus on our prayers?

The real problem is not that we can’t figure out how to store all this stuff, or that our children don’t pick up their stuff; the problem is that we bring home too much of it. Buying more containers or a bigger house to store our stuff in is not really the solution. It’s to stop buying so much in the first place.

A Christian writer named Susan Vogt came up with a terrific solution to our culture’s pressure to buy, buy, buy. In her book, “Blessed by Less,” Vogt writes that she decided to give away something every day during Lent. It felt so good she kept it up for a whole year. “I became addicted to identifying things I no longer needed”—but which others did, she writes. She now thinks twice about what she really needs to buy. “Living lightly,” she adds, “reminds me that my existence is about more than accumulating possessions and status … Letting go of stuff also changed my attitude toward my possessions and helped me clarify my true priorities.”

Are you too attached to your stuff? Are we like the rich young man who got upset when Jesus told him to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor? Sadly, this man chose his possessions over eternal life.

While we don’t have to give everything away, we do need to remember that we have a moral obligation to share our blessings with the needy—including, perhaps, those jeans you can no longer zip yourself into, or that Chop-O-Matic food slicer you never use.

So the next time you trip over a pile of DVDs—assuming you can find them under the pile of Ikea catalogs—remember that God loves a cheerful giver, and that He expects us to donate both our lives and our superfluous stuff to His service.

 

Clutter Gone Wild: Are Christians Being Sabotaged by Stuff?

As Eric highlights in this commentary, we shouldn’t be ruled by our stuff! So this is a great reminder to resist the consumer mentality and instead focus on giving to those in need.

 

Resources

Blessed by Less
  • Susan Vogt | Loyola Press | December 2013
Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors
  • Cotsen Institute of Archaeology | UCLA Social Sciences Division

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  • Just One Voice

    Wow, GREAT reminder! I try to always be on the alert against consumerism. I start by having as little media in the house as possible (no TV services or mail subscriptions). But even with that, sin is always around the next corner, ready to pounce! (Thinking of Genesis 4:7 and Romans 7:21-25)

    I love Susan Vogt’s example! We may just have to try that same thing. A great book I’ve read pertaining to this subject is called, “Money, Possessions, & Eternity” by Randy Alcorn.

  • Freedom

    My spouse and I decided, one summer, to pretend that we would be moving and go through everything . . . the garage, the basement, the closets . . . and give away the excess. What a freeing exercise! I found that my stress levels were lower and I could now walk into those areas without wincing. When we did move, a very sudden decision, it was so much easier.

  • David Cox

    Here in Ecuador, the natives typically live a life unencumbered by things as North Americans are prone to do. Many expats – foreign residents – follow that example as well, though not all. Some bring down shipping containers from the United States to Ecuador, pay for the customs tax, and pay to ship the goods inland to the Andes Sierra region to cities such as Cuenca and Quito. Total cost for many of these expats for such a move is approximately $8,000 to $9,000.

    In our case, my wife and I sold what we could of our belongings, gave away useful items, appliances, furniture, books, tools, etc. to those we knew could use them – including a good running used car that had a Kelley Blue Book value of $1,000 – and what we couldn’t give away to those we knew we gave to our local church’s thrift store, which helps the homeless and near homeless in the region where I was born and raised. We flew down to Ecuador with just several suitcases of our most irreplaceable items.

    Meanwhile, once we got to know our new city and surroundings in Ecuador, we found a larger unfurnished place to live – right in our present condo building! Made for the world’s easiest move. (smile) We bought new and used appliances, new and used furniture and furnishings, and the total cost was about half the cost of shipping all that previously owned stuff from the United States to Ecuador. Managing well what God has blessed us with. . . and living within our means as the Scriptures tell us to do. Giving away those possessions we used to have was cathartic, and kinda like having a “living wake” before you are dead. We believe we are better for the experience.

  • urbanvrwcmom

    Less is more!

  • Arnold Kropp

    Yep. Oh, but the stock of corporations would decline if we all declined to buy all that stuff. (Sarcasm intended).