I am very adept at spotting when my kids need haircuts. I’m somewhat less adept at spotting when the grass needs cutting, or when trees need to be thinned. I do pretty well at culling old documents from the filing cabinet. Like hair, and grass, and trees it sometimes seems like the stuff in my closet, cabinets, shelves and drawers are growing and need to be cut back. I am engaged in a constant battle against my urges to hoard stuff. My closet keeps filling up with clothes I don’t wear. My house is full of furniture I don’t need or even like. My shelves are laden with trinkets, and trophies from things I can barely remember. My cabinets have dishes I have never once used. I will contend that it is not entirely my fault. I haven’t bought, or sought out many of these things. People offer them to us as gifts, or if not gifts then “hey, you want this? I’m just gonna get rid of it.”
I trace a lot my urges back to my Grandma. She raised my mom, and my mom raised me to not throw away useful things. Grandma lived through the depression, and she spent many years as a young single parent. In order to survive she learned how to be thrifty and frugal. She is very much of the ‘waste not want not’ school of thought. However, she has long since left her lean days behind her, and purchases new items freely. Her reluctance to part with her stuff means she has accumulated decades worth of detritus. She cannot bear to get rid of anything,* and at this point in her life it is driving her to distraction, ruining relationships, and destroying her quality of life.
She would love nothing more than to live year round with her friends in a retirement community where she already has a trailer home. She hasn’t made the move yet because she still has a house in another city. She doesn’t have the mental or emotional strength to make herself part with the stuff that she would have to get rid of in order to live in just one trailer home. So she’s living out her late 80’s divided between two cities. She can’t drive herself to and from these locations and relies heavily on friends and family to shuttle her back and forth. As her memory fails she leaves important things behind in one place or the other. However instead of blaming her memory she accuses those same friends and family members of stealing things. When the stolen items turn up ‘at the other house’ she denies making such accusations and those relationships suffer.
All of her children and grandchildren recognize the problem. We’ve helped her hold garage sales and watched her wander around the sale snatching things out of shoppers hands. We’ve all encouraged her to pick one place and stay there, and she admits that this is what she should do, but then insists that she just needs to finish sorting through things and that it’s something she has to do on her own. She doesn’t trust us to recognize what is valuable and what is not, so she refuses help. As she’s become more suspicious of her family members we’ve grown reluctant to offer her help sorting through her things. We don’t want to be accused of being thieves.
Many of us will freely admit that indulging our appetites for food, or sex, can be dangerous to both our physical and spiritual health. Looking at my Grandma I can see that sometimes our appetite for things can be just as spiritually, and ultimately physically damaging. The law of the fast, going without food and then donating the food we would have eaten (in money or in kind), can be readily applied to dealing with stuff too. “Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.”
Certainly there is value in ‘waste not, want not.’ But there is also value in ‘use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.’
*My sisters and I once found 5 or 6 shoeboxes filled with dried pens. Thousands upon thousands of useless pens.