August 08, 2016
Often enough, the few short images in a newspaper comic encapsulates enormous wisdom or, at least, raises troubling questions. Today’s comic from Sandra Bell-Lundy’s “Between Friends” artfully raises questions.
The main character in today’s sequence goes from jam-packed closet to jam-packed closet, trying find a place to put away some things. Bell-Lundy underscores what we already know: we have too much stuff. We buy five times more clothing annually today than we did 30 years ago. Realtors advertise walk-in closets. Americans rent storage space for our extra items. Often enough, we may have no idea how many things we have or where to find them. I will confess that I keenly saw my own shortcomings yesterday as a book arrived, and I realized that I already had a copy of it.
At heart, we might ask ourselves a couple of questions.
What do I own? What owns me?
The questions, derived from the late Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy, the late archbishop of Seattle, also became the title to Dan Conway‘s excellent book: What do I Own and What Owns Me?: A Spirituality of Stewardship. Both Archbishop Murphy and Conway can speak about stewardship much more eloquently than I can, but suffice it to say that our possessions can get in the way of our joyful discipleship is something that came from an even more eminent authority: Jesus. As we heard at Sunday’s liturgy (18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C): “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions” (Lk 12:15).
The late comedian George Carlin talks about “My Stuff” (WARNING: the video link has some offensive language). Carlin observes: “That’s all your house is– a place to keep your stuff.” For many of us, our closets are full of things that we do not need, that we will not use, but we retain on the off-chance that it will be useful. It can fairly be said that our “stuff” owns us.
Spoiler alert: Conway believes that, for a Christian, when all is said and done we own nothing because we are possessed wholly and completely by “a good and gracious God.” Life is a gift to be cherished, shared, and given back to God with increase. Conversion and a deepening relationship with God call us to change our relationship with our “stuff.”
Organizing consultant and author Marie Kondo asks it in a slightly different manner: “What sparks joy?” in her book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. All the other things beyond that are unnecessary. Kondo suggests pulling out every item of clothing that one has and placing it together
Kondo urges for a “once-in-a-lifetime tidying marathon,” piling five categories of material possessions — clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items, including photos, in that order. Next, one surveys each item, noting the quantities of each category, seeing that it’s way too much and then holding each item to see if it “sparks joy.” Those that “spark joy” get to stay, and everything else gets a heartfelt and generous goodbye and then sent out. By the way, anything that was forgotten in a closet or a dresser is automatically discarded as it was forgettable. Kondo concludes that our lives are much more joyful without all the “stuff.”
Everything we buy has an impact that is both global and personal. Our way of purchasing things like clothing, chocolate, coffee, and cell phones also result in immense environmental damage and the trafficking of tens of millions of human persons. In the end, we do not need to buy so much “stuff,” and our lives may well be enhanced by letting go of a lot of “stuff.” And, maybe, little by little, we can be in right relationship with our possessions, our neighbor who makes our “stuff,” and our God.