Around the end of the nineteenth century a tourist from the Untied states visited the famous Polish Rabbi, Hafez Hayyim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi’s home was just a simple room filled with books. The only furniture was a table and bench. “Rabbi, Where is your furniture?” asked the tourist. “Where’s yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine? But I am only a visitor here.” “So am I,” said the rabbi.”
But for most of us, Just too much stuff:
Big house, big car, wide screen, full bar
Great room, new boat bank won’t float the note.
Too much stuff, there’s just too much stuff.
It’ll hold you up, dealin with too much stuff.
Hangin on the couch, puttin on the pounds
walk, run, jump, swim, try to hold the weigh down
Eating too much stuff, just too much stuff,
It’ll wear you down carryin round too much stuff.
Go here, go there, runnin round to everywhere
gettin this gettin that, clutter only leads to rats
Too much stuff, just too much stuff.
It’ll mess you up, piling up too much stuff.
Yes, just too much stuff.
But where to begin to live more simply, and to stop running after stuff? Perhaps only God can effect the change we need. Our addiction to “stuff” knows almost no limits. And the more we get, the more we want. Yet despite supersizing, we are not more fulfilled, indeed we seem emptier. Some of the houses I bless these days have “great rooms” as big as the entire house I grew up in. Yet our families do not seem any happier.
But still we want the stuff! More stuff!
Now, of course, we do need some stuff, but what and how much? In my own life I try to set some priorities around my essential tasks. Thus, in the celebration of the sacraments, my first and most essential task, I own a few decent albs, and a cassock and surplice. I don’t need to own many personal vestments since the parish supplies them, but I do, as pastor make sure we have decent vestments on hand for sacred worship. My clergy clothes (aka “witness” clothes) ought to be decent, clean and in good repair, as well since public presence and witness are important for a priest.
One of my essential tasks is to be a communicator and to be “out there” in the conversation. Thus I place a high priority on a good, fast, and working computer, with a display that won’t ruin my eyes. I also have a high end iPhone and iPad that link to my MAC, and are essential to my Internet ministry when I am away from my desk. Books and access to intellectual resources via the internet and Kindle are also important so that I can research and stay intellectually fresh.
Beyond these basic priorities however, I don’t need much more. I don’t need a fancy new car. My old, outdated “late model” “Crown Victoria” inherited from my father, runs just fine and still looks reasonable. And did I mention it is paid for? I don’t own furniture, the good people of the parish provide that. I do get gifts of statues and other such things, but I often leave a lot of these behind when I must move. I own a few pictures to hang on the wall, but many of these too are left behind when I must move.
But that’s just my story. Yours will be different. What is most essential for the biggest priorities in your life. Perhaps it is tools of your trade. Perhaps it is things that help you parent effectively. Surely a reasonably nice home for your family to live and grow in important. But is a 1200 sq. ft. Great room really needed and are granite counter tops really that essential? Is a sixty inch wide screen, and television in every bedroom really necessary? For some families a good family van that is safe and easy to get in and out of, is important
I don’t know, you decide. But something has to give for most of us, there’s just too much stuff. Many of us live way beyond our means, credit cards are maxed out, mortgage payments for houses that are way too big weigh us down, we eat too much, buy too much, spend too much, have too much. Clutter is a huge issue in many lives and in many homes. Obesity is rampant, even in children (almost unheard of 30 years ago).
It’s just too much stuff.
Ask the Lord for help. Less is more, but discernment is needed. There are things we need to have in order to accomplish our most important tasks and its often a good idea to spend a little extra and get something good, rather than go with poor resources that end up costing more in time and even money in the long run.
And remember the poor and needy. With much of the frivolous and unnecessary spending we do buying a lot of “stuff,” injustice to the poor is a very real possibility. If I have two shirts, one belongs to the poor. And while “two shirts” need not receive a literal interpretation, it remains true that hoarding and careless, frivolous spending becomes a form of theft if there are poor and needy members of our families, churches and communities who go without while we just pile up “stuff.” We do have obligations in justice to the poor if we are possessed of excess.
Too much stuff! Lord, give us the grace to simplify, to be satisfied with what we have and to consider poor before we just go out and spend. Help us prioritize too, so that, having constrained our appetite for a thousand things, we can focus our spending on what will most help us to accomplish the tasks to which you have summoned us. Help us Lord, were drowning in too much stuff.
Enjoy a little boogie and blues on the theme of too much stuff!
34 Replies to “Too much stuff!”
So true. I live in a very “stuff-status” area and it’s amazing how people are tripping over themselves to try to keep up with everything. It almost seems like a full-time job for many women around here.
So true! It seems very hard not to accumulate too much stuff in some ways these days… otherwise you wouldn’t have things to leave behind when you move! I have seriously purged my clothes many times each year for the past several years, and I still have too many! And I’m a man! My wife has twice as many despite the fact that she tries not to accumulate too much and frequently donates large quantities of her clothes.
“And remember the poor and needy. With much of the frivolous and unnecessary spending we do buying a lot of “stuff,” injustice to the poor is a very real possibility. If I have two shirts, one belongs to the poor. And while “two shirts” need not receive a literal interpretation, it remains true that hoarding and careless, frivolous spending becomes a form of theft if there are poor and needy members of our families, churches and communities who go without while we just pile up “stuff.” We do have obligations in justice to the poor if we are possessed of excess.”
This reminds me of something a visiting priest said in a homily once: “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Sounds like good advice to me.
“Live simply so that others may simply live.” This.
We have far too many toys, books, clothes even though we try hard to give things away. It’s entropy in action … life was definitely easier when we lived without all these things I call necessities now … I do love the modern conveniences. It reminds me of your other homily where you spoke of the first shall be the last and the last first.
If people didn’t buy stuff, then other people wouldn’t have work to do so that people could buy stuff. In some ways, owning only one shirt steals from the person who would have working to do constructing the second shirt. Does that make sense? Please correct me if I am wrong.
Interesting economic questions to be sure. I am not an economist and cannot assess what might happen if we all scaled back. I suppose one can presume an economic downturn of sorts. However, a longer term problem has arisen in America that, as we have moved from an economy that manufactures and produces real products toward a more service based economy, that there are increasing imbalances that are setting up and an increasing lack of economic diversity. In effect we shed the hard work to others countries and also to immigrants and are left largely buying and selling services and leisure. But, at any rate economic questions are surely complicated. My point is more personal, more spiritual: Too much stuff!
If we define an upper boundary as having too much stuff and we acknowledge our buying stuff provides jobs for others to be able to survive then it would seem to an engineer that it is an issue of moderation in all things. An individual should answer the question of why they are buying stuff. To simplify, let’s assume the person earned their money through there labor. Our first level should be to buy the stuff we need for our family to live appropriately and comfortably. Once we are over this threshold then motivation becomes critical. If we are buying stuff so we have more or can show off then the money would be better shared with others who do not have. Money could be donated to organizations that help people become more self sustaining. I would never be grudge anyone a luxury or something fun but also in moderation. Hard to justify 4 cars unless you have four people that really need their own transportation. But at some level this has to be between the person and God. In a capitalist economic system, we need people with capital or wealth above and beyond what is needed to meet their reasonable needs to invest in businesses to create jobs. They should receive a gain on their investment but again a reasonable gain not silly. Kind of rambling but moderation seems to be a root here. There is nothing more satisfying at some level than when I hear a story about a super star athlete that takes their signing bonus and takes care fo their parents and donates a large amount to their church. This seems to exemplify moderation and proper priorities.
Richard, in the same vein, if I do not have time to paint the house, and hire someone, I feel that I am providing a job. But I know very well that I’m in danger of becoming lazy and not doing anything — if I hire out all the work. So, balance in all things.
In a related vein, a fair amount of the junk that piles up in the home might be due to people actually trying to be thrifty. Rather than throw something away, they keep it on the off-chance that they might need it or use it sometime in the future. And before long, things are stacked to the ceiling. (How many plastic containers from Chinese take-out restaurants do I need anyway? a dozen, two dozen, a hundred?? How long will it be, after keeping those too-small shirts and suits, before I admit to myself that, no, I’m not going to lose those 20 pounds ever, and I just give those clothes away, rather than having this attitude of waste-not-want-not that keeps me hanging on to those clothes?)
In this way, the virtue becomes the vice.
It was not a principled decision 40 years ago. Just before we moved, the television stopped working. The price of televisions (30 years ago) made the decision easy – buy a new one when we settle in.
A television was on our shopping list along with curtains, kitchen furniture, bedding, etc. After 8 weeks, we hadn’t found one. We looked at each other, “We haven’t missed it for 8 weeks. Do we really need one?” For twenty pre-internet years we did just fine. We live between NY and PHL – lots of news and sports -print and electronic, online – EWTN, wfjs, zenit, new advent, First Things and of course Msgr Pope’s contributions.
From what I hear, “Do we really need one?” is still the valid question. The difficulty is another electronic media, seemingly bottomless, endless, mindless and without value – economically and morally in some respects. I continue to ask “Do we really need one?” The answer isn’t quite as clear yet, but is leaning in a direction. Working, wondering what the answer will be.
blue toothlessly yours,
Diamond Rio sings about stuff:
Can you explain why an Ipad is necessary?
You sound a little annoyed. For Me and iPad is necessary because when I travel, I need to have access to the Internet. When my laptop died, instead of buying a new laptop, which is rather expensive, I bought an iPad and that gives me the access i need
Let me wholeheartedly agree about the iPad – as a college professor the iPad was far less expensive then the laptop I needed to replace and gives me access tot eh Internet and a word processor and the like. I think sometimes “stuff” as George Carlin and I think you, though more elegantly, described is not used as intended, but rather as a “when might I need it”? The other problem with “stuff” is that it has become how we rate one another. The person with the most stuff is considered successful and the person with the least stuff is a failure. We have moved from storing riches in heaven to hoarding riches on earth.
I thought that was the point of the Iphone? I’ve found that if you have an iphone and a desktop then you really have all the connection you need. I’m just playing devil’s advocate. I’ve found sometimes the less connected we are, the better. These devices like ipad and iphone can become addictive to where we think we need to “check” every 5 minutes for an update
can’t type on an iPhone worth beans, also the screen is too small to do editing, photo layout etc.
With arthritis in my hands I can’t use a smartphone/iPhone to type – I also rarely check in with my iPad – I use it for work – preparing materials for class and the like on my commute or on the porch at home. I agree about connectedness though
This difficult topic is addressed by St Francis De sales in his book “Introduction to the Devout life” In chapters XIV and XV, when he discussed how a rich person might be “poor in spirit” I think he balances the economic question with the need to avoid avarice. ( After all if someone does not “need yachts” then yacht builders are out of work, on the other hand its pretty obvious that the Gospel and the Christian tradition strongly condemns avariciousness) What to do? The basic answer is given better by St Francis than me, but he seems to say if one is using ones goods charitably ( including the care of ones household and friends in a responsible manner and and truly does good for the poor ( this may mean not just charity it might mean funding a catholic school in an inner city or what have you..) Than increasing ones wealth in and of itself is not a sin, but it can be easy to fool oneself about how much is for me and how much is for other people. Back in the day this kind of greed was maybe less of an issue for Catholics because we had a lot of children, my wife is one of 7, my father was one of 6, My mother one of 6, Though both parents are the children of coal miners and were hardly rich… Still I think large families help one to be generous, it is difficult to “hoard” if you are raising lots of children and in fact what can be more important than helping bring new souls into the world destined for eternity? Economic “growth” is no longer an issue when what grows is the population. All of the frantic consumerism may be related to the need to attempt to sustain economies that must shrink because the number of actual consumers is imploding. If we had more people I suspect we would still have wealth, because normal people have legitimate needs for food, shelter, recreation, , health care, communication and what have you, but perhaps the desperate need to stimulate desires where there was none before would taper a bit ( What need does facebook satisfy that is psychologically healthy? Tatoos? etc.)
“how a rich person might be “poor in spirit””
Three words: Saint Katherine Drexel.
Her parents used to open their large Philadelphia house to the poor twice or three times a week.
Besides, we need rich people who are poor in spirit, to say nothing of poor people and those in the middle who are likewise poor in spirit. All the better for the Good News to reach every nook and cranny of society.
Difficult question. Pretty much the only thing I use my money on is books- theology and fantasy, usually. I think books are quite important- keep the mind sharp, and all that. I buy the occasional game and song, too. I get an allowance from my parents (I’m what you’d call a sponge) and it’s meant to go towards clothes and stuff like that- but the books somehow seem more important .
What I worry about is precisely how much I should give. Is there a percentage? 10% is pretty good, I think. It’s a bit difficult for me because I have anxiety issues, so whenever I get anything it’s difficult not to feel personally responsible for mass starvation on another continent. I don’t think buying an item is inherently wrong – we need to keep an economy going after all. What should be a basic goal, do you reckon? 10% of my monthly allowance seems reasonable, with other donations to anything that pops up.
For a lenten practice this year our parish suggested to be an “un-consumer.” Only buy what you really needed, not what you wanted. I took that to heart with our groceries and reduced our over-stuffed pantry to more manageable levels. Once I refocused, it wasn’t too hard to follow. However, it took considerable discipline not to buy any more books and read exclusively from the already bought pile through those six weeks.
How funny! I did that as a Lenten penance on my own this year, although groceries was the one area I didn’t really change the habits much – my practice was no shopping except for the essential consumables (groceries, toilet paper, kitty litter, etc.). Even when a few things broke or stopped working, I tried to put off replacing them until after Lent, which in some cases meant I never replaced them at all! It was a great experience, and really does open your eyes to all the “stuff” around you and how much you can use what you already have.
What I found really interesting was that this coincided with a family at my parish that was really struggling, and had even started begging outside before Masses. Since I wasn’t shopping, I made sure I had something in my pocket for them every week.
In the 1950’s in the town where I live, a father and mother, with their two children, and possibly a dog and cat, lived in a 600-square foot house that had two bedrooms, one bath, a living room, maybe a dining room, and kitchen. There was stuff around the house, but NOTHING like today. We were not consumers then, like we are now.
In an effort to strengthen my relationship with Jesus, particularly during this time of discernment of the call to Consecrated Virginity, I have drastically downsized belongings. The house is very spartan. Yet I still struggle with getting rid of items that hold strong emotional ties to my deceased mother, even though the items have never been put to practical use by me nor will they likely ever be used by me. For example, I am still holding on to dozens of her cookbooks and countless kitchen gadgets even though I cannot cook! I am certain that this “holding on” has got to be displeasing to Our Lord…
Displeasing? I’m not so sure. Maybe if it goes overboard, perhaps, but there is a long, long tradition of keeping relics, partly to venerate, partly to honor. Keeping a few personal items of your mother is part of that respect that we owe under the Commandment, even after they have gone ahead.
One thing you might consider doing is take photographs of some of those things and create an album, then give the objects themselves to someone who can make good use of it. It wouldn’t work for everything, but it might help with some.
Just say “No” to TV…We don’t need most of what is on TV. Theological, liturgical books and the Bible are wonderful. I prefer not to stay “connected” unless my wife or other family members need to contact me – a priest needs to be reachable by his parishioners – truly.
…at least say no to cable and satellite. and hello to Sacred Scripture.
Careful, Monsignor. You’re in danger of becoming a Franciscan! 🙂
Fr. Robert Barron mentions that when we are buying something, like a new car, price a model we can afford. Then purchase the next lower level and give the difference to the poor. In effect, we’re giving up luxury so others may have necessity.
The bad thing about having STUFF is that it becomes a burden. Mother Teresa said “Poverty sets you free.”
How correct she was. It is too easy to imprison ourselves with “things”.
“Then purchase the next lower level and give the difference to the poor.”
This sounds lovely, but I am not sure I wonder if anyone has thought this little nugget through carefully. If people actually did this why would it not have the net effect of increasing the number of poor people because it will hurt the people who actually build the higher end cars like Lexus ? Perhaps it would increase the demand for less luxurious care, but then would it not so drive up the demand for lower end cars that the price of these cars will increase ( supply and demand) . I realize Fr. Barron is not an economist. Indeed it seems there are not too many economists within the Church these days. The problem with modern Catholic discussion of the issues that touch on materialism, poverty and such it that it also makes the assumption that the moral instruction of the gospel can be translated directly, with no thought to our time when the economic systems then and now were radically different. The basic rules still apply ( You shall love your neighbor and certainly we are required to help the poor, but what helping the poor entails as a practical action is not always obvious.) In the United States “giving” them stuff may simply increase their ability to purchase things which are harmful. Poor people in Jesus’ time were not morbidly obese, In the United states data from the CDC indicates about 29% and 40% of those below the poverty line are obese, the rates in some groups like minority women can be > 50%. There are of course complex reasons for this, including the fact that cheap foods tend to be processed and calorie dense, but The main point is, that poverty in the United States is very different than in Jesus time. ( of course poverty in some place like central Africa is different beast)
There is an interesting article from the Acton institute ( here is the link: http://www.acton.org/pub/religion-liberty/volume-12-number-6/views-wealth-bible-and-ancient-world) That makes the point that in the ancient world with land possession the chief source of wealth, wealth accumulation was a zero sum game, IF I had more someone else had less, so wealth accumulation was a kind of theft if disproportionate. In modern capitalist economies people produce wealth, so very likely If I am getting wealthy I am actually expanding the pie and you are getting more wealthy as well. If I have more you likely have more as well. Think about it, In the United States the least wealthy 5 % have a wealth greater than 68% of the rest of the planet and > than those in the top 10% of wealth in India. Why is this? It is clearly a different matter to be a poor person in the US versus a poor person in India? Why? The answers to these questions are really the beginning of something that might actually help the poor by relieving their poverty. This we have a duty to do. We should of course support charities, but on the other hand this does not always mean doing things that that reject material goods. After all Jesus did not do this himself ( recall that his response to the those who objected to the woman who anointed his feet with perfume.. to those who said “the perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor”, he rebuked them and said “the poor you will always have with you…” Moreover Jesus himself was not likely to have been poor since the Gospels tell us his family regularly made the trip to Jerusalem yearly. This trip was costly, dangerous, and required renting things like donkeys and tents to make the journey. One was not working when traveling so a certain ability to go without income was present. This clearly places Jesus’ family in the middle class. This would be consistent with the fact that St Joseph was some sort of builder ( the Greek word for Carpenter ( tekton) in the bible implies a combination of skills including stone masonry and construction, and it is implied that Jesus was the same prior to his public life) One wonders if some rich Israelite asked St Joseph to do some project that was large and expensive if St Joseph said… “no please build something smaller and give the money to the poor”… Well maybe sometimes, I suspect not all the time, I bet he encouraged the project and hired some of the day laborers hanging about to give them some work. ( those were the poor of Jesus’ time, with the beggars being the worst off) After all a smaller project meant less labor for the day laborers. In any case a lot of the critique of the wealthy in the Bible is an attack on accumulated wealth that is not put to good use ( the man storing grain in his barn, the lack of investment of the talents, ) or alternatively failure to respond to the plight of someone who needs help ( ignoring the needs of the sore covered Lazarus)
So the bottom line is wealth needs to be used to help others but this does not always mean alms alone, it surely includes alms giving in some cases, but it also includes productive economic activity in others. I am not suggesting gluttonous and selfish unlimited consumption, but rather suggesting that prudence be applied and real thought be given to the issues. The poor do not lack necessities because someone bought a BMW, the more people think like this the greater number of poor people we will have.
I have to disagree with the comment above saying if you have a large family you won’t have a problem of too much stuff. We have 9 children, whom we homeschool. That’s 11 people’s clothes, toys, books, mementos, educational supplies, etc., not to mention the stuff I hang on to because it will be needed again within the next few years. We don’t live extravagantly but we do all have a tendency to accumulate in one way or another, my downfall being books (primarily for the kids’ schooling). I buy used whenever it’s possible/practical, we tithe generously, we donate stuff frequently, and our house is full to overflowing. My two biggest problems are these – there are a lot of things I’d get rid of but I don’t want them to just end up in a landfill, so connecting what I have with who needs it is my first challenge; and trying to balance simplicity with thriftiness, meaning for example if I see a great deal at a garage sale on clothes my baby will need in 2 years I’ll buy them, freeing up more of our money for charitable donations, but that also means I need to store those clothes for 2 years. It’s something we’ve struggled with all our married life.
For anyone interested in this topic, there is a wonderful book Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Thomas Dubay (published 2003 by Ignatius Press). It talks about lifestyle simplicity and Gospel frugality. Highly recommend it!!
Yes, we humans have too much stuff and love to gather much stuff which makes us keep more stuff. Now, that’s a lot of stuff but we have a hard time being thankful for it or appreciative of it. We need change and it all starts from the change of heart and then the mind.
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