How much crap do we really need?

A good friend of mine, Griff Ray, was speaking the other day about the amount of stuff we own in the United States and he began to throw out some stats that I want to say baffled me. The reality is, though, I’m more shocked that the stats didn’t baffle me one bit. In his message (that’s what we call sermons these days so we don’t sound uncool) he began to discuss the self-storage industry and noted that, as of four years ago, there was over 2 billion square feet of additional storage space in the United States. For the record, that’s 3 1/2 times the size of Manhattan Island.

He was telling a story about walking through an open house for an old, historic, home and noted as he was walking through that the closet space seemed small to him. He says:

“We’ve got bigger closets, we’ve got bigger garages, we’ve got attic storage, some of us put up a shed, and yet we still need to go purchase space away from our house to store our stuff in.”

Referencing again the sheer amount of storage space he states, “That’s 6.7 square feet per person of extra storage space away from our homes and our closets and our garages and our sheds.”

That, friends, is ridiculous. Seriously, how much crap do we really need?

Unfortunately, it’s also not surprising. My wife and I live in a smaller ranch style home with little closet space . . . which we complain about often. “Man I wish we had a walk in closet! You’re always taking more than your share!” We also, at least once a week it seems like these days, are pulling down the stairs to the attic to shove another box of something we will never use again into storage because “some day” we just might have a use for that. We won’t. But good heavens, how could we get rid of it? Seriously, we have a La-z-Boy in our attic. We have the clothes that our chidren have outgrown shoved in boxes. We have the empty boxes of appliances and glass wear and plates so that when we move we’ll be able to pack those things up more easily. The empty boxes. Enough of them to take up a quarter of our attic space. The only thing in our attic that ever comes back down is the Christmas tree . . . which is in the back . . . crap.

We have yet to succumb to purchasing additional storage space, but we surely have a problem of collecting too much crap.

Why is that? Why are we compelled to hoard so much stuff? Why is it that, when we’re done with something, we can’t just admit it and let somebody else take a turn? Are we alone?

Is it simply our consumer driven culture? Think about the iPhone 5, which was just presented publicly for the first time this week. The iPhone 5 is the next great thing in cell phones . . . except that it’s really not. The reality is it looks just like the iPhone 4s (which looked identical to the iPhone 4), but with it’s somewhat thinner and has a larger screen. Ironically, the larger screen doesn’t do much good for third party apps that are designed for the smaller dimensions and, until they get updated, awesome looking black bars on both sides of the display. Yet how many people do you know that have owned the iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and the iPhone 4S?

Or is it that the accumulation of all this stuff makes us feel secure?

This is where my friend’s message began to challenge me. He says, “There’s a general thought in our country . . . that tells us the more you have, the more secure you are, the more comfortable you are, the better life will be.” And I think he’s right. He’s right that this is the message we tend to believe. Isn’t he?

I can’t tell you how often I’ve thought, “Man if we just had one more room in this house, we’d be more comfortable. If we just made $200 more dollars a month, we could do _____. If our car was just a little larger, if it had leather interior, if the CD player just worked . . . then life would be better.” If only I had . . .

Griff argues: “The more you have, the more you are consumed by it, the more it takes of your time, the more it takes of your energy. We have a relationship with everything that we have and everyone we know. And the more we have the more we have to take care of, the more we have to be concerned and worry about it. We are not set free by our stuff.”

The reality is that the more stuff we have accumulated over the years, the more instances of depression, worry, and anxiety have grown.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that it’s bad for us to have stuff, or even to have nice stuff. I’d love to be able to have a golf club membership or a newer car. The problem, though, is the way in which our stuff can so easily consume us, and the way it drives us to view the world in an insular way, looking only to ourselves and what we can gain.

My problem is this: I say I want to change the world. I say that I want to be the catalyst that changes the world for the better and makes this world what it can be, what I want it to be for my two kids. A world filled with love, kindness, generosity, and peace. A world filled with stability and good and justice and beauty. And this focus on all of our stuff is just a selfish focus, a selfish outlook on the world. It’s an outlook that, while families are struggling worldwide, including right here in my community, says, “Let’s take this nice recliner that could really be a nice treat for any number of families in our community . . . and stick it in the attic. Right there with all those empty boxes with the pretty pictures of all our pretty stuff.” As much as I like to say I care about those in need, I really do believe that until I can let go of this overarching desire to gather stuff, I won’t be able to truly be the generous person I am intended to be, that I need to be.

So I ask, how much crap do I really need?

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Categories: A First Faint Gleam

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5 Comments on “How much crap do we really need?”

  1. September 13, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    I don’t know if you were raised by parents who came up during, or right after the Great Depression, but if you were then you know most of their views on holding on to things. My parents have STUFF and STUFF and STUFF and it terrifies me b/c at some point I know that I am going to get some of this, and that means that I’ll have to have space for it.

    When my folks moved out of the house that I grew up in after 30 years I was almost sickened by how much stuff was there. Just like you said, basement storage space was taken up, and because we didn’t have a traditional attic my dad built a 2 story garage to hold more stuff. In addition to that they also have a farm house full of more stuff.

    My point is that I was basically raised under the idea that “He with the most toys wins.” I’ve had to struggle and fight to change my mindset. I have stuff, definitely too much stuff, but my wife and I try to keep the amount down and regularly take things to Good Will. My parents have slowly started to thin their belongings out, but for the longest time they would not part with something b/c of either sentimental value placed on it or the idea that they may use it one day or my brother or I might use it one day.

    It’s madness. Madness, I tell you! And it is definitely hereditary, so take the measures you need to now so that your children will be able to break that chain. It’s not an awesome inheritance to leave your children with the idea that holding onto these things will make their life somehow better. If anything it makes it more complicated. Unless you’re talking about vintage GI Joes or Star Wars toys. Those things are meant to be held on to and passed down for generations.

    Great post.

  2. September 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    The biggest blessings of having tons of crap, I think, is getting rid of it. Like the picking of a scab it may carry a tinge of pain, but overall a sense of satisfaction you’ve done away with something that once served a purpose, yet needs to go. At my most drastic I did away with everything but some clothes, a computer, my car and my books. It was a wonderful feeling. But over the years, the crap has re-accumulated. And now with a wife and two children, it’s much harder to purge the house on a whim (or even, for that matter, a conviction).

    Studies show we do better with fewer things, fewer options. Far from broadening our options and appetites, a wall of varieties of mustard at the grocery will more likely frazzle us. Children who, presented with a pyramid of gifts on a birthday or Christmas, are generally much less satisfied than those who receive a few presents.

    The fact that it’s the getting we enjoy, rather than the having, is itself a dark sign. We have an innate desire to pull toward ourselves, to take, and to covet. It’s why buyer’s remorse is such a common affliction. As Dom Lorenzo Scupoli pointed out, the first step to a virtuous life is distrust of self (the second being confidence in God, possible only when we’ve cleared the roadblocks).

  3. Aingealsile
    September 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    It’s so true. Even as I read your post, my brain went guiltily to the complaints my husband I have about living in a 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom house with two kids and a dog. Somehow, the smallest one (age 5) has more than the teenager, and we have many hobbies (art–and goshdarn if that doesn’t take up a ton of space, supplies on hand and all that jazz) but even so. I have boxes of notebooks and binders, blank paper, clothes I don’t wear often or that my kids have outgrown. Along with other things we don’t use except once or twice a year, but we keep them, “just in case”. So frustrating.

    I am pretty good about weeding things out, but then I just bring more in. I need to break that habit. Just get rid of more and more and more stuff. I remember during a brief separation, just chucking everything into white trash bags, tying it up, and depositing it at Goodwill. Curtains, blankets, sheets, anything that had bad memories attached to it! It was so…liberating! And easy to keep the house clean, too!

    You know that Fight Club quote? “The things you own, end up owning you?” It’s true.
    And you have inspired me to spend my weekend ruthlessly weeding things out, scanning paperwork in, and donating away to people who could actually USE the items I don’t, to help someone out who is in need.

    Great post!

  4. September 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    All I can say is, “Ouch!.” Heading to my closet, garage, and attic.


  1. So Who Doesn’t Like Free Stuff? | Teacher-preneur - November 9, 2012

    […] How much crap do we really need? ( […]

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