Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Tyranny of Stuff

Commenting on an earlier post, a friend recommended a book called The Quotidian Mysteries, by Kathleen Norris.  In it, I found this amazing prayer by St. Teresa of Avila:

Thank God for the things that I do not own.

Brilliance!!  This statement has rung in my ears since I read it a couple days ago.  And its sentiment has burned in my heart for a few months now -- maybe longer.  But definitely since I started considering the idea of a move to Panama and what would happen to all our stuff.

I find myself occasionally looking around the room I happen to be in and considering, What here is important enough to my daily living that I would pay to have it shipped to Panama?  And similarly, What, of what's left, is of such value to me that I would perhaps pay to have it stored here in the States?  These considerations have been very enlightening.

Our last four moves have been paid for by the company hiring my husband.  This means we haven't had to pack and move our own possessions anywhere since 1991, I believe.  This has spoiled us.  We haven't had to do the good, healthy work of weeding out the unnecessities in a couple decades.  Yes, I weed occasionally, but not in a complete, cleansing way.  And the result, I think, has been an unhealthy dependence on things. 

For example, I have a shelf full of candles here in the kitchen -- most of them given to me as little thank you gifts or whatever from various friends.  A nice girlie present, you know.  But I rarely burn candles.  Are they worth packing up for Panama?  No, of course not.  Are they worth paying to store somewhere?  Well, no.  So, why have I kept a collection of a couple dozen candles I don't ever burn?  Well . . . I keep thinking I may want to burn one of these some day . . . other people burn them and enjoy it, maybe I should get into the habit . . . they look kind of decorative . . . blah, bl-blah, blaahhh.

I have a shelf full of varied cleaning products in the laundry room -- most left over from hubby's working days in Springfield (we left there in 1998) when he could get such products from his company for free or very cheap and he chose to stock up.  Are they worth packing up for Panama?  No -- I rarely use them.  Are they worth paying to store?  Of course not.  Why have I kept them?  Well, occasionally, the need comes up to polish some silver or brass, or to get something sticky off of a glass surface . . .

And then we get into the cooking utensils, books, craft supplies, toys, office supplies, board games, DVDs, CDs (and record albums), decorative items, tools, sports gear, Christmas decorations -- blah, bl-blah, blaahhh.

Norris writes: "I sense that striving for wholeness is, increasingly, a countercultural goal, as fragmented people make for better consumers, buying more bits and pieces -- two or more cars, two homes and all that fills them -- and outfitting one's body for a wide variety of identities: business person, homebody, amateur athlete, traveler, theater or sports fan.  Things exercise a certain tyranny over us."

Sigh.  Amen.  If the truth of this truth truly sinks in, it should change us dramatically.

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