Is stuff the stuff of life?
“I believe that consumerism is stealing our money, our time, our resources, and even our identities,” said writer and speaker Sarah Bessey on her blog. “We all have too much stuff. We aren’t living simply. We over-spend until we are in debt and distracted.” And yet “loving our stuff has gone a bit off popularity these days. We’re supposed to be modern minimalists with clean lines. We’re supposed to try experiments, like only having 100 things in our homes. We’re supposed to be enchanted with tiny houses. The KonMari Method has us lugging trash bags of stuff from our homes with glee.”
So which is it? Is stuff the stuff of life or a necessary evil?
I think there’s a third way, and it involves savoring.
In Dorothy Sayers’ delightful Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, the title character and protagonist is a wealthy titled bachelor with a passion for Napoleon brandies, Villar y Villar cigars, and rare books. In The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will he hunts for a clue in a “huge and venerable Bible—reverend in age and tooled leather binding. Lord Peter’s hand caressed it, for a noble old book was like a song to his soul.” Wimsey is a bit of a bon vivant, but he knows how to appreciate beautifully made things.
I don’t have any first editions or bottles of 50-year-old Glenfiddich, but I do have original paintings by my husband and handmade gifts from friends. I prefer antique and thrifted furniture because they’ve stood the test of time and I imagine each piece has a story. And the kale and cucumbers I’m still pulling from the garden and the eggs plucked from my chickens’ nesting boxes taste better because they come from earth and animals that we care for ourselves. In all of these instances there is relationship, integrity, stewardship, and especially joy. They are “like a song to my soul.”
I’m not sure when we decided cheap and convenient trumped every other consideration. I’m not a total Luddite nor am I naïvely nostalgic for some mythical golden age, but I do wonder if we would be more satisfied with fewer choices. We all need stuff, but if we were more connected to the people and places that produce the things we purchase, would we savor them more and therefore buy less? If we invested in boots, cars, couches, and marriages that were built to last a lifetime, how much money, time, and heartache would we save? And what could we do with that money, time, and love? Whose life could we impact?
The way we spend our money is a moral issue, and learning to find joy in what we have is an art. Advertising, insecurity, and our own desire for new and shiny things make it difficult, and I’m certainly not immune if my purchasing and purging of clothing is any indication. But I’m going to strive, like Sarah Bessey said, to be thoughtful “in everyday purchases like clothing and food and furniture. I believe in living within our means and in being unreasonably generous.” And because of those choices, I hope to be able to say that I savor the things I have.
Rachel Womelsduff Gough savors good books on real paper, freshly ground French press coffee, and the magical tinkling laughter of her two heartbreakingly beautiful children.
I have a friend who uses the question, “could I see this being passed down to a grandchild?” to help with purchase decisions. Love your perspective on savoring.
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I really like this idea of ‘heirloom quality’ when making purchases. What a great way to think about it. Thank you for sharing.
This piece is especially timely for me. I’m increasingly aware of my own consumerism, which exists for me more in the desire for things than in actually purchasing them. Contentment and finding joy in living generously toward others is a practice I want to embrace more concretely as we move toward the holidays and beyond. Love this, Rach.
Thanks Joey. Finding contentment is so difficult. I’m actually quite bad at it.
Me too! I am in a season of scraping and scrimping to get by so I think this makes me naturally savor what we do have. However, when items come into our home I struggle, wondering if I have the time or energy to tend to it all. Because everything that comes in becomes something for me to do eventually. To pick up, to dust, to organize. Where do I find the time or energy to spend on these items after they are purchased. Sometimes looking at all we have makes me more tired than grateful. I am reminded by your beautiful perspective to savor again. Hugs
I resonate with everything you said! I especially loathe paperwork–junk mail, handouts from the kids’ preschool, brochures. How much time do we spend sorting?! It’s madness. I hope you find peace in this season.