Why do we keep the stuff we keep?

I have a habit that some of you may also have. Whenever I am frustrated, worried or concerned about something that I don’t know what or how to do, I find something to do that I do know how to do, like cleaning. When in doubt – do laundry, clean out a closet or the refrigerator, or vacuum. It always feels good when it is done. Now that I have decided to retire, I have found myself sorting and cleaning.  I am not sure what retirement entails, but I feel that I should get my nest in order, a feeling that I had prior to giving birth to each of our two children. So I have begun sorting my ‘stuff’ – files, books, objects around the house. I ask myself, and my husband, “Why do we need this?” or “When will I need this in the future?”. My husband welcomes my sorting because he fears I will be bringing home stuff that for 24 years I had an office in which to keep it. This sorting is also reminiscent of our experience when we moved to DC from Massachusetts. We had to pay for our own move, so we said, “Time to sort what we don’t want to pay to move!” Out went books, furniture, tools to Goodwill, Thrift Shops or yard sales. Now that I am retiring I need to go to a deeper level of sorting my stuff.

Sorting one’s stuff is a spiritual exercise. It reveals to us what things we hold dear. As I pick up each book, each file, each object I am reminded of someone, some event in my life, or the item symbolizes what I have learned or taught others. Discarding them feels like discarding a memory, a relationship, lesson learned or a momentary flash of wisdom or revelation. Will I forget them if I do not keep these things? At home I keep certain books visible on shelves where guests might see them because they display my interests, my travels, my hobbies. They spark conversation with guests who have may similar interests. My professional library displays my spiritual practices – books on prayer, Bible, Church History, Interfaith dialogues, and more. I will keep some books because they continue to be personal resources, but retirement means I won’t need Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology any more, and actually, I haven’t read it since seminary.  So the new home for many of my books will be Virginia Theological Seminary, where an eager student can have them for free.

Why do we keep the stuff we keep? Memories, appearances, resources or are we just hoarding material things to make us feel secure about who we are? Do my things define who I am? But as I discard some of them now, probably even more later in life, I realize these things don’t define who I am and it feels good to give things away that I don’t use anymore. It seems a bit selfish to keep things that someone else could use. And I can’t take them with me.

Stuff   By Kathy Garrett

What is the meaning of happiness?

Is it in having the most money, the most stuff?

I’ve got stuff, but, I’m always trying to get rid of stuff.

Stuff can over run your house, over run your life, you can drown in stuff.

That makes me feel sick.

Now, I need to work even harder to get rid of stuff,  the very stuff I worked so hard to get.

This entry was posted in The Rev. Dr. Carol M. Flett and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why do we keep the stuff we keep?

  1. Christian says:

    I totally sympathize with everything you wrote. You expressed it very well.

  2. Peter Spalding says:

    I sympathize with you Carol. I recall returning to Washington after twenty years living overseas and having everything in storage. Try unpacking “stuff” you have not seen for twenty years–it makes it eassy to say “I guess I don’t need that ole bike anymore, its time to get a new one.” Peter

  3. Pete Raynor says:

    Carol, I would suggest that the “sorting” is more important than the decision to keep or through away. Even if you decide to throw something away, you will remember it much more clearly having “sorted it.” And, those things you decide to keep will help you determine what is of real value, and direction, and what is not. What is left after sorting is the direction you want to follow.
    Pete Raynor

  4. Bob Witten says:

    Very sobering food for thought. I love how you present my pack rat tendencies in a spiritual context. Deb and I are gradually lightening ship and becoming totally ruthless about throwing things out. BUT, to be totally contrary, I leave you with a message I once saw artfully handlettered on the rear quarter panel of a really smokin’ race car: “He who dies with the most toys–WINS!”. Ha ha. Love and Hugs, Bob

  5. Noell Sottile says:

    Today I made an un-planned stop in a BIG used book store. As I wandered through the warehouse full of every kind of book imaginable, I came to a small bookcase with a sign that read “all books 2 for $1.” I couldn’t resist checking out the books in that little bookcase. It was a VERY eclectic collection of titles. I don’t know whether they’d come into the store and started their used life in one of the other sections of the store or whether the staff had taken one look at them and relegated them immediately to this 2 for $1 shelf, the last stop before the trash heap. The collection of titles actually gave some indication of the life stages through which the books’ owners had progressed (lots of books on having babies for instance, and some out of date travel guides, etc.) so that, having read your daily cup, I could picture folks suddenly noticing these books on their shelf and thinking, “oh I’m way beyond that now; I’ll never use this again!” And suddenly I thought that we are defined and our story is told as much by what we throw away as it is by what we keep. (I guess archaeologists have known that for a long time. 😉 )
    Keep on sorting! And I hope that not everything you clear away ends up in the bottom of the 2 for $1 bin. I found something on that shelf that I bought and took home with me! –Noell S.

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