Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Stuff & Non-Sense

I am sifting through my belongings these days, filtering them with the question "Do I love this enough to pay to move it?" Since I don't know if or when I'll be moving, I am a bit indecisive on many things, but adamantly certain about others, and those are going out the door.

There is something in all of us that makes us as acquisitive as magpies. It starts early. Nearly every child has a security object of some sort: a beloved blanket, a particular stuffed animal, a favorite pacifier, a possession that reassures her that all is right with the world. Every parent has tales of sneaking the filthy object into the washing machine while the child sleeps, hoping to avoid the restless, tearful, anxiety-ridden hour that the lovey is out of his hands.

If only it could stop with that single object. The security blanket is an irrational selection, made without language or even much memory. It is a purely sensory choice. Stories abound of parents who have tried to have two or three of the object, just in case, only to have the newer, cleaner object rejected with scorn. Still, managing and housing that single object is a relatively simple task, but only the first of the many layers of stuff you will acquire with your children.

After the objects loved for their sensory value come the objects beloved for their familiarity. The endless list of favored place mats, particular tee-shirts, and oft-read bedtime stories occupy space in a parent's data base of things that make a child happy. As children grope for some small measure of control in a world that, from their point of view, is constantly expanding, familiar objects give them a place to focus, a way to re-orient themselves when things are constantly shifting.

At some point some object will become saturated with a particular memory and then become impossible to part with: a lucky talisman, a gift from a special someone, a piece of clothing worn on a particularly memorable occasion. These items multiply over the years and can accumulate to alarming proportions. I know from personal experience that every one of the hundred stuffed animals a couple of kids can accumulate over ten years has a back story. "I won that kitty at the school carnival in second grade. Amanda gave me that for my ninth birthday. Grandma brought that when I had the chicken pox." You might swear you've never laid eyes on the object before, but your child remembers each one individually.

Next comes the collection phase, where your child fixates on a particular item and accumulates as many variations of the item as possible. Coins, stamps, pens, bottle caps, baseball cards, the possibilities are endless. And there is such joy each time another piece of the collection is acquired that even after the child loses interest, neither you nor she is willing to get rid of the collection.

There is no sense to this attachment to stuff. There are a few special people who can hold it all in check, but most of us are drowning in our stuff. And all of this is layered upon the stuff we actually need - dishes and screwdrivers and shoes.

The effect of our stuff on our relationships is probably the place where faith intersects this question. We come into this world attached only to our mothers, and we leave it attached only to God. No possession can replace relationship. If we are followers of Jesus, we follow a leader who lived simply, unencumbered by the responsibilities of stuff. We follow a leader who lived a life rich with relationships: a deep attachment to God, a core group of close friends, and many, many casual yet caring encounters with people he healed and loved and taught. Does your stuff make sense in the context of your faith journey? Does your stuff block your child's view of your faith life? Does your stuff make sense, or is it nonsense? 


Midlife Roadtripper said...

I definitely believe our "stuff" defines us. I like your discussion of how having our special things around us - the things that bring us comfort - help when life runs amok. Sometimes that is the simple thing that keeps us steady.

Julie Huke Klock said...

You are right - it is as true for adults as for children. Hope life is steady for you these days.