The Clutter of the World

Fifteen things. In 2010 a man named Andrew Hyde gave away everything he owned except for fifteen things. He kept a pair of pants, 2 shirts, a pair of sandals, a pair of shorts and some underwear. Everything he owned on this earth fit into a small backpack. He did it in preparation for a trip around the world. He also did it to be free from the ties that bind us to the stuff that we own. He called what he did “an adventure in minimalism.”  Now several years later he’s living in New York and he owns around 60 things. Still. Can you imagine streamlining all your worldly possessions down to just 60 things? I probably own at least 60 pairs of shoes. Most of them black. I really can’t imagine living the way Mr. Hyde lives.

But I’d like to give it a try. I look around the house. Why do I hang onto things I don’t use? Why do I keep clothes I no longer wear or that no longer fit? And here’s an even better question: why do I continue to buy MORE stuff?  I remember when I was just out of graduate school and starting my first real job. I had an apartment that was barely furnished with anything except books, a stereo perched on an orange crate and a mattress on the floor. I couldn’t wait to fill it with “stuff.”  A few years later it took a team of movers and half an 18-wheeler to move my stuff across the country. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten a bit better at consuming less. Maybe. Except for the black shoe thing. But reading about Andrew Hyde has made me want to do some serious clearing-out. As a Catholic I know the story of the rich young man whose only apparent shortcoming was his attachment to the things he owned (Matthew 19:16-26).  And we’ve all heard the story of the rich man with the abundant harvest who had great plans to build new and bigger barns to hold all his wealth. Of course God knew the man would die that very night and would never need another barn or enjoy his new money (Luke 12:16-21).  When we fall in love with the things of this world, as beautiful as they are, we lose sight of our true home and happiness which is in heaven. Our hearts were made to love a Person. Only when we fix our love on the Creator do we ever find true joy. No amount of stuff will ever satisfy our hearts. There’s the old question: what is enough? The answer: just a little bit more than you have. And there’s the rub. You’ll never have “enough.”  You’ll never feel content with accumulating more, consuming more, having the latest gizmo. Your heart was made for so much more than mere “stuff.”

From a practical standpoint, our stuff is like debt. It takes time, effort, and energy to manage it—and it leaves you with less personal “capital” to “spend” on more important things. You have to clean it, organize it, store it, move it, etc. Of course it isn’t our stuff in and of itself that’s the problem. It’s our attachment to it. It’s our belief that we need more and more of it to be happy, to feel that we have “enough.”  Every day most of us go out and get more. Can you remember the last day that you didn’t spend any money on anything at all?  I can’t. Try it and I think you’ll see what I’ve discovered: other than groceries and gas, everything I buy is non-essential. I’m not talking about paying the electric bill or the mortgage, but just the “stuff” that I usually buy on any given day. I just don’t need it. I’m beginning to think about what I could do with the money I could save by not chasing “enough.”  I’m beginning to see what I could do with the time I’d save as well, not having to clean and organize and manage it all. And how so much of what I have could help out other people. Not only would I have a lot more room in my house, I could make more room in my heart too: for others, for the Lord, for my parish. I could be a better steward of the gifts God has given me. I could give more to charity. I could share more of my time with those we’re called to help.

No, I don’t think I’ll ever simplify down to just fifteen things like Andrew Hyde did ( but I can let go of something today. And something more tomorrow, and the next day. And I can stop chasing “enough.”  I can stop planning those new barns to hold my earthly wealth and use my blessings to bless others and build up treasure in the only place that matters. One pair of black shoes at a time.

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have.”
                      —Hebrews 13:5


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