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A bicycle, umbrella and books

The Stuff of Life

person Fiona Mearns
4 min

I’ve recently been clearing out my mum’s house and garage. It’s OK, she’s comfortably installed in a lovely little flat with all her essentials round her. What’s left is the accumulated stuff of a life – some useful; some not so useful. It’s not been an easy process because it’s challenged both of us on what we hold dear and why.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, “That’s mine; you can’t have it.” They shared everything. The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them. Acts 4:32-33 The Message (MSG)

Four complete tea sets vie for their place in my cupboard; choosing which dearly loved ornaments to keep and which to give away; realising that there are only so many doilies one can use – all these things can start to make you see what’s important.

Right now, I’m bogged down in stuff; knee deep in it in fact and slowly wading my way through rehoming it. Charity shops, recycling centres and free ads are my spare time hobby right now. I have to hold my nerve. I’m doing really well but every so often I have a wobble. “That was your Dad’s/Auntie’s/Grandma’s favourite golf club/teapot/button box!” The words ring in my ears as I hover over the charity shop box. What do I do . . build a bigger barn?

How did we get to this stage? We all know we’re addicted to stuff. Even that famous Swedish flat-pack supplier admits, “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff.” Your average Western household is bulging with more stuff than it needs, so what’s the answer – more storage?

Recently, a skip arrived in my neighbours’ drive. It lay temptingly empty for a while then suddenly the entire contents of their garage were decanted into it. “We put this stuff in the garage almost 10 years ago and haven’t needed any of it, so it’s going,” they said.

I applauded their decisiveness, whilst my knee-jerk reaction was to worry whether something useful might have been thrown out.

But the question here is not about recycling or a minimalist approach to living, it’s about the way in which our things can hold us back, bog us down and generally interfere with the abundant life that Jesus came to bring us. We can spend so much time admiring, organising, dusting or sifting through our stuff while planning to buy more new stuff to replace the stuff we’ve grown tired of that we forget what life’s really about.

In Acts 4, the church is finding its feet but there’s one thing they’ve grasped really well – that being possessive with your own stuff is detrimental to good spiritual health; that people matter more than things and God loves a joyful giver.

The day we gave away mum’s dining table to two young people who really needed it was definitely joyful – we laughed and joked as we got stuck in doorways, accompanied by a stream of “down a bit, to the left, to you” etc and eventually manoeuvred it through the window. I got a text later: “We ate our first meal at the table this evening . . . the first of many.”

Since then the lawnmower has gone to a young guy who couldn’t afford a new one and a set of pans to someone who loves to cook. All I need to find is a doily fanatic and I’ll be well on my way.

What have I learnt from all this? That it is hard to fight the desire to accumulate stuff (whatever our reason might be) but in fact our real needs are relatively few; that God loves us sharing and blessing others with our resources; and that if we were to put some of the energy we put into loving stuff into loving God, maybe the balance would shift.

No doubt I’ve more to learn and I suspect my next lesson will come when I pluck up courage to tackle my loft. That’s for another day.