Overstuffed with Stuff

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Life Matters

By Dr. David B. Whitlock

I have too much stuff. I know I do.

But on second thought, do I? How do we know when we have too much stuff? Who is the judge of that?

My guess is, I'm not alone in thinking I have too much stuff; most Americans would join me in the "I've got too much stuff" confessional.  In our consumer driven society, owners of specialty stores make money helping us find ways to store more of our stuff so they buy more stuff for themselves.

In your estimation, my stuff may be worthless, while in my eyes, it may be precious. And to me, that stuff you've saved for years might be junk. We all have our special stuff.

Take books, for example. I love books, not only for the story they tell or the information they convey. I love to hold a new book, open it and smell the new pages. And I can tell you when, where and why I purchased most of my books. Superstar author Stephen King sees the advantages of e-books, but he still loves physical books. "I have thousands of books in my house," he recently admitted in a Wall Street Journal interview. "In a weird way, it's embarrassing...it's crazy, but there are people who collect stamps," he rationalized. I started getting rid some of my books. Then just the other day, I recalled a section from one of my books I read years ago. It was apropos for a class I am teaching. I raced into my library to pick it up. Gone. I growled as I remembered its location: Half -Price Books.

My wife and I need only a few coffee mugs Thanks to me, we have way more than we need. But, each one has a memory of the time I got it, or the people I've enjoyed coffee with while sipping from that mug. Many times I've started to toss them, but then I balk.

Knowing when we have too much stuff is not always easy, and having too much can be a hazard. Like most everything else there is a disorder for this. It's a compulsive disorder called "hoarding." Hoarders are people who accumulate far too much stuff and are unable to throw anything away. Their houses are so filled with stuff they can barely move around in them. According the American Journal of Psychiatry, "Compulsive hoarding is most commonly driven by obsessional fears of losing important items that the patient believes will be needed later, distorted beliefs about the importance of possessions, excessive acquisition, and exaggerated emotional attachments to possessions." Uhh, hmm.

Years ago, comedian George Carlin developed a routine around the concept of stuff. "That's the whole meaning of life," he joked, "trying to find a place to keep your stuff."  I suppose that's when our stuff becomes dangerous: when accumulating it truly does become the meaning or purpose of life. You don't have to be afflicted with hording syndrome to live a life for the sole purpose of acquiring more stuff. The stuff we own then owns us. We essentially become the stuff we've accumulated. That's when we're overstuffed with stuff.

Surely life has a higher purpose than storing up things only for ourselves or our own family.

Jesus warned us about this when he told a story about a man who tore down his barns to build bigger barns so he could store more of his stuff. And that very day, his soul was required of him. Jesus' story hits home with most of us. After all, I've never presided over a funeral where the hearse had a U-Haul behind it.

Getting rid of my unnecessary stuff reminds me of what is really important; it gives me a sense of inner peace that frees me for the most worthy things in life. I realize that.

But I'm still going to sit down with a good book and some java in one of my favorite coffee mugs.

Editor's note: Life Matters is written by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. David's email is drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com. His website is, DavidBWhitlock.com.