Issues with Stuff

As we enter this season of gratitude (and prepare for a season that often clutters our lives in every way possible), this post from the archives seemed like a relevant message to revisit. Enjoy!

This year I set aside time to reorganize our life at home. We needed to get rid of what we didn’t need, pretty up some spaces that felt neglected or underused, and create a pleasant place for our family to recharge.

So often we feel the need to simplify or pare down when stuff is taking over our life.

Stuff doesn’t matter.
Experiences are more important.
Family is important.
Our relationship with God is important.
You can’t take your stuff to heaven.

All true. What we have around us every day DOES affect us in this life, but it may impact all of us in different ways. Stuff might be a controversial subject, but not all stuff is bad for us.

My last home was a beautiful English Tudor fixer-upper. And while I loved many things about it, like my remodeled kitchen and original plaster walls and wood work, the house itself caused me anxiety, especially when my husband lost his job. The house was too big for us to maintain. Too expensive for us to heat. Too much work for us to do as unskilled DIY’ers with little time for projects. It was beyond our means and it felt like we were one house repair or cold winter away from financial disaster. Too much stuff we couldn’t keep up with, so we downsized our house and our stuff by half.

Being surrounded by the wrong stuff can zap our time, energy, resources and focus away from what matters. When we have stuff we don’t need, we can get bogged down in reorganizing junk we don’t care about, dusting meaningless trinkets and hiding excess in the garage or under the bed because we might want it someday.

When we obsess over stuff we can’t afford, we spend too much time worrying about how to get what we want in life or being deprived of what we can’t have, and less time on simply caring about others.

Too much of the wrong stuff will stifle our potential and limit our time or energy for service. Less of the wrong stuff can free us up to do more good stuff. Are you still with me? Some people clearly have too much stuff, considering how many in this world have too little.

But does that mean the stuff itself is wrong? Or is it only wrong to surround ourselves with the wrong stuff for the wrong reasons?

The right stuff, stuff with meaning, purpose or intention, stuff we can afford to enjoy or share with others, or stuff that is pleasing or appropriate in our life can energize us. It can refresh us to have the right stuff for the right job for the right life and right reasons. God provides beautiful things for our enjoyment.

Stuff can be good.

Minimal stuff might be some people’s thing, it might be what energizes them and frees them to use their life as God intended, just as a pretty well-kept room alive with the right balance of pattern, color, fresh flowers and piles of well-loved books might be my thing.

If you’ve been addicted to stuff or coveting things you don’t have, less will probably be more for you. We need to know our own heart and deal with our stuff in a way that is pleasing to God.

The beautiful things I enjoy having around me aren’t my “everything” or an idol, but they do serve a good and worthwhile purpose in this season of our life. Having the right stuff puts a spring in my step and brings a smile to my face, but the wrong stuff consumes me.

Most importantly, a good balance of the right stuff doesn’t distract us from what God is doing in or through our life, they are a part of his blessing and plan for us right now. When we have that balance, we feel peace in knowing we are where God wants us for this season and we can be content right there.

I have a really hard time with even the good stuff on Pinterest. I enjoy Pinterest in moderation, but seeing too much stuff on a regular basis drains my own creativity and zaps my energy. Seeing 25 More Ways to Decorate a Pumpkin flashing before my eyes yet again sends me over the edge. I can only handle so much STUFF all the time.

Clearly, I have issues. Too little stuff disappoints my creative eye. Too much stuff I don’t need stifles my creative potential, weighs me down and distracts me. I need a carefully chosen and well-balanced diet of the right stuff, and that is what this year has been about for me. Finding that healthy balance so I can invest myself in stuff that really matters.

Do you have issues with stuff? Do you have too much stuff you don’t want? The wrong stuff? The right stuff? How does stuff energize or drain you? And how does your stuff impact God’s purpose in your life right now, in this season?

[How many times did I fit the word stuff into this post? Stuff to ponder.]

{Flickr photo, Autumn Gold, by scott1346, used under Creative Commons. Text has been added to the original photo.}
  • Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God

    Confessions of a clutter bug here…I definitely had too much stuff. Being a very sentimental person, I held on to way too much stuff. The clutter did make me feel anxious and I dreaded dusting. My husband has been a terrific compliment to me. He keeps the stuff that really, really means something and is a great organizer and simplifier. Since our recent marriage we’ve been “redoing” the house and have shipped lots of useful stuff off to the Veterans and have disposed of the junk. I feel like a great weight has been lifted!! Lightening the load does truly allow me to concentrate on serving others. Thanks for the encouragement.

  • JP

    Interesting topic! As you correctly point out “stuff” is too broad a term. My shoes have strong soles and comfortable padding. It makes a big difference! My IPad is highly functional and enables me to stay in contact with those I love.

    Expecting that stuff will bring you happiness is where most people falter. The wells of happiness are more full in other areas: connection, prayer, meditation, leadership, a good project at work.

    With good balance in where to find fulfillment “stuff” can be a great addition. We get into trouble when “stuff” becomes the primary focus.

  • Terrell Rhea

    I come from a family of pack rats and would consider myself an organized pack rat. I remember when I moved out of my parents house how amazed my mom was at how much stuff I actually had because it didn’t look like I had that much. Since then my stuff has seemed to grow exponentially. However, my soul craves simplicity. When I focus on how much stuff I have, it’s overwhelming. It is hard to find peace in a space that is jammed packed full of stuff and my home is meant to be my sanctuary from the world. My desk where my writing should happen is so cluttered that I cannot focus. I am determined one day to rectify this problem.

    Terrell Rhea

  • heather m.

    I know what you mean about Pinterest! You can go on seeking inspiration and leave it feeling discouraged! There is such a fine line between balance and being off kilter and everyone is a little different :) I’ve been trying to pare down the “stuff” lately – possessions and obligations-because too much of either and I feel a little crazy…!

    …and I think it’s upwards of 42 times… but who’s counting….! Love your style, your blog and your encouraging words. Thanks for all you do!

  • Sarah

    Last Christmas I was struggling a lot with idols, and I realized that my idol was “stuff.”

    “It’s on sale, I should get it now.”
    “If I only had ____ then _____ would be better”
    “I’ll use _____ everyday and can get rid of _____ instead”
    “It’s such a good deal”
    “It’s my money darn it”

    Don’t get me wrong, we have a small house, and aren’t exceptionally frivolous people but I realized that my spending on stuff was dominating who I was. So I stopped. I took the credit card out of my wallet, deleted all payment information from my online sites and stopped surfing for deals.

    I took my biggest rule from Leviticus 19 v 9-10 “When you harvest your land, don’t harvest right up to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings from the harvest. Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up the fallen grapes, leave them for the poor and the foreigner.”

    Buying something on sale, or for cheap, or with a coupon is all very well, but if you don’t need it in the first place…

    It has been a successful year. I placed 47 orders on Amazon in 2013 and only 14 in 2014, I think that is indicative of the overall state of my “stuff” with regards to Target, Christmas Tree Shops, Zulilly etc as well.

    I think 2015 needs to be about reducing what I do have. My three bedroom house would be a lot bigger, and a much nicer space if it wasn’t spilling over with stuff from the pre2014 idol years!

  • Karen Leboffe

    I just recently downsized my home which included undoing and sifting through all the stuff collected by a family of 5 for 27 years. I expected it to be drudgery and difficult (and it was in some ways!). But along the way God showed me His amazing JOY and PROVISION. I became lighter and freer to be completely His! Amazing Grace!
    I am now living in an area I would have never thought of looking in, in a delightful home with fewer things, surrounded by beautiful nature created by God. I see Him everywhere, praise Him and give Him all the glory!!

  • Rebecca C

    Karen L, doing the same here, 5 times over! I don’t have an awful lot left and while I’m still protective of all my stuff, I’m not feeling like part of me was ripped away anymore. A three year process so far. Then again, even my home then my job and health before that, so a lot of “dealing”. I ponder what is is that God can’t get through to me? I’ve lived for Him, I spent my life doing what I could to bring His joy and His word to people everywhere I went. What good is it to strip people of even their very health that will sustain them in being able to work to provide bare neccesities? I keep reading the verses where the disciples were asked to sell all of their belongings and give them to the poor, and follow Him. Most of what I had is gone now, my job is gone, I’ve moved 3 times in three years to better afford monthly expenses. What am I missing?

  • Laura

    What a lovely post! Thank you for putting “stuff” into the light of balance and perspective. We have been de-cluttering our nest that is void of adult children, but chock full of memories! it is hard to sort through their stuff, our stuff and the stuff we have inherited from our parents’ stuff….and sometimes I get overwhelmed. Well, often, I get overwhelmed…and I wonder why I can’t be like others who seem to be able to purge without pain. Your writing today helps me see – the trinkets in our home are reminders of the love and laughter of lives shared. Yes, I do need to prune out some stuff and not horde blessings that I am no longer using, but I feel affirmed today that it is ok to have the things around that make this house a HOME…God bless you for your insight! I did purge one thing today….GUILT!!!! =0)

  • karyn

    Yeah, I got too much stuff I need to throw out to make more space in my home here.
    Been throwing out a lot of stuff.

  • Jeanne Takenaka

    Melissa, what a well-thought post. :) I find myself yearning to purge our home about once a year. We try to be careful about not having too much stuff, but let’s face it. With children comes stuff. Our boys both have a little bit of “pack-rat” in them. We’re working to teach them to keep quality things or things that mean something to them, rather than keeping EVERYthing.

    But, stuff also accumulates in the form of busy-ness. This is where hubby and I have to be careful. We become so busy doing stuff that we become worn out and don’t have the stuff we need to invest in our family. So, we’re often in a place of seeking balance with activities. Especially with the boys growing older and getting involved in their own stuff (sports, Boy Scouts, etc).

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  • mb

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • Kathy @ In Quiet Places

    I am always trying to find that balance of how much and what stuff is the right stuff, as I grow older I tend to be moving to the “less is more” and now the stuff I have is the stuff that means the most to me, I think I used the word stuff too many times, oh well!

  • Holley Gerth

    I completely cleaned out our house a couple of years ago and it was one of the most freeing things I’ve done. I feel like I can breathe and be. Whew. And I donated most of what I didn’t want because as you said, stuff that is too much for me can be just right for others. Thanks for this reminder! I think I’ll go through my house again this holiday season…

  • Mary McCauley

    While I admit I have to much stuff! Many of the things I have come with very special memories. Antique dishes from a grandmother I never knew, and others from my late husband’s mother. Angels that I have received as gifts that are not out just at Christmas but all year, people who are now with the Lord, bring a smile or a tear. Sometimes “stuff” is important, but if I did not have it, I would still be ok. Yes, I would be sad, but I would be ok, because I would have the most important thing, God and the blessing of the memories that go with the stuff.
    I believe God wants us to enjoy a balance in our lives, and if the things bring us joy and we keep them in their proper perspective then I believe we should enjoy them to the fullest!

  • Brooke Burger

    I confess I live in a house full of clutter. I wouldn’t mind changing, but after being married to my wonderful hubby for 27+ years I don’t see that happening any time soon. My husband is a big pack rat and it doesn’t bother him a bit. He does not understand why it bothers anyone. It is a little depressing every now and then, but He is still the best thing in my life and I love him dearly. He is such a caring person who builds up everyone around him. My cluttered life goes on. Blessings!

  • Lisa Brown

    Yes I have an issue with stuff. And my stuff becomes clutter and that makes me feel over stuffed. And when I am overstuffed I get tired. When I feel tired and overwhelmed I get lazy and creativity is no longer around. I am a very creative person and I love to have people over. Dust collects to stuff and clutter takes up room. My ministry to serve becomes doom. I might be going a bit overboard here. But, I look in my windowsill and I have some dead plants that I needed to throw away a month ago. I have become lazy. That’s what happens to me with too much stuff. So enough about my mess. Thanks for your post and I am now encouraged to do some purging. (Is purging the right word?)

  • Beth Williams

    I don’t like a ton of stuff in my house. Periodically I will go through my clothes and what I don’t wear, like or fit goes to charity. I do that with other items also. Don’t like clutter or knickknacks. I believe in simplification. The fewer items I have the better.

    Too often people get bogged down with what they feel they “need” to have. When in reality it is just something they want. Sure there are things I want, but if I don’t need them, have space or money for them then they will just wait! :)

  • shelly

    When I got divorced in March, I collected stuff. Lots of it. I have realized why. To put between me and the pain. Obviously not a good plan.
    I called an estate liquidator. In one week, my house will be open to strangers looking for stuff. Good for them.
    In the meantime, I have one week to go room by room keeping that which speaks to my soul. Not that which runs block between me and reality.
    I feel sad, tired, and energized all at the same time. I realize now the past 6 months weren’t actually the new start. They were about hiding. Behind stuff.
    I’m ready to define my own life, not have my stuff do it for me.
    Thank you Melissa.