I moved house recently. My wife and I are working overseas for three months, and before we left we packed up everything, sold half, put half in to storage, and left our home.
It’s only when you move that you realise quite how much stuff you’ve managed to accumulate. When looking for a house to rent, a garage was quite appealing to me. Fast forward a few years, and the garage became the bane of my 4-day struggle with our possessions.
Much of what we owned was useful – furniture, kitchen bits, clothes, books (although this is a point of debate) etc. – and I don’t think if you had come to my house you would say that we were living in great luxury, at least in comparison to the people around us.
But nonetheless, this stuff had grown and become a bother. There are a thousand and one things that we can buy to make our lives easier. If you have a TV, then you should have an Apple TV, maybe a Blu-ray player, and surround sound. And books need bookshelves, and the kitchen needs one of those little round things to measure spaghetti portions accurately.
But when we move we suddenly question if the accumulation of stuff in order to make life work a little smoother isn’t just a rouse, perpetuated by kitchen accessory sellers and Swedish furniture companies.
Of course, things are good. Possessions are useful. Yes there probably is a point where enough is enough, but purchased thoughtfully and used appropriately, the inventions and developments of the modern world are entirely good and proper.
I was musing though, as I was boxing up 19 USB cables and hard drives from a decade ago, about what our pursuit of stuff says about our modern culture. We have devices and contraptions to help us cook, help us sleep, help us relax, help us stay connected, and they all do their jobs reasonably well. Very intelligent people create things to help our lives work a bit better, but yet … but yet, we still aren’t eating well, sleeping well, or relaxed – and many of us feel alienated and alone.
Perhaps, then, the stuff that we own says something about a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. If we look past the particular benefits of one device, and we zoom out on our lives, what can we observe? What does it say when the very needs these modern conveniences are meant to address, still persist in the lives of those who purchase them?
More stuff doesn’t seem to be the answer – just ask the very wealthy – and a minimalist life of detachment errs I think too far the opposite way. So, if the physical world doesn’t provide adequate solutions to our felt needs, then instead of grabbing more or eschewing it all, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves if our deepest needs are therefore not physical, but rather spiritual. Because, as any good doctor will tell you, the beginning of the right answer to the problem starts with the correct diagnosis.