Jesus told him, "If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Matthew 19:21A few months back, I was talking with my friend Chase about what would be hardest to give up if we decided to take Jesus' words to the rich man (found in Matthew and Luke) completely seriously and literally.
For both of us, the answer was "my library."
I, as an English and Theology/Philosophy student, have accumulated quite the library. I could reasonably say that it - next to my roommate's and my DVD collection - is the most valuable thing I own. I have a first edition of "The Four Loves" by CS Lewis, several different editions of the same books, and, at the beginning of this semester, two sets of five-shelf bookshelves full to overflowing - the space under my nightstand was also filled with books, the area at the foot of my bed had a pile of papers and books, and the spot next to the chair I'm currently sitting in was piled with books - about five high in three stacks.
To put it mildly, I have a lot of stuff.
In fact, I documented it today.
And this was the state of my desk when I woke up this morning:
Today, I decided to do something about it.
I started taking books off the shelves in an effort to reorganize them, and then realized that I needed to take a step a bit more drastic. I needed to get rid of my stuff.
The desk was the first step. I discovered that I had piles of papers from 2008, unopened cell phone bills from 2 years ago (don't worry, I pay my bills online), and numerous notes and pieces of paper with library call numbers, old phone numbers and random bits of information written on them. Remarkably, I sorted through the piles without a single paper cut, and soon had a massive bag to throw out:
I then tackled the closet, which had been bothering me for a while. I used the 6 month rule: if you haven't worn it in six months, it goes. At the end of that, I had a considerable pile of clothes:
The next part was the shelves - the two towering five shelf bookshelves, full to overflowing with books collected over four years of high school, four years of college and two years of graduate school.
I had to ask myself a tough question: "Why do I have this book?" Or as my friend Caroline put it: "Do you have this just to be pretentious, or do you really enjoy the book?"
Out went Viriginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Shakespeare (Honestly, have I opened "Merchant of Venice" in two years? No.). Most of my fantasy literature stayed: Harry Potter, CS Lewis, Tolkien and L'Engle collections. Whether or not a book was "culturally relevant" was not a criteria - it was a simple matter of asking myself, "Why do I have this book?" and if I couldn't answer reasonably (as in, "I own it because I enjoy it, I seriously plan on reading it, or it is relevant to my field of contemporary British young adult fantasy literature."), then out it went.
Soon, I had a pile of "give away/sell" much larger than than my pile of "keep."
I have less "stuff" now than I did before. While I haven't quite given up those things that mean the most to me - I still own my first edition of "The Four Loves" that I bought from a rare books dealer a year ago - I have made a step toward removing the amount of clutter and "stuff" from my life that was clogging me up and making me lose track of what was really important.
In the village of Mypadu, an entire family's possessions were on shelves lining the walls of a room smaller than the one I sleep in. And yet, I found them happy to share, happy to give of themselves and their meagerness for their visitors.
That is the true nature of hospitality, the true nature of loving one's neighbor.
Would I be able to extend that same love? Would I be able to hand out those things I find precious, or those things that I have been finding comfort in to help out my neighbor? The call that Jesus gives - "If anyone should take your coat, give him your cloak as well" - I feel is a call to realize that everything we have is not our own.
We are living on borrowed time, in borrowed rooms, with borrowed air.
I have spent way too much time collecting, hoarding, and not letting myself breathe. Materialism - not in the Gnostic sense that our bodies are worth nothing and the soul is all that matters, but in the sense that material things could actually provide some kind of comfort - has long been a stumbling block for me, and for, I would guess, many of my fellow Americans.
We are told, "Buy this; it will make you happy!" We see smiling people on the commercials on TV, and think, "If I have that, I can be happy." And so we accumulate more and more stuff, without ever stopping to think: "Wait, do I actually enjoy this?"
I challenge you to think about what is causing clutter in your life. What "stuff" is giving you comfort? What is preventing you from breathing?
After all that work, I have an announcement to make.
One month from today (the 21st), I will be turning 24 years old, officially entering my mid-twenties. I want to start my 24th year of life off right, and I have a somewhat drastic way to do that.
I don't want any presents.
For the first time in 24 years of life, I don't want a birthday present.
Wait, let me rephrase.
I don't want you to spend your money on me. If you want to give in honor my birthday, give to someone who needs it. I am asking that my friends and family to take this step with me in de-cluttering not only my personal world, but the world around us by not giving me more stuff.
As it is my 24th birthday, I ask you to give just $24 to do some good in the world. If you choose to donate in my name, please donate to either World Vision, Blood:Water Mission, or Faceless International. Take some time to research these great organizations, each working to make a difference in the developing countries of the world.
More stuff is not what we need - giving of our time, our resources, and ourselves is what is called. I took a step toward that today by purging my excess stuff; please continue this walk with me.