I think a lot about stuff. All those materials things that clog up my day, my home, my life. The problem with stuff is it takes a lot of energy. Energy I could be spending on other things.

What would it feel like to just let it all go? How would I spend my time if I wasn’t worrying about it, cleaning it, fixing it, stepping around it, and paying for it? How would I spend my money if I wasn’t buying more things, paying a big mortgage, or doling out dough for a car payment?

Does having more stuff mean more happiness? Does having a bigger house mean more contentment? Or do these things take away our freedom? It’s an issue being raised by many thoughtful people these days, and it’s definitely worth asking here.

Ah, another first-world problem, ranking right up there with whether or not I should get highlights or lowlights at the salon and how annoying it is that my GPS is a little outdated and constantly has to recalculate. Most of the world has problems much more real like this, like… um… not starving, avoiding AIDS, and lack of education.

Most people in the world don’t have the problem of having too much stuff. This is definitely the symptom of a society moving too fast. As a culture, we’ve climbed past the first section of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that sees us finding food, water, and shelter. Most of us have sailed through the next part and enjoy relative safety and security, too.

We in the first world have many privileges. The last fast few generations–including mine–were born into lives of relative ease and well-being. Courtesy of the Industrial Revolution, we have:

  • Dream Houseso much food that many in our culture are rarely hungry,
  • cars and trains and planes to transport us across continents,
  • homes that are bigger than ever before and often more than we need,
  • products that make every aspect of our lives easier with each generation,
  • and technology for our homes that keeps us warm, clean, and entertained.

But maybe we’re starting to get a little spoiled.

Maybe we’ve developed a taste so fine that we won’t ever be able to take a step down if it becomes necessary. And many environmentalists point to the fact that we do need to ratchet back our wasteful habits or the planet will not be able to sustain itself for that much longer.

Maybe we forgot how to take care of ourselves in a real way. Maybe we have a preoccupation with valueless things. Maybe we are stuck working so hard for these things that we don’t have time for the concepts that really do matter to our souls: our families, our friends, our freedom, our ethics, or our sense of peace.

We’re taught as we’re growing up that happiness means a good job, a sturdy house, and a couple of cars in the garage. Consequently, many of us head off to college at 18 to work on the good job part, and then work the rest of our lives paying our mortgage, our bills, and buying all of the things we think we need to fill our home.

I can’t shake the idea that we don’t need everything we think we need. And that, sometimes, trying to acquire too much means we’re spreading ourselves too thin. Throwing things over our shoulder, tittering, as we speed through life without appreciating much of anything. After all, why are we here? Is it to acquire a lot of stuff? Or is to live our lives for a greater purpose?

A good question to ask is this: when our journey on earth is over, what will people remember? Will they remember the car we drove… or our character? Will they remember our house… or our smile? Will they remember our prized porcelain bear collection… or the many kind deeds we accomplished?

“While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings.” –Henry David Thoreau

While we are so busy supporting the excessive things we own, we are not able to equally work on that part of ourselves that is both internal and eternal. We relegate ourselves to being mere serfs instead of rising to the royal throne of spirituality and wisdom and awareness we were meant for.

Maybe it’s not a matter of getting rid of every single thing we own. Instead, we can simply keep the stuff in its place, refusing to put it ahead of more important things, like people and giving and time well spent. I can’t live in the way I’m used to without having a shelter, clothing, and some furniture. But I can keep all of these things as humble as possible and keep my eyes on the really grand parts of life instead.

Do you ever feel as though your stuff weighs you down and keeps you from being your best self?