Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Too Much Stuff Can Be A Spiritual Drag

Published September 29, 2005

I waited a half hour to get into the church jumble sale and then was nearly stampeded by the mob of Saturday morning bargain hunters.

One hour later, I emerged, somewhat frazzled and carrying one item. A book of Southern chicken recipes.

I have a terrible horror of clutter, no doubt inherited from my mother, who was the kind of housekeeper who would dust a child’s teddy bear if the child set it down for a moment or two.

In one of my frenzies of de-cluttering, I gave away a big assortment of books, and since my husband and I were vegetarians at the time, one was called something like, “Chicken Recipes from Around the World.”

Avid devotees of tofu, we figured we would never need it.

Wouldn’t you know it, a few years later, one of us (the wife) reached a point of no return with tofu! And, yes, I began yearning for that very book, which I still haven’t found.

Ever since then, whenever I go to a yard sale, while other people are snatching up fine china and cut-glass crystal, you can spot me a mile away.

I’m the lady hunting a replacement for the chicken book.

Still, despite my loss of that book, I remain a huge fan of de-cluttering. I really feel that the more stuff we store in our houses, basements and attics, the more we are in danger of becoming spiritually bogged down.

I don’t expect any time soon to pack my bags and leave town, but it is still encouraging to know that if I did decide to move away, no mountain of stuff would hinder me.

Besides, having too many possessions wastes a huge amount of precious time. People who have tons of clothing spend a goodly amount of time washing, ironing, folding and storing it, and hauling it to the dry cleaners.

Then there is the gratitude factor. Having too much can lead to wanting even more and never feeling satisfied.

By contrast, knowing when you have enough can spark gratitude to God.

Watch the child who has too many toys. She goes from one to the next without really appreciating any of them, while the kid who only has an empty box and a spoon can create endless diversions.

Stuff is great and can give us enormous pleasure, but there is no use clinging to every last thing. Yes, it is true that Johnny drew that darling picture of the anteater when he was 4, but do we have to keep every single drawing now that Johnny is 40?

We come into the world with nothing at all, and despite a fancy coffin, we leave it the same way. All the stuff we accumulate during our lives may some day end up in a church jumble sale.

Many people will find this notion a cause for grief because they associate their possessions with their inner being. They figure that, once they die, if their relatives have their furniture and other things displayed, somehow they will still be around.

But if you believe in the promises of Jesus, you know that eternal life does not happen on this planet.

As for me, I have very few things that are my mom’s, mostly because she was so averse to clutter that she kept very little. But she still is a constant presence in my life.

And the few things of hers that I do have are quite meaningful. There are her engagement and wedding bands, a few pairs of simple earrings, some sherry glasses and a teapot she bought in Nassau.

All I have from my dad is his wristwatch, which, alas, no longer works.

Now many people might think it is tragic that more things aren’t left from my parents’ long life together. But they liked to travel light, and my mom was always bundling up stuff to give away.

Besides, as long as I have my memories, I don’t need physical objects as reminders.

I sometimes wonder what stuff I would rescue from our house if a fire broke out and I only had a few moments to decide.

First on the list, of course, would be our old cat, Tinker Bell, and Ignatius, our teddy bear hamster.

If I had time for anything else, I would grab my Dad’s watch, my mom’s jewelry, and my ancient stuffed Pluto dog, Poppa, which was my constant childhood companion.

I have known people whose entire homes went up in flames and who lost, literally, all their worldly possessions.

Some, surprisingly, have confessed to relief because they were deprived of their clutter all at once and could start anew. Others were so grateful that their families were spared that they never regretted the loss of stuff.

Jesus said we had to choose between serving God or mammon. In a consumer society, we are also in danger of serving our possessions.

Many folks pay rent on units that are heated and air-conditioned to house the stuff that no longer fits in their attics. Others work extra hours at jobs they hate so they can buy fancier stuff.

What amount of luxuries, though, could possibly be worth wasting the time we have on earth, which is inestimably precious?

I confess that I have wasted far too much time hunting that chicken book. Perhaps, one of these days, I will find it at a yard sale.

That will be quite a joy for me, and I can see myself rushing home to show my husband, who will no doubt try a few recipes. But I know myself well enough to realize that, in a few years, I will probably give it away again.

Lorraine Murray’s latest book is “How Shall We Celebrate? Embracing Jesus in Every Season” (Resurrection Press). All her books are available at or can be ordered at local bookstores. E-mail