Stuff is tricky. It sneaks into your home and car and (cough) Amazon cart seemingly undetected. Then before you know it, you’re the not-so-proud owner of a pile of junk which you know you probably don’t need. Yet now that you own it you value it (hello, Endowment Effect!). When dealing with a topic as difficult as stuff, it helps to keep an eternal perspective.
Taking an eternal perspective is to think about material items not just from the “right-here-right-now camp”, but to consider the use of things and number people owned through the rest of history. If we determine too long about whether or not we need the second lawn mower “just in case”, we’re bogged down in the weeds. We’ve missed the point.
Let’s take a big step back today and get a wide-angle view on material items. Because the viewpoint we’ll take today is timeless, so to speak, I will lean heavily on ancient wisdom from the Bible to unpack how having an eternal perspective on stuff can help declutter our lives today.
To cultivate an eternal perspective on stuff, it helps to keep three central truths about material items on the forefront of your mind.
1) Stuff is simply for comfort or survival while we are on earth.
Physical things are either for our survival (i.e. need) or for comfort (i.e. enjoyment). Comfort and survival are really the only reasons to own stuff. Historically humans owned far fewer items than people deem necessary today. Our material-obsessed culture is determined to blur the definition of need and points out that we need things to make us happy or to make us appear richer or to make a better impression on people around us.
The fact is that everything we own should be able to be placed in one of two categories: need or enjoyment. If you own items that don’t belong in either category—you neither need nor enjoy them, then you would be better off not owning those things.
“If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” –William Morris
2) Stuff cannot be taken with us when we die.
A common practice in the ancient world and in some cultures today is for the deceased to be buried with provisions for a journey to the next world or life—food, clothes, currency, treasures. I grant great respect to differing belief systems, yet it is fact that the items buried with the dead remain here, on earth, for millenia. Although a person’s soul departs, stuff doesn’t leave earth.
This is a helpful case to remember when we get caught up in the despair of a broken favorite mug or the loss of a family heirloom. Stuff isn’t meant to last forever. Only human souls were created with eternity in mind. Therefore relationships with fellow humans remain the most important focus and connection.
“So don’t be impressed with those who get rich and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them; fame and fortune all get left behind.”
Psalm 49:16-17 MSG
3) Stuff isn’t ours to own as much as we think it is.
The Bible states that the earth is the Lord’s and all it’s fullness (Ps. 24:1). The book of Job records the declaration, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21. In James it says that every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17).
These references suggest that 1) all things belong to God first, 2) all good things came from God, and 3) He has the ability to take them away and still remain good. I won’t get into the theology debates these statements invite except to say that life is lived happiest with open hands. If you prefer to hear the point straight from science, check out this recent study about how generous people are happier.
…life is lived happiest with open hands.
Don’t get bogged down in the weeds of what you should own. You were made to be freer than that.
When you consider the stuff you own, keep an eternal perspective. Value people above all else and choose to live life with open hands daily.
Let’s be people who collect memories and store up legacies of grace and love instead of hoarding things which hold no eternal value.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
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