I’m a stickler for nice things. I’d rather have something well-made than a cheap version that will break or fall apart immediately. There’s even a local furniture store with the slogan “because you like nice things.” But at what point do nice things keep us from our greater purpose?
Investing in Quality or Investing in Greed?
There’s a phase in life when most of us are just starting out on our own. We move out of our dorm or our parents’ house and start buying our own food and housewares. This is the phase of “crappy, but will do the trick.” I sometimes wish I was back at this phase – the phase where I didn’t own half the things I do know. My possessions fit in a minivan. When I needed something, I made it work with what I already had. True minimalism. No hype.
The next phase is when most of us start to miss the mark a little. We’re so used to having nothing that we say yes to absolutely everything. Free couch. Threadbare rug. Dumpster diving. Broken things. We try to rescue it all and make it all special. Recycling and reusing and saving things from the trash are great. I’m all about that! But at a certain point we surpass the magical place called “enough” and we fall into the trap of over-accumulation.
Then it’s time to purge. We see ads for nice, minimal decor and we realize we overdid it. The stuff we rescued from the trash goes right back into the trash heap. We buy new ones, nicer ones. We start spending money on higher quality furnishings, or at least nicer-looking ones. We find our personal style and we clip photos from magazines (or pin them on Pinterest. Who really reads magazines anymore?) We officially become consumers of style, on the lookout for the next great thing. It might feel minimal, but really it’s consumerism cleverly disguised as minimalism. We might think we’re shopping for quality items that will last, but we have to be careful that we’re not just appealing to our desire to have nicer things than our neighbors. Our greed.
Putting People Before Things
Now that Josh and I are a little older, and we have some nice things and a house rather than a tiny flat or apartment, we run a terrible risk. The risk of putting our things before our true goals. I am definitely guilty of this. Sometimes I have to take a deep breath and remember that none of it matters. It could all be gone tomorrow.
I’ve had the chance to put my beliefs into practice on a couple of occasions. One time my awesome friend came over with her amazing kids. My home is childproof for my children and their tendencies, but we found out the hard way that different kiddos have different tendencies. The kids were quietly playing upstairs while my friend and I watched the babies downstairs. Malachi alerted us first with a frightened “Mommy….” My friend and I went upstairs to find four bottles of paint, that were previously unopened, completely emptied. Paint was all over the children, the floor, the dresser, and the walls. The “artists” had started painting Malachi, which is when he got scared and called for us. We didn’t know what to do (we should have taken more pictures) so we just laughed. Now we knew why the kids had been occupied for so long. I never dreamt they’d find and open the paint, because that’s not something Malachi would do. But “childproof” is a relative term I guess.
We threw the kids in the tub and scrubbed what we could (and my friend insisted on paying to have our carpet cleaned). But this was an opportunity to live up to my ideals of saying that material things don’t matter. While I do want to be a good steward of my home and what I’ve been given, I also don’t want it to become an obsession that keeps us from living. So we cleaned the mess as well as we could and we still laugh about it to this day. This is why we don’t have nice things. So we can put our relationships first.
Josh and I believe in hospitality and open up our home often for gatherings, potlucks, and musical guests. I don’t want a house so nice that I feel like I must “preserve” it and protect it from the wear and tear of having guests. We’ve had over 60 guests in the house at once! One time a musical show was held in the kitchen, and involved someone playing a guitar while standing on the table, and everyone else dancing around the kitchen island. Someone broke a glass and immediately apologized. “Don’t worry about it!” I assured them. “Those glasses break so easily I’ve been replacing them with pasta sauce jars.” The show carried on without a hitch.
I don’t want to be irresponsible, but I do want to place value in something other than things. I want to have a home that people feel comfortable in, not one that they feel like they must wipe their feet and be on their best behavior. I like to think that I don’t own any of it, but I’m housesitting for the Lord. What would his priorities be? We’ll mow the lawn and do regular maintenance, sure. But would Jesus care if the dresser got painted or the carpet got something spilled on it? I don’t think so.
Possessions Can Weigh Us Down
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
This is the attitude I want to adopt. Not one of merely preserving, but one of stewarding. An attitude that joyfully does the chores, but doesn’t stress over the white sofa or the small accidents that happen with children. I’d rather be a Mary than a Martha, even though Martha often comes more naturally for me. I want to focus on the people and not the things. If that means that all our furniture is hand-me-downs and our rugs don’t match quite right, then that’s how we’ll live. Retailers make us think that we need so much, but the reality is that we need so little.
Is it wrong to have nice things? Not necessarily. But there’s a point at which they don’t improve our lives, and instead become burdensome. We must insure them, inspect them, perform routine maintenance, and worry about them breaking or getting stolen.
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 moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I don’t know about you, but I’m finished putting stock in material things only to be disappointed. I don’t exactly know what treasures in heaven will look like, but I think it might have less to do with silver and gold and more to do with God’s righteousness, perfect justice, endless grace, and undiluted love.