Why do we insist on journeying through life loaded down with baggage? Sure, we all carry within us the “baggage” of our experiences that makes us who we are, but why do we make it more difficult by hefting an extra load of cultural and consumer baggage? You wouldn’t try to hike the entire 2,179 miles of the Appalachian Trail hauling a pony cart full of “stuff” behind you, so why do you clutter your life with adiaphora?
I’m not going to delve into the emotional baggage we tote; that’s a topic for another day. What I suggest is that we journey through life overly burdened for two reasons: 1) we have short memories, and 2) we have a hole in our heart that our culture tells us can be filled by buying and possessing the right “stuff.”
From the time we are old enough to make sense of images and sound, the wonderful world of marketing begins competing for our allegiance. No wonder one study found that more children recognize the golden arches of McDonald’s than a picture of Jesus or the president! Ever consider why you probably buy the certain brands that your parents bought? Why you prefer one brand of paper towel over another one? Why you gravitate toward one soft drink in particular? Why you choose one brand of jeans instead of the competitor? You have been carefully taught by the purchases of others and by deliberately crafted advertising campaigns.
Marketers create a need in our minds, but it can’t be a long-term need because we must consume again and again. We are conditioned to want newer, bigger, better, and brighter. An iPod classic of the first generation is a dinosaur compared to the “new” iPod classic, for example. Who wants limited storage space when there is SO much music out there to purchase?
How do we stop the cycle of need and greed? It starts with awareness, it continues through constant reminders, and it takes practice. It’s a process. We need regular reminders about what really matters, what is “true” and “real,” and how to discern a need from want or desire.
When we moved from North Dakota to Tennessee, we sold or gave away almost all of our worldly possessions. What had taken us almost half a U-Pack It trailer to get to North Dakota ended up fitting into two sedans along with several boxes mailed ahead by parcel post. The two bedroom apartment we rented looked mighty big and empty. It was also, surprisingly, truly liberating.
We ended up bying a sofa and love seat, kitchen table and chairs, entertainment stand, two chairs for the patio, used washer and dryer, and two mattress/box spring sets. Everything else we needed was either given to us or found through freecyle or creative reclamation (i.e. dumpter diving when people moved out of the complex). Even after this major possession purge, the slow creep of acquisition returned with our short memory of freedom from attachment. By the time we moved to Pennsylvania, it took a small U-Haul truck to get us here. Now my spouse and I are parting with possessions once again. With each possession gone comes a little less weight and a little more freedom.
I realize traveling light is not for everyone. Some people can be content in a tent, while others require a Winnebago or a Holiday Inn. Some people need few things, while others collect and acquire much. What I urge you to do today is to consider what it might be like to limit your possessions to what you need and/or truly love. How might letting go enable you to live more fully in thanks-living and giving? Imagine what it would be like to put all that you own into a backpack, suitcase, or car. Could you do it? Could you even dream it? Do you dare?
Lent 40/40/40 Update
I am thankful today for my cousin Doris. This strong yet gentle woman served for many years as a missionary in Honduras. She has given so much of herself to help so many people, and she exemplifies a lived faith. Thank you, Doris, for your light and for your life. You truly understand the value–and beauty–of traveling light!
I have a stash of extra greeting cards and envelopes–not all of which match. I have been keeping them thinking I would use them at some point, but the truth is I have not used them and likely never will. So they’ll be going to church with me for the box to donate to St. Jude’s Ranch. It’s a small thing to give/let go of, but it’s one more small lightening of the load.
I am thankful for sleep. I don’t always get enough of it, but I am grateful for a good night of it. Sleep is refreshing, necessary for good health, and a true blessing. Thank you, God, for the gift of sound sleep.
Photos by Timitrius and Quinn Anya used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!