I have generous children. Perhaps we've taught them to be generous; perhaps they were naturally generous and we encouraged those qualities. From the time they were two-years-old, we encouraged them to bless others with toys they rarely played with at least twice a year--once before their birthday and once before Christmas. By the time they were five, they were greeters at the local Gospel Union Mission talking to the homeless people being fed there. They also started birthday fundraisers that year. They only asked for canned foods for their presents. Each year since, they've done some sort of fundraiser for those less fortunate than themselves instead of receiving presents. My children are decades ahead of most adults in this area. Their compassion keeps them generous and unattached to possessions.
As a parent, my heart cannot express the joy I feel when I think of their generosity. It's what I've prayed for, nurtured and celebrated for years. Yet, sometimes, I'm sentimental when they choose to give away a toy that I might have cherished as a child. Recently, my daughter handed me her only two Cabbage Patch dolls to bless others with because she admitted she doesn't play with them anymore. I restrained showing disappointment in her decision because she was making the best choice and I was clinging to my own childhood. You see, I played with Cabbage
Patch dolls when I was little. But here's the thing, sitting in a clear storage container in our loft are all ten of my Cabbage Patch dolls. Decades later, I STILL have them. One of my dolls even matches one of hers because they came out with 25th Anniversary Editions of their original dolls. Part of me wants to keep at least the one matching doll. But what message will I send my daughter if I keep the doll she was ready to give away?
Over the years, I've continued to learn to detach my sense of security, contentment and pleasure from belongings. The first lesson came from Hurricane Andrew. That day prioritized people from belongings because everyone in the Homestead, Florida area lost the majority or all of their possessions. Only a trunk full of my most valuable belongings went with us to where we sheltered the storm. I was still young then and started high school in a new town. Eventually, I started to collect mementos again. Upon reflection, I realize my effort to collect knickknacks was an attempt to feel secure after Hurricane Andrew. I amassed some through college, Joining the Army, though, was a pivotal moment in the ever mounting war against materialism. I had a small sedan and my Mother helped drive it across the country for my first duty station. Every square inch of the car and trunk, save the driver's seat and floor area and the passenger's seat, were filled to the brim. We swapped driving throughout the trip and every time my feet were on the passenger's seat due to the lack of floor space available, I seriously considered chucking things out the window or finding the nearest thrift store to unload unnecessary stuff. I might have, if I’d had more travel time.
Now, if you were to ask my husband, he'd tell you that I'm a hoarder, or that I suffer from agoraphobia. However, he would be exaggerating because he's comparing our stuff to the amount of stuff he thinks we "need.". He would be a minimalist if he could; he would be content with two pairs of pants, three shirts, one jacket, two pairs of shoes (summer/winter), pillow and blanket (bed optional), one pot, one dish, one spork and one multipurpose tool. I, on the other hand, take a much more realistic point of view. I like clean clothes and I don't plan on washing them daily. I
feel this way about most items in my house.
Truly, there is only one type of item that our house overflows with: books. We both agree we have too many books, but only he has been able to whittle his collection down to a few shelves as opposed to my collection on multiple bookshelves and a bin or two in the garage. The good news is that I stopped collecting collectibles. I've even given some away throughout the years. On the other hand, as our house has four avid readers, I doubt I'll make much headway on relinquishing more than ten percent of our current library. In all honesty, that figure is generous because I have a nasty habit of clearing a few books off the shelves only to replace them with new thrift store treasures. And, as a homeschooling family all books fall under the category of educational; and therefore, they can't count against our addiction--I mean our collection.
Still, aside from used books, there must be a balance between things and the control they exhibit over anyone. Materialism can be harmful to relationships and to society. People, even strangers, are more important than possessions. One way to demonstrate love is to be generous with what we've been blessed with already. We might not openly admit it, but many of us own too much stuff. My challenge today is not just to purge closets, garages or toy bins, but to give away quality items. People in need don't want your garbage any more than you want it. Ask yourself if you'd still feel comfortable using the item. If not, it's better to toss it then to force someone else to feel trapped by need. For instance, the other day I unsuccessfully went to find my son some long sleeved shirts at a local, well-known, thrift store and found that one shirt had a perforation the size of a silver dollar on the chest. It wasn't a fashion statement either. Why would anyone want that shirt? I rarely find kids clothes that aren't stained or torn. We choose to shop at thrift stores because it’s financially savvy, especially when estimating the rate of growth and the amount of times items will be worn. As someone who can afford not to buy my son clothes better suited to be wash rags, I shop elsewhere when there are only repugnant choices available. But what about the family whose solitary choice of clothing has to come from thrift stores?
What type of self-worth will develop when a child has stained or ripped clothes continually? What type of bullying will happen to the child at school? Don't get me wrong, I have a ten-year-old boy who has more jeans with holes in the knees, than mended ones. However, those are labeled play clothes and are not intended for settings such as school or other public places. Even in our donations, we must consider the Golden Rule. Would we want to be on the receiving end of our donations?
Each day makes it easier for me to donate or toss out. And both ways I feel satisfaction because I know that possessions have little to do with quality relationships.
What still ties you to your stuff? Is it false security or low self-esteem that urges you to keep up with the neighbors? Our self-worth isn't based on the amount of things filling our house. Our character isn't defined by how well we decorate and accentuate the guest bathroom. Our reputation is exemplified in our love towards others. For me, learning to sever ties with my stuff has been an ongoing journey. My sense of security and value comes more and more from my relationship to God. He loves me because I am His adopted child. I came into His family with nothing. And His love isn't dependent on my performance, charity or abilities. I won't take a single possession with me when I die. I want to die with the knowledge that I lived without the love of money, power, or possessions. I want my legacy to teach my family how to use whatever possessions they have by God's grace, in a way that leads others to security in Christ’s love.
Ariele O’Brien considers herself a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. She was born and raised in south Florida and received her Master’s in Clinical Social Work from the University of South Florida. Upon graduation, she fulfilled her desire to serve in the military and joined the Army. Shortly after arriving at her first duty station, she met and married her husband. A few years later, health complications and the decision to start raising children led to her decision to finish one tour of duty alone. She now proudly supports her husband’s continuing Army career. Currently, Ariele teachers her ten-year-old twins at home. Her limited free time includes volunteering, writing, photography, reading and music. Throughout the years, Ariele has published various articles, poetry and has written for her personal blogs.