I will be the first to admit I live a cluttered life. I like to surround myself with pictures, books, CDs and clothes. I have always seen these as treasures collected along the way. Lately however I have begun to critically look at the items I carry, wondering if these are the result of overconsumption. Last summer I discovered an Anne Lamott quote, “Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground.” I clung to these words, believing her; in the midst of chaos, art is formed. At the end of August, as I packed my belongings to make the trek back to Spokane, I allowed these words to roll through my mind on repeat, telling myself the fullness of each box marked a full life. Yet, now looking around my room, the desk piled with papers, the closet filled with clothes, the corner cushioned with throw pillows, the walls filled with pictures and posters, I cannot honestly tell myself these are the necessities.
Are these souvenirs of my life, small tangible memories, or merely the result of overconsumption? Why do I put so much weight and value on these? They provide momentary comfort and reassurance in an uncertain world, but this has no recognition to the abundant life I have been given.
At the heart of our consumption is comfort. Who doesn’t love flipping the pages of a new book or magazine, listening to their band’s newest album, wearing a shirt for the first time, but do we want to continue seeking value and purpose in the items we carry? No, we all have come to the point of realization that the new iPad, jeans or Nikes will not have a lasting impact. The joy they bring is temporal, fading in an instant.
Excess is ingrained in our culture. We are encouraged to buy the newest, the fastest, the greatest, regardless of the state of the one we own. This mantra translates into the most basic parts of our lives.
What would it be to live lightly? Ironically, the thing that tipped me over the edge this past week, causing my reflections, was the coffee mug I carry to keep from wasting a paper cup, plastic lid and cardboard sleeve every time I indulge in my caffeine fix. In an attempt to simplify my life, I found myself juggling one too many items. Truthfully, a solution would be ceasing to drink coffee, which is itself an act of frivolity, but to be honest this is a point I am not ready to forgo – it’s just drip, right? Even in this moment of focus I so easily justify the decisions I make.
We have made it far too easy for ourselves to dismiss our irresponsibility. We can no longer turn our eyes from the realities of the consequences of our actions. How many times have we been in Sodexo, tried a meal, and gone back for a second attempt without finishing the first? How many people could we feed on our waste? While we can’t immediately feed the hungry with the displeasing entrée, do we just use this to excuse our extravagance?
I propose we seek to make slow gradual changes, beginning with thoughtfulness. We must stop making careless decisions based on convenience or comfort. Rather, we must pause and consider the ramifications of our actions beyond today or tomorrow, engaging in the gradual process of pruning the superfluity of our lives, by buying one less thing, finding better uses for the things we have and discovering the ways in which we can better, more fully use our resources. We need to be more cautious about the things that we buy, the things that we keep and the things that we waste. We are living lives of privilege and far too often we do not recognize this.
A favorite underlying Whitworth question, “What is your vocation?” may better be phrased, “What are we doing with what we have been given?”
I believe we have all been uniquely blessed with gifts and abilities, with overly abundant resources and an environment designed to nurture them. We should sincerely focus our efforts on using these to bless others. Our college experiences would be markedly different if we were constantly striving to meet the needs of those around us.
This does not need to be an immediate life-altering change; rather, a shift in focus is needed. Perhaps instead of treating myself to coffee this week, I could bring a cup to a friend, or collect the change and donate it to one of the many worthy causes my peers are seeking to support. It is likely that, in striving to bless others, we will come to better know our passions and gifts, and through this be more fully suited to determine our place in the world after Whitworth.