The best things in life aren’t things

Last month I spent a day with a friend attacking the home of a hoarder who lives in another area of Iowa.

Never have I had such an experience. It was a day of hard labor, of course, as we sorted through piles and piles of clothes and shoes of every description, pillows and tired silk flower arrangements, supplements and soaps, lotions and fingernail polishes. We discovered women’s hats in various places and soon had 60 of them stacked on a bench. There were books to organize and umbrellas to corral.

Then things went into big garbage bags that were hauled to the recycle bin or the Goodwill store down the street. By the time the day ended, we had hauled away four carloads that were so packed whoever was in the passenger seat held a box or two on the way. And it looked like we’d hardly made a dent at the house.

What did I take away from that day (besides weariness and knowing that my friend appreciated my help)? I understood once again that things are just things. Having more things doesn’t make you better or smarter or more popular or even more loveable. Because in the end what really counts is the people in your life and your relationships. It doesn’t matter if you are wearing the right clothes or driving the best car or owning the biggest boat.

Things don’t fill you up or give you peace. I’ve long had the theory that the reason so many folks are intent on having so many possessions is to make up for real substance that’s missing in their lives. And often it can take them a very long time to figure out that you can’t buy your way to happiness or true contentment. That could be one reason why the average credit card balance in the U.S. is now $7,122.

At my Bible study this week, the question was: “What is your most prized possession?” No answer from anyone around the table as they pondered the question. Finally there was an answer, which went something like this: “Nothing means more to me than my family. I do have a lot of stuff, but none of it is more important than my family.”

And you know, everyone there agreed with her, these women in their 50s and 60s who have all had plenty of time to acquire stuff through the years. “I have so much stuff,” someone said. “Why do we do that to ourselves?”

It could be that we spend the first half of our lives acquiring what we want, and the second half of our lives wondering what to do with it all.

The best things in life aren’t things.