The Worth of Material Wealth

Recent experiences have made me rethink the value of material possessions.


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Most of us spend most of our lives surrounded by manufactured goods. Very few items in our households, for example, did not come from a factory. The quality of consumer products is astonishingly high, thanks to advances in manufacturing processes. Automation and mass production have made these products temptingly affordable. Indeed, our lifestyles are utterly dependent on all the stuff we perceive as necessities. Likewise, in many cases, our lifestyles are utterly devoted to all the stuff we crave as niceties, too. 

Lately, I’ve come to realize that I may own too much stuff, and that my stuff may own too much of me. It’s probably a mild case of materialism, given that my means are relatively modest and I have little lust for the lavish. Yet my attachment to these goods is strong, and that is not good. To be possessed by possessions is a threat to psychic and spiritual freedom. 

I have re-evaluated the worth of my things and developed a more balanced perspective. Interestingly, it has led me to a new appreciation for what is genuinely good in material goods. This in turn, has reaffirmed my respect for the positive contribution manufacturing makes. 

The catalyst for this change is a common experience: an aging parent leaves behind a house full of furniture, appliances, gadgets, collectibles and all kinds of things that must be disposed of. My brothers and I faced this situation recently when our mother entered a nursing home. Although Mom was not a pack rat or a hoarder, she was an accumulator. She had a lot of stuff. Her house sold quickly; we had little time to divide up and clear out its contents. The process was stressful, even painful, at times. 

I learned from it. Here are some of the lessons I’m applying to my own accumulation of stuff: 

Deal with it now. Don’t let it become a burden that falls on others, especially those you love. 

Be free to let it go. Let it go and be free. When it’s gone, forget it and don’t regret it.

There’s a fine line between treasure and trash. Recognizing that line is an act of self-discernment. 

Save mementos sparingly. A few reminders do the most to enrich the joy of pleasant memories. 

Love certain “treasures” enough to give them away. Donating them to charities is a charity to yourself. 

Things take up space. Taking up space ultimately costs time and money. Clutter is inherently wasteful. Attics and basements are traps. 

Ownership involves responsibility. Just as it is bad to care too much for worldy goods, not taking care of them properly is also bad. 

The world is good and it’s good to be in the world for the time we have. The human spirit is naturally creative. It’s good to create good things for the world. Factories, art studios and the home workshop all share in this blessing. 

Don’t hold good things too dearly. Other loves are more important—most of all, love for others.