Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Garage Sale: What You Learn When You Let Go of Stuff

We scoured the house for outgrown, outdated, and unneeded stuff.  We borrowed spare folding tables from our neighbors.  We hung signs in conspicuous locations.  And since we built it, people came.

When you think about it, a garage sale is comprised of stuff that you can live without, but you hope others can't.

We sale began at 8:00 in the morning.  A few diehards arrived at 7:40.  Since Joel and I had sorted and tagged merchandise the night prior to the sale while repeating the mantra price to sell, price to sell, I wasn't opposed to the occasional bargainer.  Selling stuff, I reminded myself, was superior to packing up stuff at the end of the weekend.

Yet, there were a few moments when I watched a customer inspect an object -- an object that I purposefully had designated for the sale, nonetheless -- and waffled.  As one woman turned over a small outdoor lantern in her hands, I wanted to take it back.  That's a mistake; it's not for sale, flashed in my thoughts, but never out of my mouth.  She handed me a couple dollars.  I watched her walk down the driveway, the lantern in her hand.  Seller's regret.

It's only stuff, I told myself.

Only stuff.

I think about stuff a lot.  Always on a quest to organize, I dislike having too much stuff around.  I've never been one for knicknacks or extraneous decoration.  I war against clutter and excess.  One morning after a holiday meal, I arranged the leftover side dishes in the refrigerator and grew discontent.  Our guests were leaving, which meant that my family alone would tackle the leftovers.  Too much.  We'd never be able to eat that much before it spoiled.

I hated that.  On that day, I realized something about myself.  Having too much stresses me out.

The other week I read a passage, one I had read dozens of times before, yet it stood out to me:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).

As someone who grew up in a middle-class suburban family -- and someone who's raising a family in the same fashion -- I've never known what it is to be hungry, so to speak.  My children certainly don't get everything they want, but we are so blessed to have everything we need.

Given this, we're in the category of living in plenty.  I've always assumed that there's a secret to being content during times of lack, but the verse suggests that there's also a secret to contentment during plenty.  (Think about it.  If contentment was a natural byproduct of plenty, then many more people would be content.)

So, what's the secret?

It's not about stuff.  Give me any advertisement or catalog and I'll suddenly want products that I didn't even know existed a minute before.  (Has this ever happened to you?)  My oldest daughter may have a dozen Zoobles at home, but when she spots a new one in the toy aisle I can read her expression before she even speaks: I want that.

We always can want more.

I've discovered that I'm most content when we live generously.  There have been times when I've regretted being stingy, and there have been times when I've regretted purchases.  But I've never regretted generosity.  Not once.

I think that's part of the secret of living in plenty: realizing how much you have and giving without holding back.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my all-time favorite books, Jem and Scout watched Mrs. Dubose battle her morphine addiction so that she wouldn't be beholden to anyone or anything when she died.  That phrase, "beholden to nothing," flitted across my consciousness when the woman left with my lantern.

I don't need to be beholden to possessions.

After all, it's only stuff, right?

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8 comments:

  1. I think we all feel a little better without so much stuff cluttering our homes (and our minds).
    Great post!

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  2. Beautifullly written, as always. I needed to read this today. Thank you!

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  3. I need to get rid of the stuff in my life that I'm hanging onto. I needed this today - thanks!

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  4. Thank you for sharing! That was a great encouragement!

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  5. Great post! We gave up having garage sales years ago, after someone tried to talk me down from a dime to a nickel. Now we let our boys do them in lieu of lemonade stands, as long as they do all the work...

    -Joe
    http://cherokeeusa.com/blog/
    (Giving away 10 AAA memberships this week...)

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  6. What a great post! You know about my struggles with clutter! You are fighting the good fight!

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  7. Thanks for the comments, all! It does feel like a fight to keep on top of things, doesn't it? A friend reminded me that finding peace even in the midst of the clutter is important, too. ;)

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  8. Love the verse! What a thought-provoking post! Thank you!!

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