How much do you really need to be happy?

It’s a question that I’ve lately been asking myself as I glance around our little apartment that is beginning to feel a little full after three Christmases of marriage and several trips home (which invariably involve our parents trying to give us some of their overabundant stuff).

I thought about it again when one of my slightly-older friends was house shopping this week and bemoaning the fact that within the budget range, none of the prospective houses’ kitchens, basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms, etc., were big enough for their three-person household (that only hopes in the future to expand to a four-person).  As I peered at the listings this friend was considering, my eyebrows inched up when I saw the square footage of these homes hitting the high 2,000s to low 3,000s–quite beyond what I’d ever lived in as child in my comfortable four-person family to my recollection. A part of me wanted to ask if their basement would need to house a boat, a secret laboratory, or part of Narnia (which I’ve read can obligingly fit into a wardrobe). (A/N: Naomi’s memory is better than mine: according to her, the house we lived in when I was a teenager reached into this range of square feet after my dad turned the attic to a master bed/bath; this was also the house that had a sitting room we hardly used except for company that I remember having the chore of dusting.  Apparently, we had space issues, too!)

In reality, my friend’s space “requirements” aren’t unusual. In fact, they’ve become the norm.

While perusing Joshua Becker’s blog, I learned that the average American home has bloated from “1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,300 square feet today” while “the average size of the household has shrunk from 3.1 to 2.5.”  I can certainly believe this, as well as his shocking statistics on the booming storage space industry that’s doubled in the past twenty years. Driving between our apartment and my grandma’s retirement community this Sunday, we passed three storage facilities. . . in four miles.

It made me think of this old parable from Luke 12:15-21:

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.’ And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

I’m ashamed to say that this scripture was not my tipping point towards examining my own life. Rather, I knew it was time to start cleaning out our 720-square foot apartment after I listened to a nifty TedxTalk over lunch that convinced me in a more concrete way that “stuff” truly does not equal happiness – that instead it actually subverts our freedom to live unfettered lives by becoming a liability in the guise of an asset. It’s all a load of stuff that we buy full-price as a novelty, which then immediately depreciates to “used” status. What underlies this phenomenon is a confusion about value, which I think has become the bane of the shrinking American middle class. Just watch us mindlessly shuffling around in Target, filling our carts and garages full of neat-looking doodads, cute clothes, entertainment, furnishings, and sporting goods that after some wear have no real worth to them, cash or otherwise. They wind up a few years later in a garage sale where we sit all day in the hot sun waiting for some other poor schmuck to buy them, chipped and worn.

Sometimes it’s good to open the garage, though. Take a minute to listen to at least the intro of this TedxTalk talk, which I mentioned above:


Did you listen for a bit?


Whether you’ve got debt like this couple did or not, the message for you to consider is the same: how much of what you own actually owns you? How much of it is a drain on your time or on your finances, since it requires you to inhabit, hence purchase, more space? Does it drain your energy, creative or spatial, by crowding you? How much of it actually suits you and serves a purpose? How much of it is just a Jabba the Hutt-sized pile of junk you’re chained to, that you drag with you from home to home out of habit? Maybe you keep it in a martyred state out of a misplaced sense of duty to someone who gave it to you who themselves outlived its usefulness?

Maybe because Ruth’s got some stuff to let go of that reminds her of her days when her dad was alive . . . Or maybe because she’s currently feeling like a bit of a nomad until she and Boaz truly settle somewhere . . . But this message hit home.

After all, really, isn’t the noise and clutter just a bunch of human junk that comforts us with our ability to buy it? Something that feeds our vanity and sense of security? Isn’t it kind of a distraction from what really matters? Something that keeps us from communing in quiet with God and nature?

Case in point, here’s a couple that gleefully gave up loads of stuff. And oddly, they seem very serene.



While going as far as they did isn’t practical, neither is my current closet. Folks, it’s time for a trip to Goodwill and some postings on Craigslist!