A Place for My Stuff


That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there. That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff!
—George Carlin

It’s been probably 25 years since I saw George Carlin on The Tonight Show do his “A Place for My Stuff” routine. And when your stuff goes bad, you find another place for it...Carson’s audience laughed hysterically, but I don’t think I laughed once. Anyone who knows me know that I spend a lot of time yucking it up, but I didn’t that night because I realized that not only was Carlin right, but he was devastatingly so. The whole routine (only a tiny portion reproduced here) cut me to the quick.

Last week, a reader surmised that I lived modestly. I don’t. I live in America. Every American reading this is in the top two or three percent of wealthiest people in the world. None of us can say we live modestly.

Okay, modestly in relation to other Americans, perhaps. But even that doesn’t mean all that much when you live in a nation geared to consumption.

The Bible has something to say about that:

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
—Luke 12:16-21

I don’t know about you, but a considerable amount of my daily routine centers around my stuff. Our washing machine broke down Thursday, and it took me the better part of four hours to deal with my hopeless attempts at fixing it, followed by the inevitable call to the service center to place a service call that will cost nearly half what I paid for the washer. Some people out there would throw the seven-year-old appliance away, but I don’t want to play into that consumer game. Call me a fool, but part of being a good steward of both the things God has given me and the earth that He told me to care for is to resist leaving a trail of refuse behind me.

I tend to use things until they fall to pieces. My newest pair of casual or dress shoes is seven years old. As I type, I’m wearing the clothes I wore to church Sunday morning: eight-year-old shirt, twelve-year-old pants, fifteen-year-old socks, and eleven-year-old shoes and sweater. Needless to say, I don’t keep up with the fashion trends.

My wife’s car pushes eight, while my truck verges on fifteen. My truck had to go in the shop because a sensor said the fuel mixture was off; the drop-off in mileage proves it. The mechanic hasn’t had much luck getting the part, so the handwriting may be on the wall. I don’t know. The rest of the truck is as solid as the day I bought it.

We don’t go on vacations. My wife and I bought four oak chairs for our dining room—that accounts for all the furniture we’ve purchased as a married couple. And while our sleeper sofa needs reupholstering, we don’t lack for furniture.

In fact, we don’t lack for anything when it comes down to it. We have more in one room of our house than most of the rest of the world has in the entirety of whatever dwelling it is they live in.

And for all that stuff, we spend countless hours and dollars maintaining, insuring, and protecting. Sometimes I think there has to be a better way to live.

I think God has us in a time of pruning. I don’t know why I need all the things we have. Yet I also know many people would look at us and turn up their noses at how little we have comparatively. I know I see the newspaper ads and hear people talking about this expensive bauble and that, but little of that stuff holds any fascination for me.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week comparing a $100 sweater to one costing ten times as much. Despite the fact that almost everyone thought the $1000 sweater more chic, the Journal still asked the realistic question, “But is it worth $900 more?”

Meanwhile, I’m asking the even crazier question: “Who buys sweaters that cost a hundred dollars?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for buying quality. The appliances in my house are all Kenmore Elite (including the failed washer, sad to say) because at one time the extra money was worth it in terms of quality and longevity. My mother’s high-end Kenmore washer lasted thirty years. Something tells me I won’t get that from these appliances. (I’ll try to stay positive.)

Still, even when we spend more on quality, we still spend too much. We duplicate what our neighbors have instead of sharing with them. We don’t look out for our neighbor in need because it means we would have less money to buy more stuff for ourselves. We expect people to take care of their own because they have their own stuff and we have ours and never the twain shall meet, as they say.

But what if we Christians stopped with all the crazed consumption? Perhaps instead of twenty polo shirts, what if we had two? We could spend a little bit more for better quality and perhaps even buy American once in awhile. But most of all, we could learn to live on less, not because the economy stinks, but because Jesus gave everything, even His own life, so that we could get the focus off ourselves and onto others.

I guarantee you, right now, you know a family that had a medical emergency they cannot pay for and that emergency is crippling them, and not just in the pocketbook. I guarantee you, right now, there’s a family in your church with parents wondering where the next meal’s coming from. I guarantee you, right now, you know a bright kid who may never make it to college because they simply can’t afford to go. I guarantee you, right now, you know a family ready to lose their modest home because of job loss.

I can’t help but think that, for many of us, the enveloping spiritual malaise we feel may have a direct connection to being overwhelmed by all our stuff. Perhaps if we did a better job living with less, giving away our excess, and considering others better than ourselves, then maybe, just maybe, we’d feel that spiritual fire in the belly again.

We can’t take it with us. Better to give it away or forgo it altogether than have our souls crushed beneath a pile of stuff. I suspect that in saying no to accumulation, we can say yes more often to those real needs we encounter every day in the lives of the people we meet.

Maybe then we’ll find our coffers here pleasantly small and our treasure in heaven immense.


A sidenote: From time to time, I receive e-mails from people who wish to send me money as a token of gratitude for what gets posted here at Cerulean Sanctum. I appreciate those gestures and the kindness of the people involved. This blog doesn’t exist to generate money, nor do I wish to sell out to corporate interests that would alter the kind of posts you might read here. All that is by plan.

While I do appreciate that some folks would like to support me monetarily, I have two much better ways you can help:

Take whatever money you designated to send and instead spend it on a needy person you know. My wife and I know many people who have no health insurance, who are either burdened by outstanding medical debt or who cannot afford the basic medical care they need. We know people like that, so we’re sure you know someone, too. They need that money desperately. Find their address and send it to them anonymously, if possible.

On that note, just this weekend, the son of dear friends of ours was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes after a harrowing weekend in which he came close to dying. The family works with the Hispanic community in our area and operates a small ministry. An emergency room visit, intensive care, and a lengthy stay in the hospital will no doubt tap out the entirety of funds this uninsured family receives in ministry support. Obviously, this is a desperate need. If you would like to help this family defray the costs of medical care for their eleven-year-old son, e-mail me and I’ll send you their info. Donations to their ministry are tax deductible.

If a reader would like to bless me, the best way to do so would be to refer freelance writing and editing work to me. That simple act costs you nothing but allows me to help someone else with the skills God gave me and earn my keep as a workman. I can also offer a blessing in return for being blessed. Because I do quality of work, I generate repeat business and good word of mouth—a gift that keeps giving. In that, one freelancing project can grow into a great tree that produces abundant fruit.

Thank you. Have a blessed week.

20 thoughts on “A Place for My Stuff

  1. Amy Heague

    Ahh stuff, quite a timely post leading up to the craziness that consumerism calls Christmas.!. Having the only ‘grandkids’ in the family in my possession, I have had numerous queries from the grandparents on what they want for Christmas. truthfully NOTHING(don’t tell my kids:-)ha!) If its more stuff I have to pick up, wash up, tidy up or fix up we don’t need it!!! How much stuff does one kid need?
    Having spent time with kids in Cambodia who have less than nothing, the great †˜to have or not to have’ stuff battle rages in me daily.
    A burden that NONE of us needs to carry & yet we all get in line & pay up (ahh the stealthy ways of the devil) . How crazy are we in the west that we buy into the new is better, more expensive = better quality (not always sadly).
    …And here I am peddling expensive textiles that I paid next to nothing for to women who can’t really afford them but what the hey, its Christmas right. I like to think I can justify it by saying ‘well I’m using fair trade practices & money the goes straight to the families who need it’ but what a messed up world we live in when I can sell a $2 bag for $25 & my buyer says “That’s cheap”…we all gotta eat, but we don’t need more stuff. My blog has an interesting challenge on it to readers if you are interested…
    Sorry to ramble, but you always give me lots to think about & have an amazing ability to tap into what’s on my mind today.
    Thanks Dan

    • Amy,

      My son prefers board and card games over toys. We’re a gaming family, so that’s good. He also likes science. His Christmas will be mostly games and science. I don’t mind buying either of those two items. The games build connections to other people and the science stimulates his mind.

      But I agree. How much does one kid need? My son and I go geocaching and the little “treasure boxes” in that sport satisfy his need to have cheap, small toys.

      I don’t mind individuals with small businesses who are trying to carve out a niche through handmade items. That’s the way it should be. The handmade stuff satisfies buying American and is usually well made, too. Plus it directly supports the small entrepreneur. I like that.


  2. Dave Block

    I’m struggling with this area. I would be content without spending much on decorations, gardening, going out to eat, vacations, and so on. My wife is at a different place. I’m supposed to be a leader in the family but not a dictator. And what do I do with the fact that our bathroom utterly depresses her with its (inherited from the prior homeowner) ugliness every time she sets foot in it and wants to totally redo it, which would cost several thousand dollars? And for Christmas, I’d be content with very little gift-wise, and she and her family make a big deal out of gift-giving, plus she expects to give gifts to friends, missionaries, etc. It’s not out of greed, but the joy of the exchange. And it really adds up. I’m not sure how to strike a balance in all of this.

    • Dave,

      I think yours is the default male position!

      As to the bedroom, a fresh coat of paint can do wonders and isn’t that expensive. That usually works, though I know a difficult-to-match carpeting makes for problems.

      I grew up in a family that received nearly everything we’d get for the year at Christmas. If it was April, Mom would still be telling us, “Put it on your Christmas list.” As a result, our Christmases were enormous. My wife’s family spread things out and downplayed Christmas. Since my parents died, we spend all our Christmases with my wife’s family and it’s not the same for me. Your wife and I share the same viewpoint. I really enjoy picking out gifts for others; that’s one of the ways I show love. I think I got that tendency from my mother. Cutting back on Christmas thwarts my ability to show love. So I can see how that can be an issue.

  3. I have a relative who is a bit of a packrat. Lately I’ve been helping him sell his stuff on eBay, but most of it won’t even sell. He’s a good man, but it must be a hard thing for him to accept that all of the things he’s collected over the years ended up having no worth, especially when it’s been his hope that they would gain in value over the years. At least he’s finally doing the right thing now.

    For a long while I’ve adopted a minimalist view about possessions, partly because I want to travel and live my life on the road as a nomad. My philosophy is that we should never own more than what we can fit into our cars (with the possible exception of furniture of course) 😉

    Personally I’ve been regularly working to reduce everything I own in this world and replace them with something more mobile (for instance dropping my desktop PC and keeping a laptop instead). With the exception of clothes, I think I can now fit everything I have (or want to keep) into just two boxes. Should I ever need to move, it’d take me all of 15 minutes to get my stuff in the car and then FLY outta there. That’s true freedom. To me, possessions tend to be more of a burden than a blessing. The less I have the better.

    • Lincoln,

      Some guy got a house out of starting out trading a single, red paperclip. He traded up on everything he received in his sales on eBay. Had to start out with a lot of seemingly worthless stuff.

      Your relative may want to try other venues. I’ve only ever bought one thing on eBay and it was a hassle. I don’t buy on eBay anymore for that reason. The seller had an exceedingly rare item that I had been looking for for years. I bid a little more than the reserve price and no one else bid. He then got cold feet about selling it. Took me three months to finally get it. Had to report the guy to eBay.

      I hear you on the few items thing. I’d love to sell off half of what we own. Not everyone in the family agrees with my stance! 😉

  4. David Riggins

    In many places of the world, the majority of a families income goes towards food. In the US, the average is 10% of annual income, and we eat too much. If the necessities of life are only shelter, clothing and food, then how have we, who are supposed to be focused on the things of God and not this world, become so immersed in the desire for comfort?

    Much of our attitude is simply comparative: We don’t know any better. A house is a house is a house, right? It is until you’ve been homeless, or lived in a mud and waddle hut, or stayed at the Biltmore. Food is food, until you’ve eaten prime rib with truffle sauce, washed down with a fine burgundy. Or filled your empty belly with worm-ridden corn meal.

    We are uncomfortable with extremes, and yet, without even knowing it, the majority of Americans live at the opposite end of an extreme disparity of resources, freedom, and justice from the rest of the world. If we are poor, it is in comparison with our economy. But how could it be otherwise? I could live on $200 a month in many countries in the world, and live well, compared with the others in that country. But here in the US? That $200 would have to be multiplied 10 times to reach purchasing power parity. If I took my current income to the third world, I could live like a king. Here, I’m lower middle class, and if I believe the economists, getting lower every year.

    It’s not the income, or the outflow, but the attitude with which it is embraced. “I am content”, to a Christian, has nothing to do with income, but everything to do with the attitude of the believer towards his King. Contentment overcomes the confusion over gift-giving, and receiving. It paints a bathroom in colors of favor, simply because the contentment comes from a relationship with God and not the fixtures. Contentment breaks down the desire to have, and turns it into a desire to serve, simply by rearranging the focus of our existence. We attain it by reminding ourselves of the grace extended to us, forgetting what is behind us; the grinding competition and comparison which is the lot of the “old” man.

    It isn’t magic; we need reminders every day. That’s what the fellowship of believers is for. But contentment does wonders, especially in this time of year, when “peace on earth” is in such short supply, in good part because of the lack of understanding of what Christmas means. We long to fill our stockings, or the stockings of our loved ones, with all the wishes they have. But we can’t, and so are discontent. “You do not have because you do not ask, and when you ask, you ask for the wrong things.” Eternity with God is the important gift, and it’s already been given. A relationship with God should be our desire, but it seems so distant when the iPod is right here. Sigh. Oh wretched man that I am, who will release me from this…this constant wanting?

  5. jfn

    Great Post Dan!
    You may have seen this before, but this list has intrigued me, and has served as an eye opener for some in my congregation. It was shared by a missionary during one of his visits with us.

    If you own just one Bible, you are abundantly blessed. One- third of the world does not have access to even one..
    If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive the week.
    If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people around the world..
    If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed that almost three billion people in the world.
    If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.
    If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8% of the worlds wealthy..
    If your parents are still married and alive, you are very rare, even here in North America.
    If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful, you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not..
    If you can hold someone’s hand, hug them or even touch them on the shoulder, you are blessed because you can offer God’s healing touch..
    If you prayed yesterday and today, you are in the minority because you believe in God’s willingness to hear and answer prayer..

  6. Thank you for this post. And I must say that I am gonna quote this someday: “We don’t look out for our neighbor in need because it means we would have less money to buy more stuff for ourselves.”

    And I laughed while reading the george carlin quote because it is funny. But I hope people get the point that we have too much “stuff”. I dont know if that’s what Carlin hoped the moral would be, but that’s what I got.

  7. As I type, I’m wearing the clothes I wore to church Sunday morning: eight-year-old shirt, twelve-year-old pants, fifteen-year-old socks, and eleven-year-old shoes and sweater. Needless to say, I don’t keep up with the fashion trends.

    Maybe so, but you certainly keep up with when you bought stuff!

    Seriously, good word, Dan. Thanks for keeping the light shining on one of the most serious and most avoided issues of discipleship in the U.S.

    • Milton,

      No major memory tools needed to recall that info…

      Shirt: Wife bought it for me for Christmas at the time we had just found out we were expecting a child.

      Pants: I bought right before we got married.

      Socks: Bought when I was working a job that kept me on my feet all day. Has support built into them. Nice socks. They’ve lasted, too!

      Shoes and Sweater: Shoes bought just after we moved to CA. Took me forever to find them–that made them memorable. Sweater was a gift from my wife for our first Christmas as marrieds. Of course, I was a doofus and questioned why she’d bought a heavy (and I mean HEAVY) wool sweater that wasn’t cheap when we now lived in a place that never got colder than 50 degrees. Of course, we’re back in Ohio and I wear that sweater a lot. So yeah, I had to apologize big time.

      Because events and people are important to me, I tend to frame my references around them. Makes remembering things easier!

  8. Normandie


    I’m reading`your posts backwards and particularly enjoyed this one. I live in a family of extremes–my siblings have quite a lot of money and spend so much time making so much money that they can’t relate to our simpler life. My daughter has now joined that elite, where her hair cuts cost $400.00. (Why would anyone spend that much money on a haircut? How can a haircut be worth what I used to make in a week? I tell you, Dan, editing never paid me that much! I should have gone to beauty school.)

    We live on a boat. When we’ve finished fixing it so that it’s ocean-worthy again (it’s an old boat), my husband will retire to a very modest SS pension because 401K income went to take care of a cancer death. We’ve pared to very little, though we still feel rich because our boat is large and lovely even in her antiquity and we have toys on board that make us comfortable. The boat’s size will enable us to take an extra outboard to give to someone in need and an extra sewing machine. These gifts will cost us only the loss of the pittance we’d get if we sold them. But they may mean a livelihood for someone in a third-world country. That humbles me. Giving out of our abundance is easy. Giving out of need is much more difficult. I pray that as we go out to minister the love of God that He’ll give us hearts that are willing to let go of stuff if someone else needs it. And not just the “extras.”

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