In my last house, I used to have a daydream. The daydream was while I was taking the cat to the veterinarian the house burned down, taking all my possessions up in the smoke. The cat and I were fine, but everything else was gone. The problem was it was a happy daydream. I’d think, “Wouldn’t it be great if all my stuff went up in smoke and I was free of all this junk.” It sounded so liberating to just wipe the slate clean and not be burdened with all my possessions. When I moved into the house someone told me, “Just wait, and before long you’ll fill that house up with all kinds of junk.” The prediction was right; things accumulated in drawers and closets and on basement shelves. I’d tell myself I needed to get rid of some of these things, but as soon as I started sorting through it every possession felt precious. “I can’t get rid of this,” I’d think. “I bought it on that special trip and I can’t let it go.”
Abba Isidore of Pelusia said, “The desire for possessions is dangerous and terrible, knowing no satiety . . . For once it has become master it cannot be overcome.” People who study this say we experience a psychological high when we purchase things, and the feeling is addictive. We rarely acquire things for usefulness; we buy things to make us feel better or more important. Abba Isidore says once we let this desire for possessions take over, it’s hard to stop it. We become addicted to acquiring, and the acquiring may bring a brief joy, but in the end most possessions become a burden, weighing down our lives with debt and our spaces with unused junk.
I’ve written before that managing and using possessions should be seen as holy work, and it is when we do it with appreciation and respect for the usefulness of these things in our lives. What if we bought and kept things only for their usefulness? If something is not useful we pass it on or don’t acquire it in the first place. A friend, years ago, was getting married and moving to a new community. The people in her life immediately asked, “Are you going to buy a house?” Her reply was, “Maybe, but will we own the house or will the house own us?” Abba Isidore warns us from a life being owned by our possessions, where we continually acquire things but are never happy with having them.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict