Are We Stuffed With Stuff?

By Mark A. Kellner

Can you ever have too much stuff? For Ryan Cassata, a 24-year-old actor and singer-songwriter in Los Angeles, it’s becoming a reality. According to an article in The Atlantic magazine, Cassata, among millions of others, happily clicks away and orders gear from Amazon.com, which in 1999 patented a “one-click” ordering system that did away with the need to enter your address and payment information with every order—or to give much thought about what you’re purchasing.

The article’s conclusion: “Online shopping and cheap prices are turning Americans into hoarders.” Among other bits of evidence is the fact that in the last twenty years, the number of self-storage units in the United States has doubled, from 26,000 to 52,000.

Atlantic writer Alana Semuels—who admitted her own struggle with buying items she didn’t really need and also didn’t return for refunds—noted that all this buying has affected the kind of homes in which many of us live: “At the same time we are amassing all this stuff, Americans are taking up more space. Last year, the average size of a single-family house in America was 2,426 square feet, a 23 percent increase in size from two decades ago, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.”

Even among those who don’t yet own a home, who haven’t even finished college in some cases, the buying binge has become a serious problem.

“The 16,000 students who live in dorms at Michigan State University left behind 147,946 pounds of goods like clothing, towels, and appliances when they moved out this year, a 40 percent increase from 2016, according to Kat Cooper, a [university] spokeswoman,” the Atlantic noted. In 2018, cleaners found a hoard of unopened items. They “collected 900 pounds of personal-care items and 4,000 pounds of nonperishable food items to donate” to local charities.

There’s even a psychological aspect to this surge in online shopping. Citing a Harvard Business Review article, the Atlantic piece quotes Harvard Medical School neurosurgery professor Ann-Christine Duhaime: “As a general rule, your brain tweaks you to want more, more, more—indeed, more than those around you—both of ‘stuff’ and of stimulation and novelty—because that helped you survive in the distant past of brain evolution. But at its extreme, this leads to addiction—to substances, gambling, internet games, even shopping.”

These developments have attracted the attention of people outside the realm of social sciences. Writing at Breakpoint.org, commentators Eric Metaxas and Stan Guthrie noted, “C.S. Lewis once said, ‘The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.’ In today’s prosperous America, we’ve made hoarding just as easy, and the danger to our souls is just as real.”


The Rich Fool

The Breakpoint commentators noted the parable of the “rich fool” found in Luke 12:16–21. This landowner was doing so well, his crops were so great, that he razed his old barns and built new, larger ones. Believing he had a lifetime of leisure ahead, the Lord told the man his life would be required that night, asking “then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Jesus wraps up this story with a succinct interpretation: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” In other words, if you make sure you have everything you need, or want, and don’t share with the Lord’s work, you’ll experience the same fate as the foolish rich man of whom Jesus spoke.

Earlier this year, Pastor Doug Batchelor taught a Sabbath School Study Hour on “The Influence of Materialism” that answers key questions about “how much is enough” and how should Christians live to both meet their family’s needs and properly serve God. You’ll also want to check out our free Bible lessons on the “Windows of Heaven,” which teaches about God’s way of giving, and “In God We Trust?”, which offers further biblical counsel you don't want to miss!

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