In one of my English classes recently, I asked my students to read an essay entitled, “Why We Keep Stuff,” by Caroline Knapp. She wrote about keeping ATM receipts, movie ticket stubs, and “cigarette” jeans from her anorexia days. Why hang on to the clutter of the past?
I can’t cast the first stone at Knapp, because I’m not without sin in this regard. Of course, when a person gets to my age, more of life can be seen in the rear view mirror than through the windshield. I look around the landscape of my house and see reminders of some person or some event. Everything has history…a story.
Knapp explained the reasoning behind keeping little seemingly insignificant things: insecurity and fear. I keep a photo of a younger version of me in front of a Dutch mural in Pella, Iowa, because my mother was with me that day. She used to take me to the annual Tulip Time parade as a child, and when I grew up, I took her there. Mom is now gone. She’s in heaven. If I put the photo out of sight, I might forget the good memories, tulip-lined floats, and my youth. I’m afraid of loss.
When I bravely moved to the largest house I’ve ever owned recently, I packed a lot of stuff…little nothings, really. Why do I care about a two-compartment coin purse with brittle leather all cracked with age? What does it matter that I own a silver quarter with the year of my birth? Silly things.
I’m reminded of how Jewish families packed their valuables in suitcases during Hitler’s reign of terror. Like sheep to the slaughter, they boarded trains to a destination unknown. Now we know. We grieve. In numerous cases, family members in recent years have been able to identify and reclaim stolen heirlooms…hardly “stuff.” We can’t forget the Holocaust. May it never happen again.
Maybe Knapp was wrong about why we keep stuff. I don’t want to forget a life well lived, but some things are best left in the past. Like Lot’s wife, looking back at “sin city” reduced her to a pillar of salt.
So, with my dimming eyes on the future, I’ll look straight ahead to a city called, “The New Jerusalem.” The only thing I’ll take with me is the righteousness of Jesus. Upon arrival, He will hand me a wedding garment, pure and white. Valuable stuff, I’ll keep forever.
Forget Knapp’s fear and insecurity. Throw it out!