A Hundred Things

I recently came across a review of a book written by someone who decided, probably for reasons other than to write a book, to pare down her possessions to a hundred. I haven’t read the book, and I imagine that the 200-pack of Q-tips in her bathroom likely didn’t end the whole project, but I was intrigued.

I’m one of those people who prefers close, tight spaces; I love living in the little cottage Jeff’s great-uncle built in 1941 and especially enjoy the fact that it’s half the size of our former house on Ridgeview Drive. We didn’t need that much space and probably don’t even need this much. The basement is full of stuff, and with the exception of each of the kids’ trunks, wherein kindergarten artwork, birthday cards and stuffed animals are buried, I would be fine, I think, if it were all carted out. I suppose there’s an argument to be made for having enough luggage and extra blankets, and I’d rather keep the cats’ litter boxes down there than up here, but all in all, I’m happier with fewer things and less space. I could live in an RV with no trouble at all, if it had bookshelves.

For someone who still can’t parallel park, driving it would be something different, but that’s a post for another day.

Anyway, the idea of having a hundred or fewer possessions has really tugged at my heart, and while I doubt that I’ll ever hit that number — the heavily discounted set of flatware I just bought kind of makes that unlikely — I have been trying to explore my imaginary inventory of Things I Own and Value, and I find that it’s yielded some real spiritual benefit. I think the Lord is using this to discipline me in a couple of ways. One, I realize that I seek security in being “smart enough” and well-prepared enough to contend for the faith. That, of course, requires that I hold on to every possible book I’ve ever had on Biblical feminism; post-millennialism, Calvinism, and Reconstructionism; eschatology; and the “seamless garment” ethic, as well as Bibles, Bible commentaries, and other reference books (including books that argue against some of my beliefs). My sons joke that I’m single-handedly responsible for the Bible’s position as a perennial bestseller, and it’s true that if two translations are good for the student of Scripture, seven, plus one in Spanish, are better. It’s great to be educated and prepared, but that’s not where my sense of well-being should come from.

I also realize that I’ve bought in to, or relied on, things I learned that have no basis in fact or reality. For example, even at 48, I’m loath to leave the house wearing brown shoes and carrying a black purse. Like washing my hands before cooking or coughing into my sleeve, only not as grounded in common sense, it’s one of those things I learned from my mother, for whom an unmatched ensemble was an invitation to unfettered critical comment. It’s more than a little absurd that someone who wears little or no makeup, maintains the easiest possible hairstyle, and whose wardrobe consists primarily of jeans and sweaters, should concern herself with matching accessories. Even now, I could easily eliminate my purse inventory to two: One brown-with-black trim, another black-with-brown trim. So do I need both brown AND black casual shoes? What about boots for our Idaho winters? Do I get points for having only one pair of dress shoes — which cost $19.99 when I bought them a decade ago? Non-athlete that I am, do I really need athletic shoes? Or are they a “two-fer,” satisfying the requirements of any purse I carry? Should I just carry my stuff in a blue denim satchel to match the jeans I wear 98 percent of the time?

And do I really need to carry four pens, a highlighter, a pencil, a small bag with every credit card I own with all of the insurance cards and “buyers’ club” memberships, plus my wallet, checkbook, cell phone and compact? Will I be forced some day at gunpoint to produce my kids’ photos, a picture of my niece, friends from Canada, my best friend C., and a group shot of tiny little people I barely recognize, but who must be worthy of an esteemed share of my wallet-sized photo space? What about clothes? I’m no longer on the school board, nor am I in pulpit ministry; should I toss out my nice wardrobe, or keep it just in case?

I love to cook and could easily and convincingly argue that I need the full 10-piece set of stainless pots and pans I’ve acquired — but do I? Is my kitchen inventory practical, or is it really just a sign of laziness (why re-wash something when I can just reach for another?) Warm hospitality requires that I have more than four plates, bowls, and mugs; I’m not aware that it requires that they all match, nor that they be presented chip-free. Then we have the dogs, for whom an unlimited supply of rawhide and kibble more than satisfies, but who often end up with toys and other accouterments they neither need nor appreciate. (If Georgia brought to the door some disgusting, dried piece of dead cow, I’d gag. Shrink-wrap it and charge me a couple of bucks, and I’m all over it).

I’m committed to exploring my own “List of 100,” and it’ll be interesting to see what comes up. I know that asking these questions doesn’t exalt me as one of the pious ascetics you’ll ever meet, nor does it condemn me, necessarily, as one of the more acquisitive affluent. The danger, though, is far more likely to take the form of the latter than the former, and I’m eager to work through not just a list of things, but a fearless moral inventory that considers what material things I’m attached to and why.

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