Four Myths of American Suburban Life ~ #3


Myth 3: The acquisition of stuff is how you gain stature in your community and contentment in your home.








(image via Code Poet)

So I’ve been reading some significant books this summer.

By significant, I mean there are dogged eared pages galore.

Thank you, Jen Hatmaker, for completely obliterating existence as I know it in the Blair abode. If simplifying, sorting and tossing were Olympic sports, you would be watching me on TV this week, instead of the Ryan Lochte hotness and awesome female Wonder Twin powers, Misty and Jen. I am on a mission, friends, (see related post)…I’m kickin’ some consumerism tail and takin’ names.

Jen Hatmaker is the modern Christian female’s answer to the question about authenticity in the church, and a personal hero of mine. In her latest book, “Seven”, Jen’s family identified seven areas of excess and in seven months fought against “modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence”. This woman makes me think—seriously think—about our own family ways and I feel a surge well up from deep down that has been festering like an active volcano with an eruption plan. I’ve been surveying the landscape in my own little community, and I’m getting an uneasy (even queasy) feeling.

It seems that many people numb themselves with stuff.

By numbing, I mean finding comfort and temporary joy in acquiring things (a boat/fancier car/club memberships/a TV in every room/Imelda Marcos shoe collection/etc) instead of facing the music on what is missing or present (i.e., the elephant in the living room). The gamut of American dysfunction comes in many forms, but what I’ve seen swirling around me is loveless marriages, depression, spoiled children, drug and alcohol dependency, debt, insecurity and loneliness. Not to get all “Why are we in this hand basket and where are we going?” on you, but I’m guessing if it’s that visible in my own small corner of the world, it’s running like rampant rats in all areas.  It seems that the rug where all the ick is being swept is beginning to bulge and buckle. At some point the ick needs to be dealt with or it will wedge itself deep into the grooves. A trip to Europe and a new motorcycle will never be enough to patch a major hole that starts to unravel in the family fabric.

Where do we get these messages that stuff will pave the way to a satisfying existence? And why do so many folks practice score keeping when it comes to said stuff? Pulling up in the school drop-off zone in a Texas-sized SUV with more chrome than an appliance store may create a puffed up “I totally rock this” feeling, but it doesn’t make the man (or woman).

We know this, don’t we?

Somehow the mom cliché’ “If your friend jumps off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?” comes to mind with such unnecessary purchases. Sleeping under a wool debt blanket eventually causes one to suffocate…hence the disaster we’ve been recovering from in what appears to be a society of broken hearts and wallets.

I am guilty.  I do know “thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s vintage pink travel trailer”, but I couldn’t sleep until we found the ‘77 airstream we’ve been restoring. It wasn’t necessary, of course, but I did have intentions of family bonding and travel adventures when we pulled it into the driveway…you know…next to all the other stuff in the garage. What I have been practicing this summer is restraint.  Not that I’m expecting a standing O here, but I did manage to avoid making purchases at a certain department store’s huge sale and a certain vintage barn sale here in my town. Yeah..yay for me…there are children in Kenya who don’t eat for days—I know this because I’ve been working on a prayer poster for a Kenyan school for the past two weeks. Their faces stare at me on my screen, asking me to examine where my loyalties lie and what I’m going to do about it. The fundraiser we’re hosting is great, but it has to go beyond one night of money-raising. It has to slip under my daily habitual living like a pea under a pile of mattresses and eventually become un-ignorable.

First, there is purging.

If you walked past my house in the past month you would be in danger of being nailed by jeans and outgrown shoes flung out of windows.  I actually brought coffee to my new friends at the Goodwill drop-off station. I’ve since learned (thank you, Ms. Hatmaker) that purposeful giving is far more effective for the recipients, and not to mention, happier for the giver. The girls and I have a Dr. Seuss-looking mile high pile of kids’ books and women’s clothes that are heading to a local shelter. The best part of this process is that my children actually see where their discarded, sometimes unused, items have value.  It’s sickening how much gear has been placed in the “don’t want this anymore” section of our utility room dropping zone. We’re not a buy-a-Hummer-love-me-some-bling family, but we have an insane amount of stuff that seems to multiply like amorous rabbits. Rather than my first inclination to become a surly cat-loving recluse and never leave the house again, I’ve decided to put the kibash on purchasing anything that isn’t necessary for awhile. For my youngest, the necessity of uber-fancy running shoes from a certain coveted shoe company is not up for debate—thus begins the negotiations of how much she’s willing to contribute. The “We’ll put in a reasonable amount of  $_________ towards this item and you will need to come up with  $________” seems to decrease the perceived value of spendy (read: ridiculously overpriced, cheaply made) foot coverings.

That’s another thing: sense of entitlement.

I’m not just referring to overindulged kidlets, either. Americans in general—we seem to feel that we deserve certain things (even if they live outside of the budget). In the past month I have found tremendous success with pitching my glossies and curbing TV watching and blog reading. Fancy shmancy décor magazines and design blogs give me the gimmees…ugly little buggers that create a false sense of “if I don’t buy this rug, I may never complete the shang-ri-la that is my well decorated home”. It’s embarrassing, actually– something I don’t even feel comfortable admitting. I know some of you lovelies are with me on this. The gimmees wrestle common sense with an aggressive take-down move that borders on violent. Banishing the visuals of what I’m missing seems to take care of wanting unnecessary things.  Voila’…we’ll see how long it holds out.

I’ve pretty much been having a Come to Jesus meeting (picture me driving…Jesus sitting in the passenger seat with a patient yet exasperated look on his face) about how these changes are going to stick. Speaking of which, the bible has some very profound, succinct things to say about living simply. I’ve been immersed in this page-turner as well lately (love The Message version) and it makes me want to serve more, acquire less, thus my rambling Quest for Less series in blogdom. I’ve had several people (including one lovely MPG reader named Laura—so nice to meet you at Barn House!) feelin’ it too. ‘Wanting so much to make these days count with healthy hearts living in simplified homes…people on a quest to make a difference and have experiences together that shape a content, satisfying existence. No need for numbing because there is living in a consistent joyful state.

I’m not going militant with a decision to own only 100 things  (good grief, how do people do that?) or moving to a small dwelling with an aluminum roof in the mission field, but I can tell that the Tide of Change has come in and I’m up to my knees in it.  I’m willing to go completely under, even if it gets a little chilly.

How about you? What is your heart crying out for these days?


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6 Responses to Four Myths of American Suburban Life ~ #3

  1. Tere says:

    Wow. What a great post….I love when you make me think, think hard. I still have a lot of purging to do, and this post is inspiring me to take some action. Can’t wait to read 7 and all the happy links you sent my way. xoxo tere

  2. Sonnet Gal says:

    hmmm….causing me to pondering a few important areas of my life the last few days of my summer, Lara…good stuff! Added 7 to my book list and it’s interesting to note that 7 is the number of perfection in the Bible…hmmm…something else to ponder.

  3. Karen says:

    I have spent a while doing this same thing. Less is more. Clutter and stuff creates stress. I held on to things I thought I would use one day and held on to projects I thought I would do. I had a big garage sale and donated the rest. I have minimal clothes and shoes. I have vowed to make gifts for people instead of buying them. Congrats to you for doing this. It all reminds me of the site thestoryofstuff. A good book to read too is “garbageland”.

  4. rene says:

    I am enjoying your series…very thought-provoking. I am intrigued by the simplicity movement…I want to read *7* but am a bit afraid to…thanks for sharing your journey with us.

  5. marci says:

    i just found you through…somewhere…and now i know why! i needed this…thanks for sharing it and i will be purchasing that book.:D

  6. Christie says:

    What is humbling is to find out how much I am bothered by a less-than-desirable rental house. I thought I was totally able to let go of “stuff” (that is pride thinking I was above it all) but when I really let go of pretty floors and new bathrooms, it was (is) embarrassingly hard. I’m still figuring out what I need to learn!

    I’m a new reader here from FlowerPatchFarmgirl’s blogroll … I’m also a PNW girl … central Oregon. When I clicked over here, I recognized the Oregon coast right away. :)

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