I have a confession to make.
I love stuff. I am obsessed with stuff. I love shopping for stuff, trying stuff on, putting stuff in my house, buying other people stuff and rejoicing in all of the glorious stuff I have. And whenever I have a brief moment in which I am content with the stuff I already have, it is quickly drowned out by the want, the desire, the absolute need for more stuff in my life.
Take, for instance, the dress I tried on the other night to wear to a wedding. It was cute, for sure, but it would have been so much cuter if I simply had the perfect necklace to go with it. Or, for example, our adorable living room bursting with love and joy, but of course it’s not actually finished. I would need another bookshelf and maybe a blanket ladder in the corner for it to be finished.
Or even consider this very moment! As I type these words, a thought lingers temptingly in the back of my mind: how much more complete my wardrobe would be if I simply had one more pair of leggings. I should go check that website.
You get the picture.
This hollow longing in my heart for more stuff becomes particularly difficult to manage during Christmas time. I know, I know… Christmas time, really? The season of giving becomes the season of wanting? How gluttonous could I be?
But I have to be honest. I am confessing right now, after all. In all transparency, honesty and reality, Christmas is a challenge for me. I love getting presents. Ever since I was a little girl waiting at the top of the stairs to see Santa Clause, I can remember this intense excitement in my heart for the gifts I would soon receive. I love passing presents out and seeing how many stack up in my little pile. And of course, I love waiting anxiously to receive all of the marvelous stuff people have given me.
Sometimes I think I never really grew up and hit the cool “adult” phase where I have self-control and don’t get ridiculously excited about presents. I look around at other “adults” and think they can’t possibly have this problem. It’s just me. I’m all alone. But then I think I can’t possibly be all alone, because for some reason every year, we still celebrate the season of stuff.
Let me paint you a picture of how much we—particularly in the U.S., although I do believe this could be applied to other cultures around the world—love stuff.
As you may have guessed, the Christmas season is the largest sales period of the year for retailers. Businesses offer sales and promotions galore in order to entice people into buying more stuff. In the United States, Christmas holiday retail sales have experienced year-over-year growth from 2000 to 2018. Which means not only do we consistently buy a lot of stuff during Christmas season, but every year we actually buy more stuff. We keep breaking our own records.
According to The Balance from a December 2018 article, “On average, shoppers expect to spend $1,007.24 each. Of that, they’ll spend $637.67 on gifts. Another $215.04 will go for food, decorations, flowers and greeting cards, They’ll also spend $154.53 to take advantage of the seasonal deals and promotions.” In fact, in 2018 holiday shopping sales increased by 4.3%, for a total spent of $717.5 billion in the United States.
But of course, Christmas season isn’t the only time we love stuff. We love stuff all of the time; Christmas just happens to be an excuse for us to buy even more stuff! One daunting study published in March 2017 by Pew found that less half (46 percent) of respondents reported making more money than they spend. This means a majority of people within the U.S. consistently spend more money than they actually make each month.
Obviously, I’m not the only one who loves stuff. Our society does.
And—particularly during the Christmas season—our society tells us over and over again how important stuff is. Tell that woman how much you love her by buying her diamond earrings. Tell your parents how much they mean to you by getting them something special. (Side note: why not simply tell your loved ones that you love them? But I digress.) And of course, why not treat yourself along the way with a little stuff on the side? Because you are special and you deserve it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think all stuff is bad (obviously, I love it). I do think there are special moments and occasions which warrant a proper excuse to buy more stuff. After all, presents are fun and can be a great way to express love.
But, here’s my question: when did this season become about stuff?
When did we allow ourselves to sink so deeply into a culture of consumerism, materialism and idolization that we inherently worship the very stuff that is supposed to serve us?
I’m willing to argue that people have always been this way; however, now we simply see the love of stuff appearing in a different context. From our very existence, humans have consistently wanted more, never feeling fully satisfied with what we already have. This constant greed has manifested itself in different ways—from the colonization of various countries, to the enslavement of people groups and ultimately to the burning desire to buy more, so that we may ultimately find an empty happiness.
Is that a bit of a stretch? Comparing colonization to Christmas shopping? Possibly, but I still believe that the core of both issues is incredibly similar. We’re selfish. We want, so we take. We want, therefore we must have. We want, therefore we deserve it.
And like I said from the very beginning, I will be the first to admit this deeply rooted issue within my own heart. I look around myself, online, at friends’ houses, at others’ clothes, at people’s finances, etc., and I feel the deep darkness of greed creep into my heart. I need more stuff. I deserve it, so I get it.
The cycle continues.
So, now what? We’ve reconciled that I am greedy, you are greedy, we are all greedy and this greed exposes itself in our shopping habits, particularly during the Christmas season. But what do we do?
First and foremost, we recognize the true meaning for the season. As a believer of Jesus Christ, I know that the reason behind the Christmas season is to celebrate the birth of our Savior. He came to Earth as an infant, in order that He might become fully man and fully God, so He may be the perfect sacrifice on the cross, to atone for our sins (ex. my greed) and offer us salvation in Heaven with Him. This is my—and many others’—reason for the season, if you will.
If you’re not a believer, this might not mean very much to you. But at the very least, you at least could recognize the depth necessary to Christmas beyond simple stuff. At the very least, you might acknowledge that Christmas symbolizes time with your family and friends, reminiscing on the year behind you and making sweet memories to enjoy for years to come. At the very least, you might recognize Christmas as a time of genuine camaraderie.
Secondly, what are we to do when we recognize in ourselves this immense need for unnecessary stuff? Fight it.
This is often easier said than done. We might tell ourselves that we don’t need something, but still feel in our hearts the deep sense of desire. Or, we might combat the love of stuff, but the moment our friend buys a new piece of furniture, we immediately have to have something, as well (speaking from experience).
Nevertheless, combatting our greed is vital to true contentment.
We can never be fully satisfied in this life if we are constantly searching for more. If we are constantly waiting for the better job, the better paycheck, the better house, the better furniture, the better clothes or the better spouse in order to find contentment, then we will never find it. Thus is the great deception of greed. It convinces you that if you simply had more, you would be happy. But more is never enough.
Instead, we must fight for contentment. We must find our true satisfaction, joy and peace in something other than simple stuff of this world. We must celebrate the true stuff worth celebrating: life, family, friends, strangers, pets, joyful moments, silly moments, tragic moments, painful moments and everything in between. These are the real stuff of the season.
I still love stuff. I still fight against my love of stuff. And I still celebrate the stuff that matters.