The Trouble With Stuff

“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”  –George Carlin  

The final casualty reports are in:  one dead and over 40 seriously injured by a combination of hostile fire, chemical irritants and hand to hand combat.  In case you’re wondering, this isn’t a report from Afghanistan. It’s the end results of America’s obsession for stuff that was so graphically acted out on Black Friday last week.  The casualties occurred in malls and big box stores across the country as American consumers, driven into a greedy frenzy by the mere thought of cheap stuff, attacked each other with guns, pepper spray and fisticuffs, all in the name of shopping.

From the women’s intimate apparel section to the aisle with the XBox 360’s, tempers were boiling over and fists were flying.  Things were so bad that the media broadcast images of  American greed  around the globe.  My barber, an immigrant from Italy, even received a phone call from his brother-in-law in Sicily who asked him, “are you Americans crazy?”

That’s a great question, because by all indications our overly materialistic society is slowly slipping into some sort of psychotic consumer abyss.  We just can’t seem to get enough stuff. Like the late comedian George Carlin, who is quoted at the beginning of this post, I have lots of stuff.  I bet you do too.  I used to have more stuff, but I got rid of a lot of it before I moved back to Pennsylvania. I used to have a two-car garage, but I could only fit one car into it because I had too much stuff.

I didn’t want to get rid of any of my stuff, because deep inside me there was a small voice whispering that I might need some of that stuff someday.  Most of my neighbors had two-car garages too. Many of them couldn’t fit even one car into their garage because of their stuff.  After I had accumulated enough stuff, I realized that weekends were made for taking care of my stuff.  But most weekends weren’t long enough to take care of all of my stuff, so I had to take care of some of it in the evenings when I got home from work. I even took an occasional vacation day so I could take care of my stuff.

Unfortunately, our society tends to measure success by the amount of stuff one possesses–big boats, fancy cars, gigantic homes, and corner offices. Truth is you can have all of these and still be the most miserable person on Earth. The Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “The test of the life of a saint is not success, but faithfulness in human life as it actually is. We will set up success in Christian work as the aim; the aim is to manifest the glory of God in human life, to live the life hid with Christ in God in human conditions. Our human relationships are the actual conditions in which the ideal life of God is to be exhibited.” 

I challenge you to avoid buying a bunch of stuff for friends and family this Christmas season. Sure, go ahead and get those special toys for the kids, but don’t buy “stuff” for the adults on your list.  Who hasn’t struggled with buying a gift for a friend or loved one who has almost everything he or she needs?  Here’s a suggestion.

Alternative Gifts International (AGI) was begun in 1980 by Harriet Prichard, director of a Presbyterian children’s ministry in Pasadena, California.  AGI began as a small market where shares of goods and livestock for needy people in the Third World were sold.  The idea was to give gifts that could make a real difference to an individual, family, or village.  For instance, a gift of a milk cow or a means to purify water can truly change lives for impoverished people living in remote areas of Africa.  Ms. Prichard’s idea was so popular that five Pasadena area churches held markets the next year.  By 2004 there were over 325 Alternative Gifts markets in the United States. The movement has now spread to England, the Netherlands, Japan and Korea.

Here is how AGI works.  Instead of buying that symbolic gift (scarf, gloves, socks, tie etc. ) that might soon be put away or discarded, consider making a donation to AGI on behalf of your friend or loved one. Instructions on how to donate are on the “projects” section of AGI’s web site at When you make a donation through the web site you can write a short message to the individual you want to remember.  AGI will send that person a card announcing your alternative gift. Gifting in this fashion will significantly simplify your Christmas shopping and will provide gifts that truly impact the lives of the recipients.

May you and yours enjoy the true spirit of Christmas this year.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rev. Bill Thwing 1964 on December 3, 2011 at 10:27 pm


    I’ve heard the George Carlin Routine. It is a classic. Every once in a while Joy and I hold a “potlatch” (like the Northwest Ccoastal Native people do). Whenever we move. We give away a lot of our stuff. The problem is that we don’t move as much as we used to when we were young and didn’t have so much stuff. Back then we didn’t have kids to give our stuff to but back then we had more friends to give our stuff to. So, it was pretty easy finding a home for our stuff whenever we moved which was quite often!). Now-a-days, 30 or 40 years later, we are occasionally thrilled to visit one of our old friends and discover that our stuff is still among their stuff. Now that we are old and grey, we have more stuff and less friends, so we just recycle it occasionally at GoodWill, Salvation Army or St Vincent DePaul Society and hope that it finds a good home. I think Jesus compares stuff to”dust”. To quote him liberally, he said “Just shake the dust off your sandles and walk away. You just can’t carry all that dust with you every where you go and you certainly can’t carry it to Heaven with you if you are one of the blessed ones who get accepted to that Higher Institution of Sacred Learning.


  2. Posted by Sara on March 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    LOL-great minds think alike – great title 🙂


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