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Mark Hanlon

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Stuff: An American Phenomenon

Posted: 07/10/2012 10:31 am

I have my favorite television programs just like everyone else. But every once in awhile, I like to see what else is out there. So the other night, I found myself flipping through channels when I came across a program that I didn't recognize. It showed an auctioneer rolling numbers off his quick tongue as a crowd gathered.

"What are they bidding on?" There was obvious tension between some of the bidders as they countered each other...

$800...
$900...
$1000.

By now I was hooked. I had to know what it was that they wanted so badly. Two rivals threw a little trash talk at each other as the numbers continued to increase. Finally, a winner emerged with the bid of $1600. That's when the camera pulled back to reveal the item he had won:

A storage unit.

I later learned that the bidders didn't even know what was in the storage space. They were bidding on stacks of unmarked boxes, furniture pieces and miscellaneous junk in hopes of finding something valuable inside.

We love "stuff" in our country, don't we? Apparently, we love it so much that we're willing to pay for someone else's stuff too, just to add to our own. And, as I later found out, storing stuff we don't have room for is largely an American phenomenon.

According to the Self Storage Association's website, there are a little over 58,000 storage facilities around the world. And 80% of them are here in the United States. In fact, one in every ten households in the US rents a storage unit. That's pretty interesting, considering just how large our homes have become. The average size of a house in the US is around 2100 square feet. But apparently that's not enough room for our stuff. Our stuff spills out of our homes, into our garages and, when that's not enough, into a storage unit.

I work for Compassion International -- a Christian ministry dedicated to lifting children out of poverty. We minister to nearly 1.3 million children around the world, most of whom have no idea what a storage unit is. The concept of having more stuff than you have room for is foreign to those living in extreme poverty. And the truth is most storage units are nicer than the homes our kids live in. Here in the US, we even have climate-controlled, air-conditioned storage units for our stuff, with cement floors, cinder-block walls and solid roofs. Our "stuff" gets better living conditions than moms, dads and kids in other parts of the world.

The more I dig into this reality, the more I have to put myself under the microscope. I admit I have more than I need in my life too. There's a closet in my house where I stored things years ago. They haven't been touched since. Shelves in my garage have items collecting dust. To be honest, I've been tempted to rent a space to store the overflow. But, for the reasons listed above, I have decided against it. Besides, maybe there's someone else out there who could make better use of those things.

Donating to Goodwill or another charity that takes such items is a good start. Or perhaps you could have a yard sale and donate the income to those who don't have enough. There are over 1.4 billion people on this planet who live on less than $1.25 a day. For them, some of our stuff -- or the proceeds from it -- could mean the difference between eating today and going hungry. While we have more than we need, they need more than they have.

Now, I understand that there are times when extra space is necessary. Our brave men and women fighting overseas often find themselves needing a place to keep things during their deployment. Families in transition sometimes need a space to store things until a new home is built or while waiting on a new stage in life. But many more of us use storage units simply because we don't have room for all of our stuff.

What about you? Is there stuff in your life that could go to better use? Are there items you've been holding onto, only to allow them to rust away? And perhaps we need to ask ourselves the question, "How did we get here in the first place?" What are we seeking from material things that drives us to accumulate more than we have room for? Maybe a lifestyle change is in order. Maybe it's time to clean out the clutter. I've heard a quote recently. I'm not sure where it originated but it's powerful: "Live simply so that others may simply live." Let's all take a personal inventory of our stuff and see if, somewhere on a forgotten shelf, is an opportunity to help someone in need.

 

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