Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 15, 2009

Enjoy things but take care that they do not possess you


The desire to accumulate things is as natural as breathing. At a very young age we become emotionally attached to "our stuff."   As small children we jealously guard our toys; we are not inclined to share them with another child. 

With each passing year the pile of our stuff gets bigger. We want what we want, and we want the things that other people have whether it's designer jeans, stylish tennis shoes, a “Mule” or a BMW. We don't like to admit it but we compete with one another in acquiring possessions.

We even collect things to the extent that we must purchase expensive cabinets in which to display them. This happened with my wife’s collection of clowns. She accumulated dozens of them. That fit her well since she had her own clown suit and enjoyed clowning around to the delight of little children.  Then one day she surprised me by giving her clowns, and her cabinet, to our oldest son Matt. He now treasures them as a precious gift from his mother. He loves clowns too.

My wife has a fondness for angels and lighthouses so we now have a nice collection of both. On the other hand I have been a collector of books. We now have so many that we have book cases all over the house.

If you like something it is difficult to stop with buying just one. It is rather like trying to eat one peanut; nobody can do that. Take small tea pitchers for example. Ever found a woman who had only one? Buy one or two and suddenly you want more and more.

Primitive natives in many countries collected skulls only a few years ago. The American Indians collected scalps. Some people collect precious art works, others expensive antiques. Years ago some nut came up with the idea of selling pet rocks. People bought them by the thousands. Why? Because other folks were buying them.
Elvis Presley had a Rolls Royce collection – one for each day of the week. I wonder who is driving them now.

A friend of mine has a collection of baseball caps. He has 200 of them but he can wear only one at a time. Another friend has 200 suits and 300 ties. But to share in a buddy's wedding, he had to rent a tuxedo.

My mother had a collection of little spoons. Friends and family members would bring her a tiny spoon from Rock City, San Francisco or Germany. She tired of that after accumulating over a hundred, then starting collecting tiny pitchers. My wife and I brought her one from Greece and another from Jerusalem.

My wife's sister Dot collected owls. She had owls all over her home, hanging on the wall in every room. Now that she is dead, I wonder where all her owls have flown. Perhaps her son has them and is adding to the collection.

While traveling in Asia and Europe I carefully collected rocks from 20 different countries including the Holy Land. In New York the rocks were mixed up by customs agents who separated them from the envelopes denoting the source of each rock. I was left with a pile of rocks and no way to tell where each had come from so I deposited them in a flower bed. Then I celebrated by thinking of the money I had saved. Had I been able to identify the source of each rock, I would have bought a lighted curio cabinet to showcase them. I estimated a saving of at least three hundred bucks.

If we are not careful our things have a way of possessing us. I admire the late Ernest Hemingway's habit of giving away some of his cherished possessions on January first every year. The famous author said he did it to prove that his things did not own him.

A brilliant teacher once said, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  If he was right we should be content with what we have and try to bridle our desire to stockpile more and more stuff. And we can have fun giving our collections away.

After I stopped collecting rocks I began collecting maxims or pithy sayings. They do not require a cabinet. Here are two good ones: "There is always a rain at the end of every drought," and "The one who rows the boat does not have time to rock it."

Instead of spending too much money on collections of stuff, we would be wise to simply enjoy life and not get too attached to our things. The pile of stuff we now cherish will soon belong to someone else any way. We don’t get to take our collections with us. + + +