By Christina Capecchi
“Wife have too many shoes?”
The billboard on Interstate 94 caught my eye. The solution it advertised, off the next exit, was not a Goodwill or a therapist, but a storage unit. Why get rid of the stilettos when you can pay $50 a month to stash them somewhere else?
Millions of Americans have purchased storage, locking up the Hummel dolls, tax returns and soccer trophies they don’t need, but can’t quite part with. At the end of 2008, self-storage facilities occupied 2.35 billion square feet, making it physically possible for every American to stand under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.
My canopy of choice has been the ping-pong table in my parents’ basement, beneath which you’ll find Mead spiral-bound notebooks detailing my introduction to the Pythagorean theorem and the periodic table. Those royal blue and Kelly green pads signal such youthful diligence that they have not yet made their way to the recycling bin they warrant.
Last night I examined the bins below the staircase. I was struck by how many years were mixed together, how time was compressed in a single cardboard box. Baseball cards, birthday cards, report cards. A rhyming dictionary and a cookbook. Crinkled newspapers stacked on a busted Gateway laptop.
These days, it’s not just physical stuff we store. It’s also digital: documents, pictures, spreadsheets, Power Points, mp3s, pdfs. “Current statistics show that one in every 10 hard drives fail every year,” warns the online storage site Mozy, which claims more than 1 million users. “Unfortunately, computers are vulnerable to hard drive crashes, virus attacks, theft and natural disasters, which can erase everything in an instant.”
That appeal to fear drives us to buy 100 gigabytes or 1,000 or — what the heck — unlimited space.
It seems we cannot discard or delete, and we do not want to sift through our stuff and make those tough judgment calls about what to keep and what to give. So we shove it in attics, garages and hard drives, protected with padlocks and passwords. We don’t have to deal with it, except for the monthly bill to remind us it’s there.
This hunter-gatherer-hoarder impulse is a cultural and spiritual malady: overconsumption with no accountability. Our baggage is heavy and dusty and jumbled, and we cannot manage it. We do not even try.
As disciples of Christ, we must travel light so our hands and hearts are free to build his kingdom. When we are attached to our stuff and our homes and our petty evidence of success, we cannot respond to our Christian mission and its many demands: to help our neighbors, to serve the poor and to catch each spiritual lesson in our path. We are distracted, occupied.
St. Matthew would’ve abhorred the sight of our stuffed storage units. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal,” he admonished. “But store up treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
He was calling for a bigger picture, an attachment and investment in the divine, unmarred by cobwebs and sin. “If you wish to be perfect,” Jesus told the young man who heeded the 10 commandments, “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
That billboard motivated me. I’m downsizing my shoe collection. The stilettos were slowing me down.