In Excess

I went to my closet the other day to pick out a shirt for the day. As I meandered through the shirts hanging on hangers, I realized that I seriously needed to do some ironing. There were a bunch of shirts that looked like I had slept in them for a month straight (thankfully, they didn’t smell like that). My wife isn’t one who likes to iron, but I am, so that works out well for both of us.

The other thing that I realized was how many shirts that I had to choose from. Blue ones, white ones, black ones. Striped ones. Solid ones. Ones with designs. Ones with pockets. Ones without pockets. The possibilities were endless and I was having a hard time figuring out which one to choose. I hastily chose one, gave it the once over, threw it on, and headed downstairs from my room. But that wasn’t the last thought that I had about shirts.

Well, maybe not shirts, but about the excessive amount of shirts that I have. For the rest of the day, I looked at everything through a different lens. I began to assess quantities of things that I had and how it impacted the way that I made decisions. Everywhere that I looked around me, there was excess. Books. Movies. CDs. Clothes. The list went on and on.

The funny thing is, you might think that having an excess of possibilities might simplify the decision of which to choose, but that wasn’t the case. The more that I had to look through, the harder it was to decide. The endless possibilities didn’t simplify my decision, it complicated my decision.

Back in December, as I lay on a hospital bed, attempting to reconcile what was happening to me and what the future held, my wife and I were engaged in conversation. As we talked and assessed our lives at that point, one thing that we both agreed on was that we needed to simplify.

Simplify.

Wow. Now that’s a word that I think we throw around to casually. When was the last time you looked around you to see just how complicated things had become? Turn on your cable box and surf through the hundreds of possibilities. Seems to me there was a song about thousands of channels with nothing worth watching. Go to the grocery store. Go on your favorite internet shopping site. Possibilities are endless.

Consumerism has won the day on offering endless possibilities, but does limiting the possibilities hurt a business or product? I began to think about Apple. While there are plenty of options as far as storage space and speed of their computers, their offerings are somewhat limited. Still, that doesn’t seem to have impacted their popularity. Everyone is still in lines around the block every time a new iPhone is available.

I have some good friends who have taken their families and moved them to countries who are steeped in poverty such as Haiti. They’ve done it as a calling, feeling like God was calling them to make this move and life change. In fact, one friend commented on Facebook how their home had been broken into again while they were out at a party. Where they live, excess isn’t really an option. There are other countries around the world where excess isn’t an option either.

Worldwatch.org reports that, “The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.” 60 percent of private consumption. Boy, we sure do know how to consume.

And you know what? I’m a consumer. I’m not even sure if I can yet consider myself a recovering consumer. I make my wishlists. I collect my gift cards. I’m never content. I’m never satisfied.

Sure, there is a healthiness, to some degree, in consumerism. In order for the world to go around, products need to be offered, manufactured, and bought. Supply and demand. But I think we’ve far surpassed the idea of supply and demand.

Like so many other things, this problem didn’t get here overnight. We didn’t wake up one morning to find that our houses were stock filled when we had gone to bed with them empty the night before. The problem has been gradual and I expect that any change away from such a problem will have to be just as gradual. It starts one moment at a time, one item at a time, one person at a time.

When I sit down and make an honest assessment, I think there are bigger issues here, but that’s a blog for another day. In the meantime, I’m taking note of all of my own excesses. While I like choices, they haven’t simplified my life in the ways that I thought that they would, in the ways that I may have been promised that they would by the people who sold me those choices.

On the “back 9” of life, these are the kinds of things that I reflect upon. The time is now.

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