Ruled by Stuff

Many of us know that the USA is a materialistic society driven by consumerism. We know it but all the while we earn money to buy stuff. We want the trendiest, most fashionable clothing. We cannot live without the most recent technology. We drive around in the latest cars.

Then we build bigger houses to store the stuff. We rent storage spaces if we cannot afford a bigger house. We install sophisticated security systems to protect the stuff or buy guns so we can feel safe. We pay for insurance policies to guard against all kinds of loss. We accumulate debt.

We tend to pity those who can’t afford all the stuff or choose to live without it, like the Amish. We look at the Amish and pity them especially because they seem to be ruled by the Ordnung—rules & regulations. They are also ruled by simplicity.

Richard A. Swenson, MD, addressed the ruled-by-stuff problem with a book titled, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Although Swenson’s advice is decades old, it is just as relevant today.

My editing brain is protesting and the WordPress software will not allow me to do what I’d like but the following jumble of words attempts to illustrate Swenson’s idea of margin:


it’s a mess, isn’t it? If you persevered, it does contain a point but it took you longer to decipher it. In other words, reading it caused stress. Swenson claims the same is true if we disregard simplicity and live with the tyranny of stuff. [pullquote] They do not pollute the earth. They do not waste food. They concentrate on the care of the earth and the care of their families. They have no ambitions for wealth or status. They harbor no political lusts to control the lives of their neighbors. All they ask for is the right to live simple, godly lives (Swenson 203).[/pullquote]

He quotes John Charles Cooper and refers to the simplistic lifestyles of the Amish:

How many of us have never wished we could get off the treadmill? Out of the rat race? We sigh with longing and nostalgia. Then we keep right on going.

And, we keep right on consuming.

We have no idea of how to desire less and learn to be content with what is adequate. We continue to buy stuff on impulse. We buy stuff for status instead of for its function. We buy now and pay later. We talk about the less-is-more concept but we cannot seem to learn how to live with less.

We forget that attractiveness is not the same as authenticity. We forget that more stuff also means more anxiety. We forget that actions have consequences that affect others around us.

And most of all, we forget that people, simply people, are more valuable than stuff.

So, am I saying I want to go back to being Amish? No, but I am saying that following the simplistic lifestyle of my roots has its benefits because just as spaces between typed words decrease stress while reading so do the spaces created by simplicity in the lifestyles of the Amish.

Swenson, Richard A., MD. Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, & Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. Navpress: Colorado Springs, Colorado. 1992. Print.

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