The etymology of ‘stuff’ goes back to Middle English, where it denoted material for making clothes. Now more often it refers to keeping clothes, or almost anything.
Do you have a lot of “stuff”? Stuff can refer to scattered objects (“Pick that stuff up off the floor”), a consumed object (“He used to drink but now he is off the stuff”), subject matter (“The teacher really knows her stuff”), idle talk (“Don’t give me any of that stuff”), what a baseball pitcher does (“He has a lot of good stuff on the ball). We can make stuff into a verb as well: “to stuff someone’s head with facts, to stuff something into a bag,”; or even “ to have a stuffed-up head” (or nose).
Most houses and garages have a lot of stuff. It is hard to classify stuff, but you know it when you have it. Many people spend their lives trying to get more stuff and then worry about places to store and protect it. They keep their stuff in closets, cupboards, barrels, drums, crates, sheds and rented buildings. You may hear people saying:
- I need someplace to keep (put/store) my stuff
- We have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. (Other words: amassed, collected, gathered, piled up, stored, or even hoarded.)
- We are still unpacking some of our stuff.
- We have got to get rid of some of our stuff.
Have you ever had to clean up someone else’s stuff? In 1983 we had to “break up” the house where Joice’s mother had lived for over 50 years, so she had a lot of stuff in it. We put a huge pile of it in the front lawn for the Salvation Army to pick up—we didn’t want the stuff.
However, once we have a lot of stuff, we may want to protect it because we get very attached to our stuff. In Mt. 6.25ff Jesus said that we should not be worried about food and drink and clothes, i.e. about stuff. He also said that the seeds sown among thorns were like the worries about life and riches and other kinds of stuff that crowd into our lives and choke out the message. He warned us in Mt. 6.19 not to store up riches for ourselves and be like the rich fool who had so much stuff that he decided to build bigger storage places so that he could store up more of his things, his stuff.
Anthropologists have observed and written about the cargo cults in Papua New Guinea and other places. The cargo is goods (or stuff) carried by ship, aircraft, or vehicles and is anything that could be imagined. Sometimes it led to a millennium mentality because the stuff was supposed to come in the future from an outside source. It could be accessed by having some special relationship with departed ancestors and often involved the use of ritual language. This included spells, magic and prayers that would help the stuff appear.
I once read a book by Paul Little called “How to give away your faith.” Let me suggest another title: “How to give away your stuff.” Which is the more difficult? And do we give our faith or our stuff only to those whom we like? Do we expect something in return? Further, and by analogy, do we store up our faith, like stuff? Do we always keep some in reserve in case we may need it?
Sometimes when I have gone by houses, I have seen signs like “Keep off the premises”, “Beware of the dog” or “No trespassing.” Is our attitude about stuff like that?
One thing that may make others unwelcome is the stuff in our house: we may want to protect it at all costs—stickers in the window warn others and signs on the street inform them about the “neighborhood watch.”
What kind of stuff do we have that needs protection? People, like homes, are influenced by what is kept in them. In the spring of the year, there is (or used to be) housekeeping rites. Rugs were beaten, floors were scrubbed, windows were washed, and stuff was discarded. In the South (mainly) there were annual revivals where similar sorts of soul cleansings were supposed to take place. In either instance, the house or the soul, there is undoubtedly a need to get rid of some stuff, even if it has been around for a long time.
We all know the saying “You can’t take it with you,” but we have adhered more to “We can store it somewhere.” At least we must have thought that when we moved to Waco from Dallas. We had accumulated a lot, including free stuff found in the mission furniture and “boutique” buildings. Although we gave away loads of stuff, we then moved the rest to our present smaller town house here in Waco. However, there was still too much—our garage was stuffed with stuff. We ended up giving 20 boxes of books to a local high school and van loads of other things to a church sale. What a relief—we could park the car in the garage!
Of course, we can’t completely get rid of all our stuff and live like John the Baptist, eating locusts and honey and avoiding shopping at Walmart. But we can adopt an attitude that excludes the accumulation of “stuff.” At least I think so—now if I can only find that stuff I am looking for in my closet!
Karl and Joice Franklin
With more stuffing than a turkey