People I work with often blame their current organizing state of affairs on the blessings of being an American. Let’s face it, while the 99% have gotten a lot of press with the Occupy Wall Street movement, most Americans are still the richest 2% of the world’s population. If we feel overwhelmed by our stuff, our debt, our gadgets, our calendars, and our information, is it just because we are Americans living in the year 2012?
One of the biggest reasons we keep too much is because we treasure possibilities. We keep things we’ve never used just in case we might need them some day. We keep relics of activities we used to do, but are unlikely to take part in again. We keep magazines we don’t have time to read because there might be a cool article in there. There’s lots of psychology behind this, but basically it boils down to us being human, not the year we live in.
I found a little organizing story tucked in the book of Acts in the Bible. Acts tells the story of what happened to Jesus’ followers immediately after he rose and ascended to be with the Father. His guys were sent all over the ancient world to tell His story. Paul, one of the new guys, heads over to Athens, Greece and is hobnobbing with the folks who run the town. “All the people of Athens spent their time talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” (v.21) Sounds a bit like us, always plugged in and getting our news practically by I.V. drip. The Greeks were really into their gods, as you might recall from mythology. The guys in charge ask Paul what he’s in town to discuss, and Paul says, “As I walked around, I looked carefully at the things you worship, I even found an altar with to an unknown god written on it.” (v.23)
In effect, the people of Ancient Greece were keeping an empty building or shrine in high-rent downtown real estate labelled to an unknown god, just in case they might need it one day!
There’s no need to beat yourself up about a little extra in your life here and there. After all, there are times when being prepared makes a lot of sense. The ability to plan makes us human and sets us apart from the rest of the animals. But taken too far, you might be taking up valuable real estate for something that really is a little wacky. We’ve seen it for two thousand years and more. We’ll always organize while human.
Paul says that not only can he describe the God that they are holding a place for, but that God doesn’t even need a separate shrine, that He’s master over everything and everywhere. Hey, Greeks, he’s saying, listen up. That space could be better used than sitting empty. Today, our unworn sweaters, unused books, uneaten food, unworn shoes, and yes, probably even our unoccupied real estate, can be better put to use helping our fellow humans. Donating unused goods is a good thing!
Stay human, but keep the just in case within reason.