Could you leave it all behind?

It has been an exhausting month, as you can probably tell by the dearth of blog posts lately. We recently bought a home and moved. We also drove halfway across the country for vacation, from Utah to Illinois, which is not an easy task with three young children. Our destination was the historical city of Nauvoo, where my parents are currently volunteering as missionaries for a year. This place was an important part of my childhood, and I was even married there over ten years ago. It was wonderful to finally go back.

During the moving process, I’ve thought a lot about material possessions. It took several weeks to pack everything and separate our stuff from my parents’s, whose house we had been living in temporarily. And of course we realized we had forgotten a bunch of stuff after we had taken back the moving truck! I’m sure all you readers know what a pain it is to also unpack and find new homes for each of those things in a completely new space. It was kind of surprising how much other stuff we had in storage that we hadn’t used in years. Stuff, stuff, stuff! It has felt like such a burden this past month.

And amidst all this, we took our trip to Nauvoo. This experience complicated my perspective on material possessions. Back in the 1840s, this city was populated very rapidly by large influxes of Mormon refugees who had been driven from their homes in Missouri, some of them in winter without even shoes on their feet. There were also many immigrants from Europe, recent converts to the LDS church who had spent all they had on the Atlantic passage. Needless to say, these people were very poor. But they worked hard and built a beautiful city. Every single thing they had, down to each and every article of clothing, was important. They even shopped using half-pennies!

Since they didn’t have much, they became brilliantly inventive in the things they made and did. It was fascinating to see and learn about some of the contraptions, such as this bee box,

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used to catch bees and coat them with flour so they could follow it and locate the hive. The process to get a simple thing like honey back then was quite extensive. Me, I just go grab a jar at the store, or order some online and then retrieve it from my front porch! I’m often tempted to label the nineteenth century as a “simple” time, but it’s really our times that are simple, as far as being able to complete the tasks necessary for survival.

As a mother myself, I thought a lot about the 1840s children while we were in Nauvoo. A child with a room like this,

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with three or four different toys, would have been a very rich child among his or her peers. My daughter loved this room and these toys, saying she wished they were hers, but I’m sure, were that even possible, she would have gotten bored with them in half an hour. While unpacking, I couldn’t believe how many toys our children have, and how little use a lot of them have gotten.

And just one more example: water. Oh, how I love modern plumbing! We have all the water we need–hot water even!–available at the turn of a knob or flip of a lever. We don’t live in fear of contamination. My children and I do not have to haul water from the spring in a contraption like this:

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Tragically, due to continued religious intolerance, the Mormons in Nauvoo had to leave their beautiful city to find a place where they would be free to practice their religion in peace, and that place was Utah. It was emotional to see what they left behind. I mean, just look at this cute brick home:

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The family who built it was only able to live there 4 1/2 months before they had to close the door and walk away! Breaks my heart. And when they left, they could barely take anything with them, since ox-drawn wagons like this

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only had the capacity for food and clothing for the journey and the tools they needed to start over in a new wilderness. But those who were able to afford a wagon and a team were lucky indeed. Most of the poor immigrants were forced to push a handcart, like the one my dad and I are pushing in the top photo. Even very small pioneer children had to walk every step of the way, which was around 1,500 miles. The handcart we pushed for our little trek was loaded with 50 lbs. and we only went a mile or so on an established trail. They had to haul 500 lbs. through mud, rivers, uncleared land and finally, the steep rocky mountains, underfed as they were. Very little more than food would have fit on these handcarts. All other treasures had to be abandoned, some of it which they tried to take but didn’t have the strength or space for it, and these cherished objects littered the trail through Iowa.

This really gave me pause to think about all the things and stuff I’ve acquired. Would I be able to shut the door on my home and just walk away from all of it? I can barely even throw out an old pair of socks, or things I haven’t used in years, just because I *might* need them someday. How much of my energy is wasted in finding, cleaning, storing, maintaining, organizing, and trying to use all the stuff in my life? Is this stuff really serving me, tools to make my life better? Or am I merely a slave to it? These questions are not easy, but I would encourage you to ask them of yourself. Really examine the time and energy that you devote to your stuff, and decide if it really is worth it. Try to discover the reasons you have what you have in the first place. Did you acquire it to feel a certain way? Gain status in the eyes of others? Or does it serve to free you to be able pursue what matters most?

The challenge for these people of 150 years ago was to acquire and hold on to the things they needed to survive. Our challenge today is to be able to let go of the things we effortlessly acquire that are not necessary, and which become burdens on our lives. Our challenge is to seek detachment from material things that don’t add any real value to life. It’s okay to have things, and we are blessed by God to enjoy such bounty, but we really must examine our attachment to these things. Could we really give them up, for something more important, such as freedom, family, and God?

I do believe our current season of prosperity is not permanent. A day may come when, like these nineteenth century pioneers, God may ask my family to leave our possessions behind and venture into the unknown. I don’t want that to happen, but if it does, I want to be mentally, physically, emotionally ready for it.

Let’s help each other, readers. What strategies have you used to detach yourself from things and stuff? How do you get rid of things you don’t need, but are inclined to hold on to? What do you do to keep yourself from over-acquiring in the first place? And how do you teach children to avoid possessiveness and materialism?

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