Friday, January 31, 2014

A Closet By Any Other Name is Still a Closet

Walking through closets. That is what shopping has become. I leave my house and go to stores filled with more of what I already have at home: coats for every season, rain boots and snow boots, green shoes and black. Shelves full of dishes to add to those already in cupboards. Seasonal knick knacks that look very much like the ones preserved in Rubbermaid containers in my basement. A pink scarf to complement the collection of hand-knit and thrift-store scarves in my dresser drawer. More in the store of what I already possess.

So why am I even in this commercial closet? What is the point? I am not filling any need. No purpose is served. Why then do I come here? Why do so many of us? 

I get the fact that people shop to fill a void in their life. I’ve been there. I used to justify clothes shopping with the fact that, as the youngest of six children with three older sisters, I grew up wearing hand-me-downs. I also justified shopping by buying only what was on sale (will we ever figure out that buying something we don’t need at a “great price” is still more expensive than if we hadn’t purchased it at all?).

But shopping to such a degree that we do: why do we think we need five blouses in various patterns instead of one or two that we can wash frequently and re-wear? When did it come about that we think we should have four pairs of jeans instead of one, and eight pairs of shoes instead of two? We all know we don’t really “need” them, but we do think we are entitled to them. We worry that we will somehow look weird if we repeat our outfits at work or school. And although I understand (but don’t condone) this need to fill a void for the secular world, how is it justified for the Christian? How did we get to this place of multiple materialism, this constantly going out for more of the same (or better, newer, flatter, smaller, lighter, prettier)?

My answer is closets.

The previous owners of the first house my husband and I purchased were a married couple with five children. This house was built around 1925, was approximately 1400 square feet and had a tiny kitchen with a small pantry, one and a half bathrooms, an unfinished basement with a washer and dryer, a fairly good-sized master bedroom with a small portico for a crib, two very tiny bedrooms that could barely fit a double bed, and nothing but an unattached shed for a “garage.”

Five children. Do the math: three in one bedroom and two in another. Lets say the children were spread out in age, and the older one moved out. Then we’ve still got two children in each tiny bedroom. With even tinier closets.

So think about it. This family of 7 lived in a place with miniscule closets, very few kitchen cupboards and small pantry (only enough room to hold the necessary pots and pans and food for five growing children), one full bathroom for all to share, a small yard with petite flower garden and cement patio, and no garage or finished basement. And closets that could only hold essentials, and very few of them. Block upon city block contained families living in the exact same way.

So what did this mode of living instill? Frugality and simplicity (no large or extra rooms with large and extra closets); playing outside as there wasn’t much space for numerous toys and inside diversions); good health and physical fitness (from playing outside); knowing the neighbors (from playing outside); creativity and "critical thinking" skills (from playing outside and inventing ways to entertain themselves); cooperation (from having to share a closet—not to mention the use of a bathroom—with other people); less self-centeredness and entitlement (from, again, having to share a closet, a bedroom and a bathroom--and TV if there was one); the understanding that owning one of most things is enough: one car, one blanket per bed, one dinner plate per person (and perhaps a set of “fine china,” a wedding gift, tucked away in the built-in-hutch) and one bicycle per child.

Those were also the days of purpose-driven clothing, which meant that, for a family as I am describing here, each child had one or two sets of good clothes for school, one set of Sunday clothes for church and one set of play clothes for outside. With two or three children sharing a roughly four-foot by two-foot closet, clothes had to be kept to a minimum.

It’s not that people didn’t shop back then. It’s that they tended to shop with a purpose, and only then. I think the disposable spending resulting from disposable income today would be shockingly illogical to this family of seven whose house we bought. There were enough time-consuming responsibilities at home without adding mindless, impulsive shopping for yet more stuff into the mix (and no place to put it anyway).

One final chracteristic to note about this 1925 house and the family that lived there for decades is that, at the time we bought the house, it had the same wallpaper, carpeting, window coverings, etc. that it had had for probably the majority of its life. My husband and I had at first snickered at this, and then grumbled as we removed carpeting and old ceiling tiles in the renovation. But now, looking back, I respect that husband and wife for not remodeling and redecorating every few years as people tend to do today. No “Man Caves” were installed in the basement; no new cupboards in the kitchen. This had been the era of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “make do with what you have.” It was called appreciation and gratefulness, something I am utterly convinced is lost on the current culture.

Subsequently, we are people with full-to-bursting closets who use our “free” time to enter big box closets to obtain more of what we already have but are not satisfied with at home.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

No comments: