People want stuff. They always have. We always have. We want stuff, even though we know that relationships are more important. Admittedly some people have little desire for possessions, but they are the exceptions in American culture.
What drives our desire for stuff? I’ve done some thinking about this, I’ve come up with seven primary reasons we desire things.
There are certain things we need for living, including food, clothing and shelter. Of these, food is a consumable, so I don’t think of it as a possession. But clothing and shelter can clearly be possessions; they are things we need, whether or not we own them.
A second necessity is physical security. We possess many items to keep us safe from accident or crime: door locks, railings, firearms, alarm systems.
2. Comfort and Convenience
Many of our possessions just make life easier. We like to have them because they save time and effort. We find comfort in furniture, air conditioning, and those heated seats in cars. We find convenience with refrigerators, lawnmowers, computers and telephones.
With some items, we find emotional comfort as well. It may comfort us to see family Christmas ornaments, or familiar portraits.
Of course sometimes we like stuff because it makes us look good. We wear jewels and drive cars so that others will notice. People enjoy looking good, and stuff helps.
We also may want to look good for others. A wife wears a dress or a necklace because she knows her husband likes it. We also buy stuff to fit in with a certain crowd, even if we don’t like the stuff.
This one is fairly obvious. We like to accumulate stuff, sometimes hoard stuff. Jesus tells the story about a man who had so much grain that he tore down his storage barns to build bigger ones. When we have stuff we like, sometimes we just want more. I think this appeal is partly based in fear—fear that God will not provide for us in the future. We have to look out for ourselves because we can’t trust God to take care of us.
Another kind of greed is really mean: we want stuff just to keep someone else from having it. Even if we don’t want the thing, we can’t bear for that other person to have it. This is a sign of damaged relationships.
Some possessions give us a thrill: boats, skis, cars, bicycles, camping gear, electronics. We want that stuff because of the experience that comes with it.
We also have the thrill of beauty. Some possessions are just beautiful and valuable because they bring pleasure through their beauty.
Some possessions aid us in our work; they are the tools of our trade: wrenches, ovens, saws, mixers, sewing machines, etc. We desire these items because our productivity and creativity soar when we use them.
Some stuff needs to be cared for and kept, such as family heirlooms. We want these possessions out of a sense of duty, believing that someone should care for them.
Then there is also the responsibility of saving for the future. Some possessions are also stores of wealth: houses, collectible items, investment art.
When we understand our motives for wanting stuff, it helps us evaluate those desires. More important than any possession is our soul. Maybe we should ask ourselves how our possessions affect our souls. Some possessions build us up. Some tear us down. Some are just neutral.
Think about why you want stuff. You may surprise yourself.
In summary: Why we want stuff:
a. Food, clothing, shelter
b. Physical protection
2. Comfort and convenience
a. Please ourselves
b. Please others
b. Deny others
a. Thrill of adventure
b. Thrill of beauty
6. Work – We need tools to do our work.
a. Heirloom items
b. Investment items