Why Do We Keep So Much Stuff?

raiders_warehouse (2)
Now where did I put that Ark?

Dear Daughters,

We’re living in the age of over-storage. For perhaps the first time in human history, many of us have less of a problem getting the stuff we need than we have getting rid of the stuff we don’t.

This problem shows up in multiple places: in our overflowing garages and basements; in the perpetual growth of data centers, bandwidth needs, and backup charges; and, perhaps most importantly, in our increasingly anxious hearts and minds.

Not only do we feel the need to capture present moments in a perpetual feed of photos and videos, most of which we’ll never watch again. We also feel the need to preserve and protect the paraphernalia of our pasts: the letters and notes and snapshots, the toys and trophies and knick-knacks, all the various manifestations of affection and accomplishment we receive over the years.

We cling not just to what we can use at any any given time, but to all of the things that have touched us along the way. And as we increasingly run out of mental, physical, and emotional space, we pile these things up in storage areas both physical and virtual.

All the while we’re fighting the fact that we’re actually designed to forget, to move on, to allow most of what is past to pass away.

Consider this: in the course of an average day, you become fully conscious of only a tiny fraction of the information that reaches your senses. And you forget most of that information almost immediately. You probably can’t remember what was going through your head at 2:42 yesterday, much less at 2:42 three weeks or three months or three years ago.

Most of what happens doesn’t even make the dustbin of history; it is simply ignored, unrecorded, or immediately forgotten. Not remembering isn’t the exception; it’s the norm. And this basic existential truth may help explain our over-storage era.

By preserving the physical and virtual manifestations of our experiences and emotions, I suspect we’re seeking to escape the inexorable march of time. Driven by our understandable desire to endure, we fill underground data centers with ever-swelling digital archives, and we convert our garages and basements into what amount to modern-day mausoleums—dark and dusty spaces in which to memorialize our past selves, to stow away the stories of the people we once were.

In a sense, our overflowing garages, basements, and data centers are like modern-day pyramids: they’re attempts to preserve the stuff of one world and carry it into the next. And, like the pyramids, they testify to a basic human failure—the failure to understand that freedom, redemption, grace, peace, and progress typically come not from holding on to more but from giving more away.

The answer to our existential anxieties isn’t more storage. It’s letting go of more of our stuff and holding on more to each other. Most of us don’t need more mementos. What we need is to make more moments that matter, and to live them more fully rather than seeking to capture them through our cameras.

Tempus fugit. “Time flies.” Or, in an alternate translation of that ancient Latin phrase, time escapes. No amount of storage can contain it. The best we can do is stop chasing it and learn to run with it.



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