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I spent a day shopping, and when I got home it struck me that we didn’t really need any of the items I’d bought and most of them would end up in storage or discarded. Why do we do this?

Living and our way of life is not an exact science, so there is always some messiness. We don’t always calculate correctly, or our plans change and what we thought was necessary no longer is. Over time, these things accumulate. My wife and I have lived in our current house for 17 years, and a visit to the basement invariably prompts the thought, “Where did all this stuff come from?”

But saying “that’s just the way life goes” is not the full story. Human weaknesses come into play as well. One of the quickest and easiest ways to fill a void in our lives is to buy something, and our mind convinces us for a moment that this will cure our ills. In a college seminar I teach we talk about consumption patterns, and I asked students whether they have ever bought something they didn’t need just to make themselves feel better. I expected a number to say ‘yes.’ What surprised me was how many began to talk animatedly about how empty they felt before and how empty they felt after. The sense of satisfaction was fleeting. They knew firsthand, as Jesus said, that life does not consist of material goods.

There’s also the challenge that, when purchasing something, we only see it for what it is when we bought it and while we are using it. We don’t think about the product’s life cycle—what went into making it and what it will take to dispose of it safely. If we thought about such things, we would be much more judicious about what and how much we buy.

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