The Love of Storage Units is the Root of All Evil

Open hands, open heart.

You know what’s wrong with this country today? Storage units. Get rid of all the storage units and you will eliminate everything that is wrong with the American soul. You’re welcome.

Check this out: The self-storage industry is primarily a US-based industry. Of the 58,000 storage facilities worldwide in 2009, 46,000 were located in the United States. In 2007, the US self-storage market was nearly $6.6 billion.

Six and a half billion dollars, y’all. Six and a half billion dollars spent to store the shit we don’t use but can’t bear to part with. Honestly, that is a coast-to-coast feng shui nightmare. Our national chi is so blocked it’s no wonder we are bogged down with so much negative energy.

Okay, I admit there might be occasions (like preserving your great-grandmother’s button hook collection, the getting rid of which would bring down the wrath of your ancestors upon your head) but otherwise, this is over SIX BILLION DOLLARS a year spent on socially acceptable hoarding.

According to The Endowment for Human Development, a stack of one billion dollar bills would measure 67.9 miles high. That means, at 6.6 times that amount, what we spend on storage units would stretch from St. Louis to Toledo.

Why do we keep things instead of get rid of them? Because we might need them some day? They might come in handy? I don’t think so. That’s what we tell ourselves. But I think the real reason we hang onto everything from clothes to corkscrews to cars? It’s fear. We fear that we don’t have enough, and we fear that we are not enough. We would rather hoard things we do not need or want than run the risk of dying without stuff.

This past March, of necessity, I faced my mortality in the form of an alarming and crushing quantity of belongings. I’m not even kidding: crushing. It was like Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault where every time I grabbed one thing it turned into 10 things. Who the hell bewitched my stuff when I wasn’t looking? (See my Lenten post for a chilling picture of just the glassware.)

Thankfully—mercifully—we secured our release from the burden by consigning or donating something like 60% of what we owned. The experience was a sacrament. God, it was freeing.

Stuff won’t save me. I am going to die anyway. I have enough, and I am enough. I choose open hands and an open heart.  Giving stuff to someone who could use it, sharing what I have, that’s the way. Also I keep thinking about the good that could be done with that $6.6 billion.

Only open hands can receive the sacrament of the Body of Christ. Jesus said, among other things: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Totally into feng shui, was Jesus.

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a. I only recently heard about Kon Mari, which turns out is not to be the front man for a rock band. It’s a thing. A method for getting rid of clutter.

b. The good news is that the resale industry, according to the awesomely acronymed NARTS, pulls in about $12 billion per year: twice what the storage industry does. So that’s cool.


This is my body: A theology of massage

The first time I had a massage, it was a gift from my sister Elizabeth. The management of her upscale apartment offered massages as a benefit of occupancy. At $10 per session, she was able to afford a standing weekly appointment, one of which she bestowed upon me. And it was a revelation. Like my first time trying anything, I had to get the hang of it. It was so…personal…and yet business-like, matter-of-fact. My main problem on the learning curve: how to lie prone in the face cradle without drooling.

I figure I have had over 200 massages since that first one. There have been appointments in the course of regular life (aided by diligent coupon-and-special-deal shopping,) but I will often seek out a massage deal when I travel. Because: traveling. Ugh. From Napa to Austin to Boston, some have been better than others, but each one did me good. They all run together, obviously, but two massages in exotic locales stand out.

In Zihuatanejo on the western coast of Mexico there was no need for recorded zen-flavored-beach-sounds, because the massage tents were set up all along the actual beach. So, you know: actual waves. That was groovy and wonderful.

By far the weirdest massage ever was in Jerusalem. It’s a tense place, so I was already kind of jumpy. The massage guy in my hotel reminded me of one of those vaguely threatening masseuses in a James Bond movie. I lay face down–trying not to drool–on a very hard table (you Americans are so soft, with your padded tables.) There was an excessive amount of mineral oil and some alarming arm whip-lashing. I gradually became aware of the music, to which the response in my head was: “What. The. Hell. Is. That?” I could only think it was…surely not…Stairway to Heaven?…sung by…spooky monks? As it turned out, I was absolutely right. Celtic monks doing Led Zeppelin. My massage guy was so proud; I just nodded and smiled. (Listen to it here, if you dare.)

Fertility Hazel Buddha

Many thanks to my friend Erica for her permission to use this triptych of beautiful bodies: the goddess, the baby and the buddha.

I have heard people say they could never get a massage because of the whole stranger-touching-your-naked-body thing. But here’s the thing: the massage therapist doesn’t judge. It’s not about someone “seeing you naked.” It’s about your responsibility to tend a sacred temple. It’s about being the steward of something precious that has been entrusted to you, something made in the image of God. [A famous food retailer–it rhymes with Mole Snoods–has this sign up right now: “Treat your body like it belongs to someone you love.”]

A lot of negative body-image stuff is tossed around in the name of religion. And don’t get me started on the objectification of women in advertising. Our bodies are, unfortunately, too often a source of shame for us. Actually, though, the Bible is full of encouraging and affirming body messages. Whatever that voice is, telling you that something is wrong with your body…it’s not the voice of God.

In the chapel of my spiritual home, the monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge MA, it is common for the presider to issue this invitation at the Eucharist: “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. May we become what we receive.”

We carry our stress and worry and memories in our bodies, and our bodies never forget anything. Our own pains–as well as the pains of anyone we care about–these become knots and twinges in our necks and shoulders and lower backs and feet. Sometimes, on the table, I imagine my massage as a body prayer for people I love: one who has cancer, one has been bitterly disappointed, one is recovering from abuse. The hands that are tending my body become for me an outward sign of God’s incarnation. I visualize the God who became human not only healing me, but unknotting, untangling, and making whole the broken body of Christ.

When I’m not drooling.