October 17, 2012

The Estate Sale

R2012 1529 page31

ecently I was browsing through some golf-related paraphernalia on eBay when I came across something I “needed”: a self-contained stand and related tools for putting new grips on golf clubs. I have regripped a number of clubs over the years, which is difficult to do without the proper equipment. This item was for “local pickup only,” and the seller happened to live in Michigan—my state! I googled the city; a six-hour round-trip would do it.

From the photographs the regripping work station looked to be a little bigger than an ironing board—except there was no way to fold it up and tuck it into a closet. I began to mentally reconfigure the garage: I could throw out the old rubber life raft that had a hole in it, get rid of some never-used canning jars, fold the leaf tarpaulins neatly on the shelf, and then just squeeze in the work station behind the car.

Then I noticed the seller had another item for sale: a machine to enhance a golfer’s strength, flexibility, and swing mechanics. “Hit the ball 20, 40, 60 yards farther!” it read. The machine included a substantial “arm” that hung over one’s head, complete with pulleys and whatnot to produce the desired result. My vision of the garage was indeed getting crowded. Parking a car outside might be a possibility, I thought. I imagined trying to justify such a purchase to my wife, even if it were dirt cheap, but that was harder than shaking hands with a sea horse.

Just then I noticed something else in the ad that dampened my enthusiasm. Both items were from an estate sale. I realized that someone had purchased these items, used them, and then died. The items, though, stayed behind. 

Portions of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 came to mind, as well as Matthew 6:19, in which Jesus referred to moth, rust, and thieves, and I began to ask myself whether I truly needed to load down my life with one or two more Saint Bernard-sized possessions when my wife and I were trying to simplify and downsize. The answer clearly was no.

While in college I read books written by author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau and was particularly struck by this statement: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” The rich fools of the Bible were so consumed with their extra barns, large estates, and new plows that they missed the most important thing of all: spending time with Jesus and looking out for their fellow travelers on the road of life.

In the end, the two golf-related items on eBay sold for around $350—quite a bargain when you realize their combined original retail price was $1,500. I have found, however, that I am quite happy living without them, and I’m asking God to help me to continue downsizing. 

If it’s hard for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle, imagine how difficult it would be for a moving van with all the stuff in our closets, our garages, and our basements to make it through. Stuff can drag us down, blur the distinction between what’s important and what’s not, fill our time with things that don’t matter. So before making a purchase, we could ask ourselves such questions as, “Can I borrow it? Can I see myself still using this five or 10 years from now? Will it improve my health, my relationship with others, my relationship with God?” 

Taking time to ask such questions will help us to make better financial decisions, live more simply and with clearer focus, and grow closer to God.

Scott Moncrieff is a professor of English at Andrews University. This article was published October 18, 2012.