I was brought up like most people probably are — taught that material things are unimportant, and that what really matters in life is the intangible: friendships, family, faith, and integrity. I held tightly to that thought through my adolescence. There were very few things that I valued. College — same thing, although I did develop a predilection for buying books (probably not a surprise to anyone reading this blog). But then I fell into a pattern. Three years spent in one place in college, before I moved to New York City. Three years there, and I headed off to Virginia. Another three years, and I left again.
Then a rapid move: six months in Michigan, three months in Alabama, a quick change across the country to set-up in Washington. And now I’ve discovered — stuff matters. Material things matter.
I lived out of my suitcase while I was in Michigan, anticipating another move. I spent the months in Alabama in a hotel room, and then another two weeks in Washington in hotels. I lived without any of the things that are familiar to me. I had none of those material objects. Nor did I have my friends and family.
Maybe material things don’t matter to people like my parents, who have stayed in one place for long periods of time. Maybe they don’t matter to kids, whose entires lives are one mess of change. And maybe they don’t matter to people who are really and truly content, both in their position in life, and where they are physically. But to those of us living a vagabond lifestyle? They matter. My stuffed animal who sits on my bed and has for the past 28 years of my life matters. The familiar, well-worns pines of my books matter. The comfort of my own bed matters. The accesibility of piano keys beneath my fingers, of the paintings that remind me of my travels, the photos and trinkets and movies and odds and ends that I’ve picked up — they all matter. Because what they do is make a strange new place feel like home.
The old adage is that home is where the heart is. But that doesn’t mean that none of the stuff matters. In two years I know that I’ll be packing up all of my belongings again, heading out to who-knows-where. For a few weeks I’ll be homeless again, drifting, without familiarity and anchors. Of course the intangibles matter the most — of course it matters that I’ll have the support of families, friends, all against the backdrop of a loving God. But when I’m starting over with a new job, in a new place, surrounded by new people. . .it will certainly be nice when all of my stuff reappears and I have that familiarity back.