Don't Store It Up for Tomorrow

My young grandson and his parents piled all of their belongings in and on their Honda Civic yesterday and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, so my son can join a team of educators who are starting a new charter Montessori school in the part of Memphis known as Fraser. I could see no more than my grandson’s dark eyes as the stuffed sedan pulled away from our house. The tent was secured on top in case their long-distance attempts at securing an apartment were thwarted and the state park would have to provide temporary sanctuary for this young family of three. Earlier that day they had been in our kitchen stepping off the dimensions of the 300-square-foot Memphis Midtown apartment they had their eyes on. It was in a great location and inexpensive. And tiny. It would be a good experiment to test out the “Tiny House” plans they had been discussing for a year or so. The last few days they had been whittling down their belongings to what could fit into their car and eventually the new limited space. That meant trips to Goodwill and calls to the friend inheriting their half of the Abilene duplex to see what they could leave behind for her.

Their downsizing reminded me of a story I read in the paper a month or so ago about the amount of money Americans spend on rented storage buildings. I had been shocked by the numbers being reported. According to one source, the United States had 48,500 storage facilities last year, totaling about 2.3 billion square feet -- enough room to store every person in America. These storage spaces made approximately $24 billion for their owners last year. The Saturday morning paper’s story coincided with a much-needed garage cleaning, ridding our closets and drawers of extra clothing, and at last carting off some piles of things our kids had left behind. I cleaned with a bit more vigor after my morning read.

Stuff piles up quickly. And we like owning stuff. Even if we have no plans to do anything with the stuff.

That’s bad enough: this accumulation of things that are left to gather dust with no real sense of purpose or hope of action. But what about our own lack of action in a different dimension? Our tendency to store up thoughts and dreams that we will one day use when we are in exactly the right place or the timing is just right.

Some folks interested in community renewal came together the other day to dream and discuss ways to improve our neighborhoods and our city. One of the longtime city activists said he wasn’t interested in meeting and talking any more. He had been meeting for at least 20 years, he said, and he was finished with meetings. He was interested only in action. No more grand ideas and lovely words carefully crafted and then placed on the shelf of a climate-controlled storage building. Another man laughed and recalled the words of his teenage son who said something like this: “Man, Pops, all you guys do is sit around and talk about things. You never actually do anything. At least the protestors (in Ferguson) did something.”

Learning is good. Listening is good. Sharing ideas is good. But acting on those ideas is even better.

We all have too many things in storage, too many things stuffed in a box or a closet or a room somewhere waiting to be used. And that is a shame.

But not as shameful as the ideas and thoughts and dreams that we should and could be sharing now instead of letting them sit and gather dust. Ideas and thoughts and dreams lead to action. Let’s get moving.