I've been urging myself and my children to do a bit of cleaning in anticipation of the given fact that some new items, things that take up space and attention, will be entering our home this Christmas. I look around and realize that there are many unused items here in our home, and yet those that were gifts are difficult to give away. There is some guilt associated with that. We have a relative who we believe has actually given us back a gift we gave to her several years ago. That's the concern about regifting -- who actually gave us this thing we have no need for?
As writer Jill Carratini reminds us, there's a name J.R.R. Tolkien coined for such items in his story, The Hobbit. "Anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom," writes Tolkien. "Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort." A couple of years ago we had a house fire that conveniently took out our attic, dispossessing us of many, many mathoms in the process. I would not recommend that method.
With all the buying going on this time of year, it's useful to consider why we buy things and, thus, why we end up with so much mathom. It's probably not too much to say that when we cannot let go of things it is a form of idolatry. Somehow these items make us feel important and become a part of our identity. When I look up and see the CDs or books lining my shelves, I realize that part of why I keep them is that they have become a part of who I am, and to lose them might be to lose a part of myself. If that sounds silly, try giving away some things. You may be free of this propensity. Perhaps it's not a problem for you just the way it's not a problem for my daughter. She has very few possessions and little attachment to the ones she does have. I could clean her room out, taking every toy, book, and article of clothing, and it would barely faze her. But in my sons room piles of books are stacked up around the room, electronic equipment is everywhere, old toys, tools,, clothing, games, and more. It's quite a contrast.
But then there's good side to every tendency. Books are a part of who I am. There are stories that have deeply effected me and continue to nourish me -- not like Scripture, of course, but in significant ways nonetheless. And music. Well, music is like blood to me. To hear some songs is to conjure up feelings, time periods, places, and people that are all a part of who I am. We don't exist in some free-floating way. We are embedded, rooted, tethered to the soil, to place, to our habits, hobbies, families, and friends. This is where we live. Love it, but don't worship it.
Yes, I need to give some mathoms away, but need to keep things that matter. I love them. They are part of me. I need to treasure them, but not store up treasures on earth. (God did say He loved the world (a/k/a cosmos, didn't He? And so should I.) But let someone else love the mathom.