Can You Be Spiritual if You Have Material “Stuff”?

Hydrangeas, impatiens, and a water plant in my tiny fish pool on the back patio.  Someone gave me the water plant, the pots are old terra cotta from a garage sale, and the stone walls were ones I laid myself with my own sweat.  It’s my little piece of paradise.   Photo copyright by Lorna Tedder; all rights reserved.

“You cannot have a big house and lots of stuff and be spiritual,” the girl tells me.  “You’re either materialistic or you’re spiritual but you can’t be both.”

This is the eye-rolling wisdom of a girl who’s all of 22 and is, for the first time in her life, trying to make ends meet all by herself.  She looks at my big house in a nice neighborhood and immediately jumps to conclusions.  She doesn’t know why I’m in this house or what I had to do to keep it when I divorced.  She’s struggling on minimum wage and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and has no idea that I’ve been where she is now.   I’m not wealthy, but yes, I do like my “stuff.”   All she sees is my “stuff,”  and she is painfully aware that she does not have “stuff,” and that makes me materialistic in her eyes.

She’s one of many spiritual people who cannot reconcile the idea of a spiritual person owning much of anything.  She’s impoverished, both in her bank account and in her mindset.

The fact that I have “stuff” is something I’ve struggled with, too.   I’ve never been one to demand a designer home with pricey furniture but I certainly do have a psychological need to have a home that feels like a sanctuary to me.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a mansion-sized house or a one-bedroom cottage–I LIKE having a space that reflects my personality in all its eclectic facets.  And whatever space I have, I’m going to fill it with “stuff” I like, whether it’s from a thrift store or hand-made or an expensive antique shop.

It’s easy to pass judgment on how people spend THEIR money and insist that WE spend our money on much more important and justified things than they do.  I’ve been told I should, instead of making a nest for myself that feels joyous to me, spend my money on a mission trip to another country or give it charity because that would be a more spiritual thing to do with my money.  Never mind that the people telling me this aren’t exactly practicing what they preach.  It’s a way to feel superior spiritually.

I’ve given a tremendous amount of time to charities in the past and now give more of that time to my own spiritual pursuits while still making time to teach and share freely.  I’ve given a  lot of money and donations to good causes, too.    So why should I feel guilty for spending money to create a wonderful space for me to enjoy my life?  Some people find that kind of security through money in the bank or freedom to travel where they want to go or socializing with friends  or even a relationship.  My psychological security is in the roots I create and the safe haven my “stuff” creates for me.

As for spending money on stuff, I’m contributing in a way that most spiritual people don’t usually think about.  Here’s how: 

Let’s say I want to buy a new sofa to replace the broken one I’ve had for 15 years.  Instead of going to a chain furniture store, I decide I want a hand-crafted piece of furniture that costs less but doesn’t fit into any typical expectation of what my home should look like.   I  AM getting something material, something I love, but I’m also giving money for it as a fair exchange for the time, energy, and love put into that piece of furniture created by someone who is eking out a living.  I am helping them to keep their livelihood afloat in a bad economy, to feed their kids, to put a roof over their heads by supporting their handiwork with an exchange of cash.  I could give the same amount of money to a local charity or a charity far away and part of it would go administrative costs and very little, if any, would support that craftsman.   Since I have no problem giving money to charity, why should I feel bad or guilty for giving money that supports a craftsman in a way we can both feel good about? It’s my way of passing along my prosperity and honoring that connection we all have to each other as well as the  exchange of energy and coin in the transaction between us.

Eventually, in a few months, I’ll have to give serious thought to buying a big-ticket item–a  car–but this time I’ll see it differently.  I’ll understand that my purchase will help the income of the person selling me the car, and that person will be able to buy groceries or pay tuition or maybe even purchase another car from someone else who needs the money to  buy groceries or pay tuition or…..  The money I pay goes back into the economy, like energy spreading out from me to many, many others.