Saturday, April 4, 2015


Almost daily, I look around our house and think to myself, "Is that a trinket of frivolous utility?" 

Being married to an economist (and an Adam Smith scholar to boot) does come with some advantages, one of which is a fountain of fantastic and useful phrases from Smith's incredibly eloquent writings. It interested me that Smith's category of "trinkets of frivolous utility" includes many things that people spend their whole lives pursuing--large houses that they then have to maintain, expensive or gas guzzling cars that are more trouble than they're worth, he even goes so far as to say that "wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility." The lifestyles of the rich and famous...they ever fail to give fulfillment. 

So I have found myself, as we prepare to move this summer, gradually packing up boxes and wondering how many things in my house are trinkets of frivolous utility. 

Trinkets, I've decided, are things of small ultimate value. So something might be expensive in dollars that is not truly and ultimately valuable. Likewise, something might cost very little, but be immeasurably valuable to me. In fact, some things, the most valuable things cannot even be considered in terms of money--money then, is surely not the best gauge of value. ('Utility', by the way, is the economist's word for an individual's reckoning of 'value'.)  I am reminded of the passage in Isaiah 55: "Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price." How valuable is this water? Or this wine and milk? There is no price, and there is no money... how then do we decide? 

I have come up with a list of questions based off of what we value as a family in order to help me determine what is not a trinket...and the rest are generally assumed to be frivolous. Here are a few of the questions: What does it remind me of? Is there a special memory in this thing--one that is worth remembering? Does this thing make me thing about God, and his glory, and does it engender gratitude and thankfulness in my heart? Is the thing useful for our family, helping us maintain order and peace at home and to be hospitable? Is it a thing of beauty that never fails to delight me? Is there a high cost to storing or keeping such a thing? 

There is an astonishing, appalling number of things in our house that are both cheap and frivolous and have storage costs! (By which I mean that they take up valuable space and crowd my brainwaves with their clutter.) I've found (and since disposed of) heavy paperweights that I've never used and never thought particularly beautiful or meaningful! I've found books that I've half read and didn't like, but kept because I categorically like books. I've found clothes that I got for free in college and never fit me very well, and I've worn once in the past eight years. But not everything has such an obvious answer. There are things I'm still undecided about--what about the basket of seashells we got from Paul's grandparents in Florida? They remind me of them and their house. They are beautiful in and of themselves. And yet they take up space and get dusty, while there are other things that remind me of our grandparents. I have a small trophy from winning an honorable mention in a piano competition in high school--only a couple years after I starting taking piano lessons. Is it worth keeping? 

For these last examples, there are both pros and cons to keeping them. For both, I can think of what God has done or given me, and his steadfast love and faithfulness, and be grateful. And yet I might say that they don't cause that train of thought instantly, when I look at them. (Do I look at them? Good question to ask...) I am still unsure of how valuable certain memories are...they are certainly not all equal in value!

But it is a helpful question to keep asking: "Is it a trinket?" Because even if I am not sure of the answer now, if I keep asking, then either I will someday see the thing as very valuable and rejoice over it; or I will finally acknowledge that it has served a purpose and now is not worth keeping. I hope (and expect) that I will continue asking this question as we move into a new place, as our family grows and changes, as our eyes become more and more fixed on our Heavenly home. This is the goal. That which draws my eyes toward Heaven, and firms my resolve in trusting the One that will bring me there safely, will also show me more and more clearly the trinkets of this world for what they are. Such are the things worth keeping.


  1. What a lovely, thought-provoking article! The way you look for the Lord--and for His kingdom--in everyday life is a continual inspiration and encouragement to me. As I look up over the top of my laptop computer screen, my gaze falls upon a small, stuffed, Scottish Highland cow sitting on top of our VHS player. Hmmm....trinket, or treasure? Definitely a good question to ask!