Uncluttering Our Lives: Simplicity

Oh, the irony of the day set aside to consider simplicity being more complicated than any typical day! Between church, sports, and school commitments, this family set off running in multiple directions. Some of us said goodbye more than twelve hours ago and haven’t been face-to-face since. And before bedtime one kid suddenly started puking. Nope, nothing simple about this day.

Let’s face it: simplicity is simply a struggle for most of us. Culture pushes us to be more, do more, buy more, more, MORE! We measure our worth – consciously or not – by the houses we live in, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the gadgets we carry, the black space (as opposed to blank space) on our calendars.

I am not a simple gal, though I long to be. I dreamily page through each issue of Real Simple magazine, knowing it is not now nor ever will be my life’s reality.

I am dramatic and disorganized, complicated and continually overwhelmed. I fight hard, and maybe not hard enough, against the entropy determined to rule our home. As much as I dislike being a stuff manager, I spend a fair share of every day shuffling our belongings (backpacks, shoes, laundry, dishes…) from here to there and another fair share ignoring belongings that ought to be shuffled. No matter the organizational systems set in place (yes, we have key bowls and shoe baskets, not to mention laundry baskets and towel hooks), it still feels like a sisyphean battle.

After remodeling bids came in way too high, dear friends have recently taken advantage of the economic upturn to sell their house. Any move prompts a purge, and they purged prior to putting their home on the market and again more thoroughly once it sold. Watching the process has initiated something in me, and I have begun to ask myself (and Guy, who might be a tad overwhelmed at this turn of ‘tude): “If we were moving, would we move this?”

We opened the garage for just one hour this weekend and came up with an obscene number of things we could donate or sell, some stuff in good usable condition but so well put away (read: ignored) that we hadn’t seen it in years. We’ve listed only a fraction on a local ‘garage sale’ listserve, and took a trunk-full to the Rescue Mission drop-box. We have so much more to do!

A laundry basket filled with items to sell/donate

A laundry basket overflowing with items to sell/donate

Why do I hang on to stuff I don’t use when it could be precisely the thing someone else needs? Why do I hang on to earthly treasures I have ceased to treasure when they might form a wobbly barricade separating me from Jesus?

Jesus wants to be my treasure. He wants my heart, but it’s pinned beneath towers of cascading clutter.

Guy and I married when we were 23 years old. We lived in small spaces and moved every few years, and so we left my archivally-preserved wedding dress in a corner of my grandmother’s closet. Some years ago during a Chinese Checkers marathon, I asked her if I could at long last have it back. She sat up straighter, made a funny face, and confessed: “It’s gone.”

My wedding dress had been stolen when she moved from an upstairs to a downstairs unit in the same building.

While I felt strong disdain for whomever would steal boxes from a 96-year-old woman as she belatedly moved to a downstairs apartment in a building she had occupied for 30-some years, I also experienced heartbreak for my lost wedding dress.

And yet…
* I had no plans to wear it;
* I have no daughters for whom I should save it;
* And, most importantly, its loss has in no way affected the quality of our marriage.

That loss has affected my view of stuff, however. If I can release my wedding dress into the great wide world (of dirty rotten grandma’s-box stealing thieves… oops, sorry), then I can certainly let go of items far less sentimental.

As a family, we have done a few things to counter the cultural tide, to anchor our hearts solidly in Jesus’ kingdom:

1) Among our posted family values: “Boredom = Opportunity” and “Play!”
We try hard not to over-schedule our kids. One sport at a time, and mostly rec leagues, and no more than three weekly activities each season (sport, church, music) has been our MO. We also don’t allow screen time during the school week, so the kids have plenty of time to get bored, to be creative, and to simply be kids who play. One Mother’s Day when Teen was still in elementary school he made me a home-made card that read, “Thank you for not over-scheduling us so that we get stressed out!” Melt a mama’s heart!

2) Another family value: “Need vs. Want.”
We don’t buy just because we want. We weigh desires against needs. We can easily convince ourselves that we need more, but honestly we need far less than we think we do. Staying out of stores is also a big deterrent against shopping for entertainment.

Creating margin on the calendar and on our counter tops will be an ongoing process, but it’s one to which I’m committed. Here are a few of my recent and regular steps:

1) Set a timer for 20 minutes, choose one cluttered space, and attack. When possible, set aside a longer block of time.

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

Even 5 minutes could make a dent in this pile

2) Continually winnow. I’m not one for taking everything out of a space and only putting back the essentials. That approach feels too drastic, too large, too time-consuming. And so I try to look fresh at each space as I come to it: what do I see today that I can let go of? Same goes for the calendar: do we need that activity? and likewise: what good activities are missing because we seem to be overscheduled?

It's tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

It’s tempting to say I need a bigger closet, but I really just need less stuff

3) The Art of Simple has become one of my favorite blogs. The posts tend to be short and to the point of simplifying so many areas of life.

4) A book I expect to come back to again and again: Throw Out 50 Things. Gail Blanke walks you through each room/area of your living space and your brain and examines why we hold on to our stuff and our unhelpful thinking patterns.

And a Bible study for you, as together we treasure our relationship with Jesus.

Connect
Reflect on an example from your life when you lost (in some way) a precious possession. What was it and what happened?

Study
Read aloud Matthew 6:19-21.
Give three examples of someone storing up treasures on earth. What do you think Jesus meant by storing up treasures in heaven?
What problems result from storing up treasures on earth (v. 19)?
What are the benefits of storing up treasures in heaven (vv. 20-21)?

Live
In what ways can earthly treasures get in the way of storing up heavenly treasures? Explain.
How does storing up treasures in heaven help you simplify on earth? (cf. Mt. 6:33)
Where would you put yourself on a spectrum from hermit to hoarder? Explain.
Describe a time in your life when you lived simply. What were some of the advantages?
Name one or two obstacles to simplicity that you might be able to remove from your life, and how you might begin to address them this week.
Which Faith Training Exercises have you tried recently? Share joys and struggles.
Which exercises might God call you to this week, and why?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Holy Spirit will use a discipline of simplicity to draw you nearer to God.

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