September 21, 2012

Clutter and Eternity

I have strong feelings about clutter. It affects my consciousness of eternity.

I've noted before how I'm learning that having an impeccably clean house is only beneficial if it serves the family living there. In the same way, the material things that fill our homes are only valuable to the extent that they serve their stewards. If objects in my home are simply taking up space, they're actually hindering me as I endeavor to make home a place of purpose.

You can organize your clutter, if you want; but organizing only goes so far. My favorite way to avoid clutter is simply not to own it. There are good thoughts on this in Organized Simplicity and at Small Notebook.

I like to joke around that getting rid of stuff makes me happy. It's actually true. Having a cleaner, more open, less cluttered home makes me feel calmer, freer, less burdened. I've thought a lot lately about why having fewer possessions is so important to me. Why does a weekend feel successful if I've eliminated rather than accumulated material things? I've been making a list of reasons. Some are very practical. Some are spiritual, and they reveal the link I see between clutter and eternity. Here's what I've got so far.

Having as few possessions as possible:

  • Makes cleaning easier.
    The fewer items I have to clean, the better. The fewer items I have to move in order to clean the bathroom or to dust, the better (and the more likely I am to actually get around to dusting...).

  • Is more conducive to hospitality.
    I'm far happier inviting someone into my home when it's uncluttered and clean. My home is more likely to be uncluttered and clean when there are fewer possessions inside it. Simple enough.

  • Makes life more efficient. 
    If I own fewer things, there's a lower chance that the items I do need will be lost under a pile when I go looking for them. If my kitchen counters are bare, it's easier to quickly get started making supper. Maneuvering around the office or kitchen is faster and more productive when nothing is in my way except for what I'm currently using.

  • Costs less. 
    Having fewer electronics uses less electricity. Not having a television means no cable bill and no remote control batteries to replace. Having fewer items to clean costs less in cleaning supplies. And maybe this one is a stretch, but I've been in homes where the number of possessions posed physical danger. Clutter scattered in the floor and stacked in every corner contributes to the risk of a fall. A bad fall may consume band-aids or produce medical bills. It might sound far-fetched, but falls are the number one cause of accidental injury deaths in homes.

  • Ensures that I steward well the things I do own.
    When a bathroom cabinet is overflowing with cosmetics, cleaning supplies, or bath products, everything seems to blend together. I open the cabinet doors, and instead of seeing each individual product, I just see a mess. When the same cabinet holds only a few items, I notice each one. I know exactly what products I have, and I can use up those items before they expire. The same goes for the pantry in the kitchen.

  • Helps prevent me from depending on material things for my identity, confidence, or comfort.
    I must find those in Christ, and in Him alone. When I possess fewer things and hold those things loosely, it's so much easier for me to keep Christ as my focus. Recently, I have parted ways with some things I truly loved, things that were very hard to give away. I had realized how tightly I was holding onto those things. I felt uncomfortable at the thought of going without them. That's when I knew they had to go. They had begun to compete with Christ as a source of identity, confidence, and comfort for me. Eliminating those items brought me great freedom and joy.

  • Helps me value relationships, experiences, and memories more than the possessions associated with them.
    Ironically, the fewer items I possess, the more loosely I find myself holding them. I think it's because once I experience freedom from a material possession that formerly weighed me down, I am eager to experience that freedom even more. I previously had a large collection of wooden nutcrackers and toy soldiers.There was a time when I guarded that collection with a fervor. No touching! At some point I realized that the dear children who begged to play with those toy soldiers would enjoy them much more than I would enjoy seeing them collect dust on a shelf. One by one, my toy soldiers lost wooden arms and hats and noses and swords. But as the collection crumbled, wonderful memories were built in its place. I recall receiving bright smiles every time I retrieved a nutcracker to serve as an energetic child's most coveted doll. Exuberant hours were spent playing together. To me, those memories and the relationships they nurtured are much more meaningful than the collection itself ever was.

  • Reminds me that there is more than this life.
    I walk around my home in a state of evaluation. What can I eliminate today? What deserves to be here? Why should I keep this in my home? Do I really need this? I pull a piece of home decor off a shelf, and as I tuck it into my "give away box," I think of the children who could've been fed for a day with the dollar that purchased that trinket.

    Being intentional about my possessions has caused me to think more deeply about them. I don't really possess them after all, do I? Even the items of sentimental value hold little or no eternal value. I have them for a little while, here on this earth. Then when my 70-something years are over, who cares what becomes of them?

    I wish that I could convert all the non-necessities — the dust-collecting decor, the unused Christmas gifts, the drawer full of accessories that feed my girlish vanity — into resources for eternal endeavors. For translating the Bible into languages that have yet to hear or read it. For keeping a hungry child alive for another day. For sending missionaries, with that Bible, to that child and her family.

    Keeping fewer possessions keeps me aware that there is so much more than this current life. 

    Maybe it's extreme or radical. Maybe it's just a passing phase. I hope it's not.

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