STUFFED WITH STUFF
“Declutter!” It’s such a modern catch word. There are articles, websites and even entire television shows dedicated to the idea that we hoard too much stuff and that it can be liberating to free ourselves from all the “junk” we collect over the years. But it’s not that new of a concept. In fact, God has been encouraging us to declutter since the beginning. Among many examples, this one tends to stand out for me:
“Store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven not on Earth” (Matthew 6:19-21, also Luke 12:33-34).
This is a timely article for me because my wife and I (at her insistence, mind you!) have been deep in the throes of decluttering our home. Since I’m the one with the clutter issue in our home, I’m hoping I’ll learn something by writing this! If you’re like me, you’ve stored up lots of “treasures” on earth, both worthless and valuable.
“Clutter” can be a lot of things, both good and bad. Most people tend to, understandably, hold on to sentimental items. I definitely fall into this category. And, of course, the more life experiences you have over the growing years, the larger your collection of personal keepsakes may become. As a sentimental hoarder, I’ve had to come to grips with whether or not these items still deserve to take up physical space in my life.
When I reflect on individual items, I’m often struck by how many are “ephemera” (items that were intended for only a short time, from the Greek ephēmeros, meaning “lasting only one day, short-lived”). An example of something that should have been short-lived is the four boxes of graphic tee-shirts from my musical touring days.
Each graphic tee held a precious memory of a specific time and place. But they were never intended to be kept forever, I will never wear them again and I never even pull them out to look at them. Why am I holding on to them? They had to go, according to my less-sentimental wife. While the sentimental hoarder in me cringed at the thought, I came across a way to keep them — I took photos of each one. Now, those same memories are stored on a digital file that takes up only hard drive space. (Of course, we could all probably write volumes on “computer clutter,” but that’s for another time.)
Often, it’s the memory we cling to, not the item itself. Thankfully for me, our digital world allows us many convenient ways to keep and organize these memories without necessarily having to hold every item. I am finding it easier to release the “physical” item knowing the “digital” version is still there when I want to revisit those memories.
We should also be cautious that clutter can also be a sign of greed (and, in extreme cases I am not qualified to write about, mental-illness). Hanging on to things and stuffing your closets and storage areas with tons of stuff you don’t need simply because you want to always feel like you have “more than enough” runs counter to what we know about how God provides for us.
Apparently, the birds know this better than we do: “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” (Luke 12:24).
Those birds aren’t hoarding items like we do — “Someday I might need that old coffee can lid!” — and, yet, they always tend to have what they need.
More to the point, our greed can blind us to what our life is really about: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).
Life isn’t about “things,” it’s about God and His people. That is His purpose for you, to love Him and love His people. Not things.
Decluttering our lives can not only liberate us from the hold our stuff has on us, it can free our minds to focus on what matters. We’ve all heard that “you can’t take it with you,” referring to what happens with all your stuff when you die. How meaningless a life built on things and not on our purpose!
“Then I thought about the man who hoards stuff in his barn in case he needs it “someday,” only to die the next day” (Luke 12:15-21).
This is another key thing to remember as you consider decluttering: Decluttering your life can be a blessing to other’s lives!
How many homeless people could use my four boxes of tee-shirts? Ouch. Makes what I refer to lightly as my harmless “sentimental hoarding” seem suddenly greedy and selfish, right? In this way, I can use my decluttering as a blessing on others, fulfilling my purpose of loving others.
When we declutter our lives physically, it also gives us more ability to declutter our lives spiritually. D.H. Mondfleur wrote: “Eliminate physical clutter. More importantly, eliminate spiritual clutter.”
When you spend your hours focused on God, suddenly the physical items you cling to, even the most sentimental, take on less importance. Perhaps I wrote this article backwards. Maybe I should encourage you (and myself!) to declutter our spiritual minds first — focus on a God who created us, loves us and will provide our every need.
I won’t be getting rid of everything. There are physical items that are precious to us, even if they are meaningless to the rest of the world. But I can start eliminating the ephemera. And, I can, with not too much effort, eliminate some of the spiritual clutter I tend to allow. I hope you can find your way out of your mess, too.