Decluttering can be a deeply spiritual experience. We find plenty of clutter in our lives. Our closets our cluttered. Our garage is cluttered. Our desks are cluttered. Our kitchen is cluttered. Is there no end to the clutter?
Living produces clutter. The faster you live, and the more you try to do, the more clutter that piles up around you.
Each January I tackle the clutter in my garage. My garage is a storehouse for all of the good ideas I have, the things I hope to use someday, and the next-to-the-final resting spot for toys the kids have outgrown. I start by taking everything out. It all goes into the driveway. Everything is touched, and briefly reflected on.
There are a few questions that I ask about everything I touch. Have I used this in the past year? Will I use it this year? Will anyone notice if it is not here? Will I get in trouble if I get rid of it? Does this have special significance?
Most of the things I touch are in the garage because I’ve not needed them since they were placed in the garage. Some things are in the garage because there is no other place for them around the house, and they are used from time to time (ie. lawnmowers, seasonal kitchen gadgets, powertools, etc…) Many things get disposed of because I can’t rationally imagine using them again in the next 12 months.
It’s stressful for me to walk through my garage when it’s piled with clutter. I feel a twinge of guilt about not being the organized person, I feel like I should be. I feel particularly guilty about my piles of stuff when I drive past a neighbor’s garage that is immaculate, tidy, and empty (except for a car that has plenty of room to open doors on both sides). Each time I enter my garage I feel like something must be done, but I never have time to get started. I feel that there are things that need to be straightened out, but I only have enough motivation to put off the cleaning effort for another day.
Then comes the big day, the day set aside for decluttering. I usually start early in the morning, on a Saturday. As I mentioned before, I take everything out (that’s a bit of an exaggeration since there are some furnishings that remain, and the tools stay in their spaces). With everything that can be removed out in the open, I explore the meaning and purpose of every item.
Boxes of stuff, once used, now stored, are sorted through for anything valuable. Pictures of the kids when they were little, mementos and crafts from countless school and church activities, heirlooms of all shapes and sizes….these remain. A broken TV, pots and pans that show signs of abuse, Christmas and birthday gifts from years gone by that the kids opened, enjoyed and have now have outgrown and forgotten…these are the things that add nothing to our existence but stress. These are the things I get rid of.
I get ruthless in my decluttering. All I can see once the clutter is out of the garage is the space. I take back my space when I haul off my junk to the garbage. There is a moment of euphoria when the job is completed. There is a celebration when the car will fit back in the garage. It’s a joyful moment when you can walk through the garage without feeling the urge, the stressful urge, to tidy something. It makes me feel like I am truly the master over my stuff instead of being mastered by my stuff.
Decluttering can be a reminder of how little we actually need in order to be content in this world. Decluttering is about making room for things that matter most.
Our garages and closets and desks and kitchens are not the only spaces that need to be decluttered.
A few times a year I take stock of what is written in the spaces of my day-planner. Keeping a day-planner is good business. It breaks down the months and the weeks and the days into little blank spaces to fill with activities and meetings and errands. The more little spaces we fill up the more purposeful we feel.
At times, my day-planner is a crowded as my garage. It becomes cluttered with activities and meetings and errands. If my schedule were a garage, there are weeks when it would be filled from wall to wall, and from floor to ceiling.
You declutter a day-planner just like you would declutter a garage: you clear the space. Instead of writing something in each little blank, you keep what is most important, you maintain what you have to maintain, and then you throw out anything that doesn’t belong.
Why is space, open space, in a day-planner important? How will creating more space, and decluttering my schedule, benefit me? What dangers are there in taking on less stuff in order to have more time to give myself to what is most important?
Creating space in your schedule allows you to engage in the important things you cannot schedule. You cannot know when God will send something significant into your path. Rather than rushing past, moving on, or missing out on God’s divine appointments, we need to have the time to savor and enjoy the gifts of God.
What about being helpful? When we are too busy to be helpful, we are just too busy. It’s difficult to structure into our schedule moments where you intend to be helpful. Neighbors and friends and strangers we meet along the way rarely coordinate their catastrophes with anyone else’s day-planner. Things happen, and if there is no margin in the spaces of our day-planners, there is little hope of our having time to be useful to another person along life’s way.
I often think about Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan in this context. The Scribe and the Priest were not bad, they were busy. Because they were bound to their busyness, they were useless. Their busyness made them un-neighborly. Being a good neighbor requires some uncluttered space on our day-planner.
It takes time to form relationships. Relating is about listening. Listening cannot be hurried. Unstructured time is required for enjoying the company of another person, or a group of people, you love. Unstructured time makes you present to who you are present with.
Sabbath, and the space to reflect that it offers, helps us declutter our day-planner, and purposefully live meaningful lives.