Chapter 6 – Ponderings
I mentioned in chapter three that I discovered listening to books and videos helped me focus on cleaning and not get bored. At first I listened to decluttering gurus. Their ideas inspired me to press on. Eventually and accidentally I ran across a whole other group of people who wrote/spoke about getting rid of clutter as more than a menial task. They saw it as a philosophical and even spiritual journey. Most of them called themselves minimalists. Their ideas centered around getting rid of the stuff in your life that is stealing your time and money and distracting you from the important things in your life – family, friends, goals, growth… As it turns out clutter doesn’t just take up space in our houses, it crowds our minds and lives. Joshua Becker tells the story of the day he became a minimalist. He was cleaning out his garage (an all-day project) and his son was playing alone in the back yard after repeatedly asking his dad to join him. He realized that the stuff collecting dust in his garage was robbing him of time with his son. He began to explore the idea that maybe he did not need all that stuff and maybe his life would be better without it. He and his wife began to purge everything in their home that they did not need. Most minimalists use the guidelines that you should only keep things that are useful or that bring you joy. Useful means it is currently being used on a regular basis in your life. The fancy dishes I might need someday but hadn’t used in twenty-one years of marriage didn’t make the cut. Items that bring joy can be sentimental objects or decorations. The caution here is not to keep things out of guilt. I have a few art items my mom created, but I do not have to keep everything she ever touched in order to honor her memory.
Many great minds through the ages have espoused the benefits and necessity of simplicity. I had read Thoreau and others like him, but even though I am a Christian, I had overlooked the guidance found in the teachings of Christ. In Matthew, Jesus tells his followers not to store treasure on earth because their hearts will be directed towards their treasure. I had to ask myself some serious questions. Why do I have all this excess stuff in my house? Why am I holding on to things that other people might need? What am I afraid of?
People hold onto things for many reasons and most of these applied to me as well. Sometimes we keep things out of fear. We imagine that we will need it in the future. The truth is we may not be able to find it when we need it anyway. All too often people buy something they already have but can’t find in their cluttered house. It’s even more likely we won’t need it. We also keep things out of guilt. This is especially true if the item was a gift or an inheritance. I slowly began to realize that if the giver loved me, they would not want me to keep something that brought me guilt rather than joy. Another reason for hanging on to so much stuff is pride. People like to show off their stuff and look good to their peers. This effort to prop up your self-esteem is fleeting and fickle. It leaves a person chasing the next great gadget to brag about, and it often leaves your wallet empty. Lastly, people buy and keep excess stuff because they think it will make them happy. We all claim this isn’t true, but just try giving up some of your comfort objects. You will discover a definite dip in your mood. I have been guilty of buying one more board game because I thought it would create fun family time (even though the cabinet full of them at home had not done the job). Many people indulge in fast cars or beautiful diamonds or any number of new, shiny things to feel that initial high. All too soon the high is gone, the bills remain, and your house is even more crowded. Maybe we are chasing the wrong things.
Luke 18 tells the story of a rich young ruler who asks Jesus about eternal life. After discussing the commandments, Jesus gives him the mandate to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The young man walked away sad. Most preachers say that the man’s money was a metaphor for anything that a person values more than their relationship to God. It’s not really about money and possessions. What if they are wrong? What if Christ was teaching about a better way of life, a road to happiness? Many minimalists, regardless of their religious beliefs, feel you can’t find true happiness (the abundant life) if you are weighed down by possessions. Our lives are too valuable to waste chasing after stuff. So, am I ready to pitch everything and embrace poverty? I have to admit, I’m not. However, I am trying to get rid of and share all my excess. I am trying to be more frugal with my money so that I can be free to give. I am endeavoring to be less wasteful and more generous. I am moving forward.