Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by the clutter at home and constant stuff that seems to occupy your personal spaces? I know I do. Excessive paperclips. Coins from other countries. Trinkets. Bags. Books. Dishes. Clothes. Toiletries. Candles. Mementos. An endless accumulation of items that seems to occupy my life in cycles. I get rid of tons of it in spring-cleaning spurts, only to then reaccumulate new things based on the latest fancies and trends. It. Just. Never. Ends.
If there is anything I’m good at and love to do, it’s to go through my house and get rid of or throw away everything that is unnecessary, “too much,” or simply in the way. I lack some of the qualms others might have about throwing things out. For me, it feels good to let go of the burden of something that is clutter, occupying space, and ultimately, stressing me out.
And I can sometimes justify these purging tendencies by deciding to donate them to charity, thinking, “Well, at least the St. Vincent de Paul Society will benefit from it.” And that’s quite true. Good can come from my offering my possessions to others. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that those usually aren’t my motivating intentions.
And herein lies my problem.
When I walk around my house, becoming antsy about things I own and it evolves to a ‘time to get rid of everything’ Saturday morning initiative, it’s clear that the things I own have become more than just things I own. I might tell myself I’m aspiring to a deeper spirit of detachment. Most of the time, however, I know that what’s really going on is that I’m “dealing” with the things I own because they’ve started to have some power over me. And so, I respond to these things, sometimes in annoyance, and kick them to the curb.
It’s kind of unsettling to admit that inanimate objects have somehow been able to leverage emotional power over me. I guess Marie Kondo might disagree. In her popular “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” series on Netflix, many watched and became inspired by her approach to tidy up, organize, and simplify living spaces. What earned even more attention and inspired others was her call to offer gratitude for items owned, paying respects to them before gently tossing them out. While one might consider these ideas or practices noteworthy, they can exacerbate a problem most of us already deeply struggle with: we may be emotional about or attached to the things we own.
As an only child, I can easily revert back to all kinds of strong feelings about what’s “mine!” and not someone else’s. But this is not the kind of approach to life I aspire to. As a Christian seeking to follow Christ, I hope for the grace to respond to Jesus not as the rich man did when he went away sad (Matthew 19:22), but as someone whose possessions don’t become an obstacle in the walk with Christ.
It’s not as though the many trinkets that fill my home are bad in and of themselves; they only become an obstacle when I start to feel a certain way (positive or negative) about them through strong attachment, the kind that forced the rich young man to walk away from Jesus sad.
I don’t suggest we need to view things we own with negativity or self-loathing, nor resist enjoying the many things that we can experience as blessings. We simply need to remember that at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff, and as our elders always remind us, we can’t take any of it with us to the next life.
When I go through cleaning and organizing spurts throughout my home now, I try to be much less cavalier in getting rid of what I don’t want anymore. I realize it can take more discipline to hold on to things and try to put them to a good, future use, or it requires patience and effort to save things because I believe they might benefit another one day.
There’re loads more I could say about the other end of this problem – the endless pursuit of new purchases to satisfy our consumer appetites. But I try to be more thoughtful and discerning in buying new things now, because I know I could easily look at one of those items in a year and be tempted to say, “you’re not necessary anymore, pink Christmas lights, and you’re taking up too much space – onto your next owner!”
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer for how much we should or should not own, but that the secret lies in our ability to let go of it. In our ability to get up and offer a response different from that of the young rich man. May we practice letting go of the things in our lives that compete with Christ.
When I continue to read, reflect, and respond to God’s call to sell everything I own and join Him, I ask for the renewed grace to follow God more closely. To be freer to get up and walk away from my belongings and the clutter at home without bother and without hesitation. How is God calling you to become freer of posessions?