“When a room becomes cluttered, the cause is more than just physical. Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder. The act of cluttering is really an instinctive reflex that draws our attention away from the heart of an issue. If you can’t feel relaxed in a clean and tidy room, try confronting your feeling of anxiety. It may shed light on what is really bothering you. When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state. You can see any issues you have been avoiding and are forced to deal with them. From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life.” — Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
I mentioned at the beginning of this series of posts that one of the unexpected catalysts for making such major changes in my home and ultimately my life was clearing out and creating space for a literal prayer closet. Following that, I began leading a group of women through a Bible study called Breathe by Priscilla Shirer. (It is excellent, by the way.) The focus of that study is the Sabbath commandment and its application to our lives. It was not a list of dos and don’ts for Sundays, but the principle of maintaining appropriate margin in our lives – not letting good things (activities, stuff, people, food, anything) that God has given us to enjoy get out of control or out of proportion.
I’m pretty good at maintaining white space on my calendar, but not so much with my pantry – literally or figuratively. The two biggies for me were food and stuff. Neither were inherently bad. I wasn’t an alcoholic or morbidly obese. I wasn’t putting us into any debt with spending, and the house didn’t appear to be all that cluttered on the surface. But both areas of my life were outside the margins of what was healthy and God-honoring for me.
Through the process of tidying (which is still ongoing, by the way), I’m learning some important lessons:
- “If you’re mad at your family, your room may be the cause.”
When I first heard this sentence in the book, I laughed out loud, and then I realized the sobering truth. So often when I lose my temper with my family, it’s not really because of something they’ve done. Instead, it’s because I’m feeling inadequate, unsuccessful, or less-than in some area of my life. When I don’t have my own act together, it’s a lot easier to pounce on someone else’s misstep than to deal with my own irresponsibilities.
- Each person has to deal with their own junk.
This one is sort of a corollary to the one above. When I first began this tidying journey, I wanted not only all of my stuff gone but everyone else’s, too. It was very tempting to stealthily get rid of some of the kids’ toys or my husband’s books. But that won’t work. Not only will it lead to distrust (as Marie points out in the book), but the changes made won’t last. I can’t decide what is truly important to someone else, and that person can’t deal with their own issues if I’m trying to do it for them.
Similarly, I can’t deal with someone else’s sin issue. I can pray for them. I can encourage them. I can even confront them as the Lord may lead. But I can’t surrender to the Lord on their behalf.
In both cases – physical junk and spiritual junk – the best policy is to deal with my own. Interestingly, each member of my family has begun to follow my example in their own way, and it’s even beginning to expand to extended family members, but trying to coerce them at the beginning was just leading to rebellion.
- Truly thinking about why we hold on to certain things can reveal areas where we are not fully trusting God or demonstrate how He has worked to transform us.
“When you come across a particular item that you find hard to discard, ask yourself why you have that item in the first place.” The author states that there are two reasons why we have a hard time letting go of things: over-attachment to the past or fear about the future. While you may certainly find examples of both as you confront your own possessions, she suggests that most people will discover that one of those is dominant, and that has been true for me. Mine is more often an over-attachment to the past.
When the Lord is doing something in my life, I can often look back and see how He was already preparing me for an upcoming change, and this is no exception. Since turning the magical age of 40 a couple of years ago, I’ve felt like a butterfly shedding the cocoon of other people’s expectations. I’ve gained a much greater confidence in myself during that time, attempting things that would have intimidated me before (from attention-grabbing hair color to public speaking) and stepping more fully into who He created me to be. Getting rid of stuff has been (and continues to be) a critical part of that metamorphosis. I’ve been forced to confront objects that I used to love and to learn that it’s OK to let them go when they just don’t appeal to me now. I’ve also had to deal with feelings about people from my past, especially those who hurt or disappointed me in some way. I can’t go back and change the past – and for the most part, I wouldn’t want to, anyway – but neither can I let it keep me stuck.
- “Putting your house in order” is not just for people facing imminent death.
I love that the author uses the phrase “putting your house in order” so often throughout the book. I don’t know about you, but I usually associate that with making amends, saying things that need to be said, and so forth, by a person who is about to die from some dreadful illness. But why would we want to wait until then to do those things?
Actually handling every thing that I own is causing me to face issues from my past – both good and bad – and make peace with them. I’ve been reminded of lots of happy memories. I’ve also experienced the feeling of release from getting rid of things that remind me of painful times. In this way, I am making amends and saying things that need to be said… to myself.
On a practical (albeit somewhat morbid) level, going through this process now means that my children won’t have to do it someday after I’m gone. They would have no way of knowing what had been important to me and what had just been junk, and I wouldn’t want to shoulder them or anyone else with the responsibility of going through boxes that hadn’t been unpacked in years and years. I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, but once this process is complete, it will give me a great deal of peace knowing that needed documents, pictures, and other important items could be easily located by my family members. (By the way, if you’re reading this someday after I’m gone to be with the Lord, Nathan and Megan – or David, for that matter – please part with anything of mine that doesn’t spark joy for you. NO guilt. Got it?)
- Enough is as good as a feast.
If I had to sum up everything I’ve been learning over the past few months from Bible study, from weight loss, and from tidying, it would be that. Enough really is enough. More isn’t always better. In fact, more often diminishes rather than enhances.
Blessings are never intended to be burdens. Challenges maybe. Faith-stretchers perhaps. But not burdens.
Abide in the Lord. Savor each bite. Surround yourself with things and people that make you smile. And then stop. Rest. Remain.