Recently I decided to stop hoarding a little bin of special soaps and things I've kept for over ten years- since my wedding shower. Some of the creams and things were so old they'd spoiled and needed thrown away. I regret not having just used them up long ago, instead keeping them sorted into a little bin and carrying them from apartment to apartment to house and never opening them. The pretty soaps that weren't bad yet suddenly appeared in our soap dishes. One has a pink heart embedded into it and the day I put it out there was so much excitement. My kids never seemed so happy about washing their hands. I realized, I've been wasting something by not using it up. Not only was the pleasure of the soap lost (though luckily now enjoyed!) but the space and effort of maintaining it neatly in it's little bin took up a part of my life. That was a significant amount of bathroom shelf real estate that could have held something more utilitarian or been a little space to breathe in my life. There is so much of this kind of baggage around me that I'm finally seeing and sharing. I used to pick on my husband for storing all his Star Wars memorabilia and toys from when he was a kid. But now I'm coming to understand the plank in my own eye on this issue. The truth is, I know I've been far worse with much less. I've always known and admitted to being a pack rat but it was 'useful' or 'valuable' or 'memorable' stuff, so I gave myself an excuse all of the time.
Now decluttering is becoming a kind of lifestyle I'm gradually learning. I know I've written about it before. And often I'm talking about life decluttering and stuff decluttering and someone looks incredulous about me talking about it, because, they remind me, I've been talking about it for years and how can I *still* be decluttering. It seems when you put it like that, that I must be doing it wrong. I think there is some confusion in that instance between decluttering and say, spring cleaning. Maybe there is even a better word than decluttering that can set apart what I am really trying to strive for. It's a lifestyle or a way of thinking. A method, or a journey. Not so much a check list or a set of goals, although such things are certainly a part of the process.
I'm learning over time to release my attachment and reliance on 'stuff', to let go of that niggling feeling that tells me to save something because I might need it later or it might become difficult or expensive to have again or because it's a treasure or a memory or because it's a gift etc. Gradually I am cutting through layers of things with a new motto of use-it-or-lose-it. The vision gained at a Mom's luncheon a couple of years ago, about how our homes are meant to be places where useful things flow through to bless our families and others in our circles of influence as opposed to our homes being stagnant stinking pools of useless stuff has inspired me. It allows me to still save odd bits and ends and to store things that seem needful, but it requires me to have a stated purpose and timetable for them to be used or given away. It means I can identify what is really not supposed to stay or what just can't stay for lack of space or purpose. It means I can weigh the value of the space and time it takes to maintain that stuff against its real value.
The irony is that the more things I let go of or make an effort to use for what I set it aside for instead of putting off that project, then the more breathing space is made which allows me to see what else I have and to think of better ways to access it. It's strange in that even though I have fewer things, I actually feel like I have more than before because I can get to it and use it when I'm looking for it or needing it!
Decluttering doesn't just mean identifying things to be kept or gotten rid of. It also means identifying systems or ways of working that are in need of tightening up. Is it easy to put away those cups into that cupboard or have to chosen one furthest away from the drying rack so they never get put away? Are my kids really this forgetful about shoes and coats, or am I not providing enough hooks and shoe racks? Does a dresser really work best for a small child to manage his own clothes, or should I look at a system that doesn't involve him pulling on big heavy drawers and digging around? Are our toys feeling like clutter when they really just need better rules and discipline about returning them?
Some things are hard to give up and some systems are difficult to even imagine another way of doing and so I find myself sympathizing with a friend who just confides in me that she thinks it's best to just accept her flawed way of life management as her personality or style and learn to love it. But some part of me wishes I could scream out 'no!' because we are selling ourselves short. Better to struggle towards any kind of improvement than to keep living with this deadweight around our necks and trying to smile about it like its healthy.
I'm decluttering, even if I'm never decluttered.
Here are some little phrases or ideas and some encouragement that I think throughout my day to help me to put things in order:
1) Use it or lose it. If I'm really not going to use this or it's not worth the space to keep it in or it's no longer something that's as useful as before etc then I need to recycle/ donate/ gift/ trash it.
2)On my way. ie: Since I'm going from the kitchen to the bedroom and passing the laundry, I might as well take the dirty kitchen rags to the laundry bin and those magazines to the bathroom for reading later. It will only take me a couple more seconds and then these things will be 2 less things cluttering my kitchen.
3)There must be a better way. (to do this or store that etc) Look for other ways people have solved the problem or picture how you would. Imagine it and then keep an eye out for stuff you already have that can solve your problem or the things you need for free or reclaim or re-purpose or on sale that can make it happen. Or drawing a plan for someone else to make it happen for you. Whatever it takes. But if you can't picture it, it won't change.
4)Like with Like. Consolidate similar things into singular places generally. It turns what was random junk into accessible resources.
5) Nesting Chores. I can be running laundry, baking bread, washing dishes, and administering home school subjects all at once through the magic of getting things started in series and maintaining them in a paced fashion. I don't have to be standing over the washing machine and once the dough is proofing I have 30 mins or more until the next step. I can wash dishes and hear a child read at the same time, and if I let the dishes drip dry in the rack I save myself the chore of drying and can come back to put them away after I have done another small chore. You can't always keep this kind of juggling act going, and some times it's good to slow down and concentrate on just one thing and do it right, but you have to find a way to keep up too. This is one of my favorite time saving methods.
6)Fight entropy! This is my tongue in cheek way of reminding myself that I'm doing the impossible anyway, so I don't have to expect perfection. I often write this at the top of my to-do lists. Some might call it lowering your standards, but I like to think of it as having a sense of reality. I will finally lick entropy when Christ returns and I dwell in His forever Kingdom, in a life where rust, mold, and flour moth can't destroy. For now, I am fighting the good fight for the sake of the Kingdom of God in our lives.
7)How do you eat an elephant? Sometimes we don't do a big job because we are overwhelmed by it. Every time I ask my kids to pick up after themselves they melt into a puddle because the job seems insurmountable. It works best if instead I identify specific types of things for them to work on at a time (pick up the clothes, stuffed animals, and papers) Or identify a small area for them to tackle (just pick up the junk that fell down the side of your bed). And really, we need to do the same with our big elephant chores. Slice off a bite at a time and quit belly aching!
Where there is no oxen, the trough is clean. We have junk and even big messes in our lives because we are living families, not sterile dead lifeless things. We are burgeoning with activity and future possibilities entrusted to our care!
God wants us to empty our hands so He can fill them. Our Father is rich beyond all measure and longs to bless us. He knows our needs before we ask them. He will dress us lavishly (at least figuratively speaking) if we will let go of the shreds we think we need because we fail to trust Him instead. We are children of the King. So I need to stop relying on my own ability to stash away in place of His providence.
God doesn't need us to be Martha Stewart as much as He longs for us to be ready to receive him and one another. Being Mary is about choosing the better thing, which is relationships over things. Don't obsess about being cleaned up (or guilt trip yourself about not being cleaned up) so much that you miss the purpose of cleaning up- being prepared to receive each other! Pay attention to your husband, hug your babies, and enjoy your guests.
God gives us things for a purpose and a season. Recognizing the voice of The Holy Spirit guiding us in our lives will help us to better identify those purposes and seasons and use our things to the glory of God.