Clutter is making the news these days. I could go on a serious rant about clutter in the media citing a plethora of reports about people or groups of people that have little to do with anything at all. For example, I don’t care which Hollywood-type spoiled young adult did something to stir a media feeding frenzy. Truly, I really don’t care except to rant that those types of articles clutter our media sources with so much similar meaningless ‘stuff’ that it’s hard to find the things that matter. But, that’s not the clutter the media has been reporting.
A recent national publication dedicated their entire March issue to clearing clutter from your life. All kinds of clutter was mentioned from something as trivial as a junk drawer stuffed with unidentifiable, yet saved, objects to the more serious issue of relationships that suck the life out of you rather than being restorative. A Sunday morning show presented a segment on hoarders, people who cannot throw anything away, including things like newspapers, magazines and old cereal boxes hoping that someday they will find a need for them. There are also those who are fundamentally mini-hoarders. They have what appear to be neat and tidy houses…just don’t open a closet door for fear their stashes of stuff will tumble shamelessly onto display when there is nothing to hold them back. The epitome of hoarding can be seen in the story of the Collyer brothers who lived in New York City in the early-1900’s. It was during the removal of 140-tons of collected chaos from their home that the body of one brother was found buried beneath a pile of newspapers and suitcases. He had been crushed while navigating through a tunnel of compiled debris and set off a booby trap they constructed to protect their obsessive treasures from potential thieves.
Clutter. I guess we all have it to an extent. Our preoccupation with abundance and consumerism influences our sense of how much is enough. The belief that if a little is good, more is better promotes a desire for copious amounts of possessions for some. Others collect and hoard in response to deprivation at another time in their lives. Still others are influenced by advertising campaigns or the desire to have what someone else has. Oops, doesn’t that sound something like ‘coveting’…something that got a spot on God’s top-10 list of rules for getting along? I know I digress, but that whole covet-thing could have been written more clearly if the tablets given to Moses said something like, “Just be happy with what you have. It’s not about the stuff!”
Garage sales are common this time of year. When our kids were little, I would drive them around town looking for other’s cast offs of cheap toys and children’s clothes. It helped to stretch our meager budget and it was an afternoon of entertainment for all of us. My perspective has changed over the years from visiting other’s sales to the realization I may need to have my own garage sale as a means to unload some of our clutter. It’s time to clean the closets, basement and attic. Additionally, the garage will need to be de-cluttered so we have a place to store treasures for said sale. Most years I manage to clean a closet or two, haul a carload of boxes and sacks to a donation site and forget the idea of a sale. It also means I neglect to clean the basement, attic or garage where things continue to indiscriminately multiply when I’m not looking. Clutter.
Clutter not only takes over our space, it steals our time. I had a conversation with a friend the other day about finding time to do the things that are important to us. So much of our definition of what’s important comes from the affirmation of those around us. Unfortunately, that affirmation tends to come from a cultural approach that endorses work and achievement to the detriment of taking care of one’s self. Necessities of life like sleep, exercise, and the occasional mani/pedi can be perceived as unimportant events that do nothing but steal our focus from what society deems important. Time for relationship building, particularly our relationship with God, can take a back seat to the presumed duty to acquire more, whether it is status, power, authority and/or the possessions that announce we have achieved some crazy level of lifetime success. Clutter.
I am intrigued by the concept of clutter, particularly as Lent approaches. Although spiritual disciplines are intended to be important practices throughout the year, Lent seems to shake us up enough to remember their value in daily life. We are reminded that fasting comes in many forms, not simply to abstain from eating for a meal or a day. Fasting, or giving something up, for Lent is a means to open our lives to something else, presumably something that strengthens our relationship to God. Yet, we live in a time of abundance. To give up just one thing when we are surrounded by so much seems silly not to mention disingenuous. Give up sugar? Fine, I’ll use honey. No more satellite news? Okay, there’s still the Wall Street Journal. Leave behind my coffee habit? Not on your life…but if I did, I could substitute tea or cocoa when craving a hot beverage. Ice cream? Yup, gelato or sorbet are perfect stand-ins. There is an adequate, if not exciting, replacement for almost everything negating the intended contemplation associated with fasting of any kind. Because of that, I am not going to focus on what I am giving up for the season. This year I am going to pause and give myself the gift of space.
To do so, I will need to make room by clearing out some clutter. The plan is to select one item each day of Lent that can be donated, recycled or thrown away. It is my intention to meditate on the selected item. What did it represent to me? Why was, or is, that important? What am I making room for by letting go of the item? Somedays it will be easy. I mean, how many coffee makers does one household need? Shall we talk about drawers filled with socks? Is there any reason to have a closet full of old pillows and blankets?
The hard days will be the ones when I attempt to clear the clutter from myself. Old hurts and frustrations fill spaces in the heart just as much as tangible objects can be crammed into living spaces. Emotional wounds affect how one receives compassion from another; fears affect the places one goes or the experiences and people one is open to; self-doubt and condemnation can keep one from living into their potential; and obsessing about foibles and problems can limit our ability to see the full glory of God’s love and presence in all that is. These things are the clutter that strangles the spirit by filling personal thoughts with negativity and pain until there is no space left for hopes and dreams.
The promise of Lent is that when we experience the darkest of dark; when we are absorbed with life’s issues whether they are big or small; when we find ourselves running faster and faster and getting no where; and when we are simply tired of stress or frustration or that nagging sore hip, Easter will come offering new life. Clearing the clutter gives us the space we need to recognize which direction we are being called by that which loves us beyond our wildest imagination and which direction is simply extending an enticing hand to pull us deeper into the abyss.