31 for 41: Shifting Piles

Dear Donovan,

I like nice things.  You know I am a self-proclaimed clearance shopping professional.  When I spot something I like in a store, I see lots of possibilities for its use.  In addition, I quickly and firmly attach sentimental value to items that are given to me.  These traits can be useful, but they can also lead to a cluttered life.

We each have inconsistencies in our life to address.  For me, there has existed the inconsistency between wanting to live simply but having too much stuff.  I can say that the level of ease or difficulty with which I could release personal possessions has been closely related to where I was in my healing process from early trauma.  As I have fought other battles, I have also tried to become an organized person who does not have an unhealthy attachment to possessions.

Along this journey, one day I was doing an online search for ideas about how to organize household items, and these words seemed to jump at me:  “You cannot declutter your life by shifting around your piles of stuff.”  

It was a hard blow to someone who likes to hold on to her stuff.  I knew it was true, though.  Even though our house was always clean, I knew that if I wanted to have an organized life, I could not just keep trying to move around all of the things I own until I found the perfect way to store everything.  Some things would have to go.

So I say the same thing to you.  You cannot declutter your physical space in life unless you are willing to let go of some of your possessions.  Otherwise, you collect more and more over time until your possessions hinder your enjoyment of life instead of enhancing it.

Similarly, you cannot declutter your mental and emotional space unless you are willing to let go of some things.  Releasing harmful clutter like bad habits, resentment, negative self-talk and worry can bring freedom and fullness of life.  Both the tangible and intangible possessions that we value and hold on to vary from person to person, but I will leave you with two quandaries that many of us seem to share:

1. You do not need everything that you want.

I want chocolate Oreo milkshakes a lot.  There are days when I want to stay in bed for hours and watch Hallmark Christmas movies.  I can find at least $50 worth of merchandise that I want on any given trip to Marshall’s.  Just last night, I may or may not have downed a Cajun Filet biscuit, seasoned fries with honey mustard, and a gloriously tall sweet tea in less than 10 minutes, not because I needed it but because I wanted it.

For many things that I want, obtaining them will mean that I am not doing what is best for myself or for my family.  I remember hearing a story about a young boy riding with his governess on an open seat of a horse-drawn buggy, while his father and mother rode in front of them.  The mother, trying to enjoy a leisurely ride, was perturbed by the sound of her son’s whining, and without looking back, asked the governess what was the matter.

“Your son is upset because he cannot get what he wants.”

The mother quickly replied, “Then just let him have it.  I am tired of hearing him fuss.”

Very soon, the mother was startled by the pained wail of her son.  Whirling around in her seat, she asked the governess, “What happened?”

The governess extended the child’s hand to show the mother the whelp of a bee sting.  “I let him have what he wanted.”

There are so many adults who can tell you stories of how glad they are now that they did not get what they once desired with their whole heart.  So guard your heart, and be very careful about the things you decide that you want.  It can be very hard to free yourself from physical things that you already purchased.  It can be even harder to recover spiritually from pursuing what you want instead of what God wants for you.  

2. You do not want everything that you need.

There are many times when I do not want to exercise or mop the floor or drink water instead of that glorious sweet tea.  But being a disciplined, successful person will require you to go to work when you do not feel like going.  Maintaining healthy relationships will mean saying you are sorry when you do not want to but need to.  Taking care of your body will mean choosing the cucumber instead of the cookie dough.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this human experience a long time ago:  “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19).  There will be times when it is hard to do what you need to do.  Do it anyway.  And as for the things that pile up that you do not need, you will waste a lot of time in life if you just try to manage the piles by shifting them around.  Do not be afraid to declutter.  If you seek God first, He will make sure you have all that you need.  

Finally, I want to say to you that it is okay to hold on to special things.  One of my most prized possessions is the bargain store light-up crystal cube that you gave me for Christmas when you were in elementary school.  You had earned “classroom cash” and really wanted to buy something for yourself during the classroom auction.  Instead, you used your hard-earned currency to buy that cube for me.  It is a treasure to me, and something I hope to never lose.  My wish for you is to have the treasure of a clean, balanced life.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:33

I love you forever,

Your sweet tea-loving, semi-organized mama

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