Too Much Stuff

If clutter's got you down, try these secrets to simplifying.
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Several years ago while on vacation, our family ate at a restaurant that claimed to have the largest buffet in the United States. We swarmed the mind-boggling array of culinary delights as though we'd never seen food before. By the time we finished gorging ourselves, we could barely walk out of the restaurant.

Unfortunately, our restaurant experience reflected my lifestyle at the time: excessive possessions, commitments, goals, and desires. While our house had reasonable storage space, our belongings had expanded from the attic to the garage and beyond. My daily calendar was filled with back-to-back meetings for church and other ministry functions and civic groups. And they all had to be woven around family and work! My cluttered life left me no significant time to spend with God, and fractured my family time. But I had no clue how to begin creating more physical, emotional, and spiritual space in my life.

Then, one morning I read in my Bible, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15). I'd never considered myself greedy, yet my home was filled with more clothes than I ever wore, more dishes, books, gadgets, and knickknacks than we ever used. Was God telling me to simplify my overcrowded existence?

I thought of a church family who'd adopted a Romanian girl. She'd spent her first five years in an orphanage, and after living in America for a few months, her new father asked her how she liked it.

"Oh, Daddy!" she said, laughing. "I love America. In Romania we had no stuff. But in America WE HAVE STUFF!"

Like the little girl, I liked my stuff, but if God saw my excess as greediness, it needed to be eliminated.

I immediately set to work to declutter my house, only to find my stuff had a stronger hold on me than I'd realized. So I focused on the area of my greatest excess: my closet. I love shoes and owned more than 50 pairs. The thought of parting with any of them was painful. First, I boxed up all but one pair of each color and moved them to the garage. That way, if I went into shoe withdrawal, I knew where to get a quick fix.

To my surprise, once the shoes were out of sight, I never thought of them again. So I did the same with my clothes and accessories. I boxed them up, moved them to the garage, then eventually passed them on to a secondhand store.

The more spacious my closet became, the stronger my sense of freedom grew. Before, when my alarm clock went off in the morning, the first thing I faced was a jumbled closet. It made my day feel jumbled before it even started.

After the successful closet campaign, I advanced the battle to the bathroom, cleaning out makeup drawers (why have six tubes of lipstick when I only wear one?), medicine cabinets, and cleaning supplies. I started severely limiting the array of choices in my home.

I was shocked at how much time had been devoured by the upkeep of all these unnecessary possessions. My growing sense of freedom and time was exhilarating!

My next step was to limit my shopping excursions. Most of my excess was the result of casual shopping. Going to the store for a jug of milk, I'd return home with a pair of sale earrings from the drugstore next door. Now I limit myself to shopping once a week for groceries, household supplies, clothes—everything. One shopping trip a week doesn't leave much time for casual shopping.

My success at decluttering made me take a hard look at the other areas in my life. My calendar was chronically overbooked with too many commitments. A critical, prayerful look at my commitments showed me ones that were unnecessary. I resigned my position in a local speaking organization and looked for other things to prune from my schedule, asking God to guard the time I freed up, filling it only as he directed.

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