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Easter falls in the spring and coincides roughly with various other spring religious festivals. Human beings have been celebrating the return of life and hope after a long hard winter for most of our existence in extreme climates. Easter is my religion’s great spring resistance, our fuck you to death and hopelessness. This spring I feel the need to simplify, and to spend time assessing the stuff I own and the values that reveals.
You’re religious tradition almost certainly has it’s own festival and I would love to hear about it’s foundations and teachings. Today I’d like to offer a five part challenge starting with Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter). We will continue through the whole 50 days of the Easter season. The goal is that we part together, support and encourage one another, and make some positive change in our lives.
Spring means Simplify
I grew up in the frozen tundra of Michigan. It wasn’t unusual to snow on Easter but we celebrated spring with abandon anyway. Spring cleaning was a huge part of our lives, throwing open the windows to air out the stuffy winter air, scrubbing and washing. But the tradition that stuck with me most and that I want to challenge us to was of clearing out the stuff of our lives that we no longer needed.
We live in a consumer culture, which means that if we aren’t careful, stuff will rule our lives. The number of Americans who rent storage units makes that pretty obvious. If you’ve had to move recently you are probably acutely aware of how much stuff you have. Never has having more stuff made me happier. Oh the odd tool now and then makes life easier, but just having more of something doesn’t really help me.
The fuller my closet becomes the more I find I wear three or four outfits over and over and can’t even look at the rest. It’s too overwhelming. I’ve had to scrape half an inch of dust off a pair of shoes that I hadn’t worn in two years just so I could give them away. The last time we moved I realized we owned 10 cutting boards. How did that even happen?
I do not need all the crap I have in my house. I don’t use it. And trying to find more and more creative places to cram it stresses me out. Besides while I’m sitting on it there are people out there who could use it who don’t have access to it. But there’s a spiritual component as well. I’ve found that when my life is over filled with stuff I am less available for the people who need me, for myself, and to be aware of the times I brush up against Holiness.
When I’m too focused on stuff I’m not focused on the things that really matter to me. A really smart guy(Jesus in Matthew 6:21) once said “where your [stuff] is there you’ll find your heart.” I don’t really want my heart to be in a stuffed closet, a basement storage room, or a shed. I’d like my heart to be listening to my husband as we cook dinner, or spending time with a good friend.
This year I’d like there to be room for some new life. I’d like that for you too. So starting Monday April 10th I’d like to challenge us all to a deep spring cleaning. It’s two fold, its about emptying out our closets and finding our hearts.
Simplify – Making Room
First we need to make room. Only you know where room needs to be made but I’d suggest that your spare room, bedroom closet, or storage shed is a good place to start. I chose my closets. Yes, multiple. The closet in our master bedroom is so small that I’ve been keeping “extra” clothes in the guest room closet. So I took all my clothes (minus socks/underwear/bras) out of both closets, all of it, and piled it up on our bed. It was a big pile. I then went through every piece and made one of four choices:
- Things I wear all the time and love go straight back into the closet on a hanger.
- Things that I’m on the fence about go into a “maybe” pile.
- Things that have holes, or are stained beyond help go in the trash.
- Things that I haven’t worn in a year, or that no longer fit go into a “donate” pile.
(Note: season clothes and formal wear don’t count. You can keep summer stuff if it’s the middle of winter but be honest about whether or not you’ll really wear it this summer. You should keep that formal dress you wear once every couple years, or the religious/ethic wear you use for festivals, etc.)
Now go back through the maybe pile, I discovered clothes I’d forgotten I owned. “Oh I love this!” Those went back into the closet with the caveat that if I got to this point again and still hadn’t worn them they went out. The whole maybe pile can fall into this category, though mine didn’t. Here’s the picture of the resulting pile that’s headed to donation. Some of this stuff I hadn’t worn in 10 years. I’ve moved 5 times since I wore this stuff last. Half of it doesn’t fit.There were two jackets I inherited from my Grandmother twenty years ago: they never fit. Keeping them didn’t honor her, it just weighed me down. There it all was clogging up my choices, hiding stuff I actually liked but couldn’t find, and generally making me feel overwhelmed.
The practical upshot is I now have a neat (small) collection of 5 pants, 2 dresses, 2 skirts, 3 sport coats, and 10 shirts. (Plus off season wear like shorts and some summer dresses.) They are just the things that fit, that I already love, and that I wear. And I can find them. Getting ready in the morning is so dang simple and fast I hardly have to think about it. And they all fit in my closet!
If you chose to do this with something other than your closet the same basic rules apply. Things that you use and need on a
regular basis go back, neatly organized. Things you’ve been keeping for years but never use, go to someone who can use them. Trash goes in the trash. Make particular note of the things you don’t use but find yourself incredibly reluctant to get rid of, they might be family heirlooms, sentimental gifts, or something you aren’t sure of why it’s got a hold on you. For now, put them aside in a box or bag in a safe place that is out of the way, we’ll come back to them later. But do not put them back in with the things you use regularly!
Simplify, simplify, simplify. Looking at my simplified closet I find myself thinking about how little I actually need to have in my life. If you have a notebook, or here in the comments, jot down what it was like to go through and make space. What was hard, what was easy? How did you feel when it was over? Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here and the journey itself is what matters.
In the week after Easter we will talk about the “now what” of this exercise. Now that we’ve made room what do we do with that room? Where do we go from here?