My last few weeks have been spent packing up our old house ready to move out. We’ve emptied all the cupboards and shelves, wardrobes and loft, distributed boxes to storage at my sister’s who’s very kindly donated her spare room, and then unpacked all our essentials in my parents house where we’re staying until we find our house.
What I noticed in the process is that I felt increasingly claustrophobic, overwhelmed and uneasy about the amount of stuff that we seem to have acquired over the last 6 years -everything from kitchen equipment for baked brie and corn on the cob, various napkin rings and colourful napkins, mini espresso cups (we don’t drink espresso), 3 different picnic containers, 7 million candles, tupperware of every size and function but with no matching lids or bottoms (obviously!), art supplies in all the shades and colours and more clothes and books than there are days in a year.
It’s the same feeling I had when I came back from my study abroad period. When I moved to Finland, I lived out of a single suitcase for 6 months in the winter (I became a pro packer with all the snow gear stuffed into a single bag). I remember coming home, opening my cupboards and feeling drowned and swamped by all the stuff that filled my bedroom. And so in response to this feeling of “too much stuff”, packing up our lives has triggered attempts to declutter, the return of the capsule wardrobe fad and endeavours to only hold on to the things that are important to us.
At the same time, I’ve been on maternity leave where I haven’t been working so have more time, been getting less emails and life is a little slower these days.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the spiritual discipline of simplicity and I’m becoming more convinced that the decluttering habit of letting go fosters the spiritual discipline of letting go. Making space physically cultivates space-making spiritually.
Less is always more in God’s economy – less activity during Sabbath, less possessions so we can give more, less food/social media/TV in fasting, less noise and people so we can meet God in silence and solitude. We cram our lives and over-indulge on commitments and possessions and activity and schedules. Our calendars are full, our cupboards overflowing, our minds crammed with information and entertainment and stimulation. Our culture teaches us more is better. Your life is lacking. More is the aim. More is the goal. We become addicted to busyness and striving as we think our gorged and saturated existences aren’t enough and are desperately in need of more of something. But what if we actually need less?
In the clutter and the busyness and noise, we lose a sense of space and freedom and we push out God. The disciplines of decluttering and simplicity nurture the truth that our deepest enjoyment in life comes not from material things but comes from Jesus. The best things in life really aren’t things at all. The less stuff we have, the more space for God there is. We’re not distracted by managing all our possessions, or stressed from organising our saturated diaries and activities, or exhausted from filtering and processing all the opinions and information we’re surrounded by. When we intentionally declutter and choose less, we can more clearly hear the voice of Jesus.
I don’t want an complicated, over scheduled, noisy life. So I’m choosing less and that means saying no to some good things. A few podcasts that I really like, not a playlist full of episodes I have no time to process. A handful books I read and have space to ponder on, not an inbox full of blogs and newsletters demanding my attention. A few events I can commit to wholeheartedly and focus on diligently, not a crammed calendar with no space to breath and half hearted engagement when I agree to them. The fruit of a life of simplicity is one of peace and freedom and space and joy and to me that sounds like the kind of life Jesus wants us to have.