On the days I’m tempted to throw out everything I own

When you want to throw it all away -- Ashley Hales The MudroomIf you’re anything like me you pendulum swing between extremes. One day, I’m browsing Pottery Barn and CB2 catalogs and am determined to save my pennies for all the sparkly things in the West Elm store or for the best pair of leather boots on sale at Nordstrom (because, people, when you snag a sale, then you can justify the prices because, I mean: SALE! Right? — or, so the logic goes). The next day I decide that the best plan of action is to just throw out ALL of our things (including all the plastic junky toys that my children are suddenly enamored with) and pare down to a capsule wardrobe. BURN ALL THE THINGS! Finally get a chore chart that we can stick with! Get a meal plan and a new calendar and a white board and a family motto! Donate all the clothes that we don’t wear! (Or even just really, I’d just be happy if my children would all put their own dishes in the dishwasher without a chorus of whines. That would be a good start.) I keep reaching for outward systems to fix my internal chaos.

I read books and blogs about minimalism. And then I see the pretty house, the new throw pillows, the cute booties, and my eyes get wide-eyed for something I think I’m missing. 

I know that stuff won’t fix my own hole of neediness. I know that a new outfit, or pair of shoes, or decorating scheme, or bigger house only digs my own sense of unbelonging deeper. The monster of scarcity always demands to be fed by bigger, better, different. There is always never enough when we operate from scarcity.

Likewise, I know that defining myself by lack — by how much I save, or how much I don’t buy, or how wise and resourceful I am — does not satisfy either. One time I tried to do that Marie Kondo method. (The idea is that if something doesn’t spark joy when you hold it in your hands you toss it. Which coincidentally seems borne out a crazy amount of privilege.) I donated 8 trash bags full of clothes, accessories, and shoes. And then I was left with a few things, not all of which sparked joy — because, I needed to actually wear clothes, man. But I felt accomplished, like I was finally loosening the ties that bind. I was FREE! I didn’t need all this stuff. Stuff that cluttered my mental, emotional, and spiritual state of being. I was totally zen with my jeans and black vintage clothes. That, and my Target leopard booties. Because even freeing ourselves from things doesn’t buy peace. 

We usually think of simplicity as only a statement about our stuff. If we had less of it, or more of the “good” kind, then we’d be living the good life. If we could just control something, we reason, then our problems would lesson. Both indulgence and asceticism germinate in the soil of pride. I am still thinking that “simplicity” grows from what I can do. It’s dependent on me, me, me. And no matter if your closet is full to bursting or that of a carefully curated minimalist, our hearts are likely cluttered and inwardly focused. 

What if simplifying was more an attitude of the heart than a number of things bought or donated?

What if simplifying meant my mind, heart, and pocketbook weren’t cluttered? 

What if simplifying meant that I was really and truly free?

Free to love. Free to give my sustained attention to the wind at my back, the bird that takes off in front of me, the neighbor walking her children to school alongside mine. Free to see people and things not as distractions, but as purposeful messengers of grace. As gifts.

Abundance says you needn’t hoard because there is a Father who provides. Abundance says that your worth isn’t tied to what you have, your worth isn’t even tied to who you are. Your worth, for the Christian, isn’t even about you. Your worth is tied to whose you are. 

We can stop filling ourselves up with what we are or are not consuming. Yes, our economic habits matter deeply to the kingdom of God, to our neighbors, and to the flourishing of creation. But our choices do not have the final say on our belonging. When I experience my belovedness in simply being the child of God, I don’t have to have my eyes eager to acquire more or better to feel like I belong, or to hoist up my minimalism as a flag of moral superiority. I can lay it all down and breathe. I’m loved. I’m the daughter to the king that owns the universe. I have all that I need. 

Ashley Hales

6 thoughts on “On the days I’m tempted to throw out everything I own

  1. I feel like this. Often! Thanks for sharing and encouraging. Shared on Twitter and FB.

  2. This made me smile – I’m totally extreme, too!! I am ruthless with my own things (mostly clothes) but the state of our playroom is overwhelming and after throwing a bunch of stuff away, I just throw up my hands and resign myself to the clutter for another couple years. I can put up with a lot until I can’t and then I really can’t…. Which is why I love that you bring clutter back to a spiritual state. It’s easy to focus on things around me rather than the tough task of looking inward, at my own reactions toward scarcity and abundance. Thanks for this reminder!

    • Thanks! It’s good to know I’m not alone. I do hit tipping points on the clutter, the noise, the mess, too. 🙂 Yes, it’s super hard to think if my external circumstances were different that then I’d finally achieve peace and contentment. I hope you have some peace today. 🙂

  3. I hate to think what it means when I’m bothered so much by other people’s clutter (okay, my husband) than my own! I tend to think it’s all related to deeper things but then I’m a chronic over thinker. However, your message of simplifying life rings true in my life. Thank you.

    • Thanks Debby. And I bet you’re right — we easily excuse our own mess and pontificate on others’ (whether actual clutter or soul clutter!).

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