…for I have learned how to be content (satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted) in whatever state I am.
— Philippians 4:11, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition
Let me begin by stating that I have a deep appreciation for people who have moved to another state or country. The emotional process of boxing up your life is difficult! Most of my friends in the past 20+ years have been military. It was a sad thing to say goodbye, but I always marveled at their ability to purge through, pack up, and carry on to the next adventure. Now it is my family’s turn to pull up roots and move on too.
My admiration has turned to awe with a twinge of jealousy; not for anything other than comparing our military friends’ streamlined moves made manageable by forced, bi-yearly simplification to our wading through decades of stuff before we can even tape a box. I have a new mantra for every person moving into a first apartment, the newly-engaged young couple, and especially the new parent. I advise, “Just don’t buy it. You will get by just fine.” The burden of stuff is overwhelming and I have also discovered that nobody else wants used items at any price ‑ not even free.
I remember standing in my parents’ house not long ago. We needed to reduce the contents of a four-bedroom house to what would comfortably fit in a two-bedroom apartment in a retirement complex. Mom and Dad were born in the depression, lived through hard times, then enjoyed the abundance (and perceived importance) of collectables and decor in a lovely home. And there I stood in the midst of it all, overwhelmed and wracked with resentment. Where to begin? What was intended as a leisurely move instantly changed when Mom was diagnosed with cancer. They were forced to move immediately and there wasn’t time to thoughtfully consider each item. Suddenly, all of the pretty plates and ceramic Christmas villages meant little compared to knowing the little comforts: a soft chair, simple kitchen necessities, and a proper bench by the door. It was hard, especially for Mom, to let go of anything — after all, “it (insert item here) is worth a lot of money and we can sell it!” or the item held some special significance to her. But that personally precious item is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and in the end, it was given away or put on an estate sale list. My perspective about possessions changed that summer. They can be lovely distractions from what is truly important.
And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. —Acts 2:45
Perhaps you have heard of “Swedish Death Cleaning.” The term does sound a bit savage and final, but the practice is one of the most practical ideas to adopt. (There is even a social media page dedicated to encouraging each other through the process.) The basic idea living in a lifelong process of giving items to others when you are alive to share in the joy. Ask yourself, “Would my belongings be a burden on family? Is this stuff important to them?” Of course, this process has a note of blunt, Scandinavian practicality (that is how we northern Europeans think!).
Give things away while you live.
After Mom died, I had to move Dad into a one-room assisted living apartment. I called the Church Youth Center and gave them the living room furniture for their coffee house; the kitchen supplies were dropped off at the women’s shelter, their food fed families who came to the free food pantry, small appliances were shared with anyone who needed a crock pot (she had five). We gave everything away, except for Dad’s chair, his favorite framed art, and a few small, necessary items. What an amazing feeling it was to bless the community and we were freed from the clutter!
A few items found their way to our house, but they are used in daily routines —old, wooden boxes hold neat rows of books, grandma’s ladle and dumpling spoon are dipped in soups and dough, crocks hold fireplace kindling or birdseed. But I admit to struggles with letting go. Our kitchen table, heavy and worn, needed to be donated instead of moved. Oh, I struggled with that decision! My friend is a seminary student and when I told him about how much furniture I was leaving behind, he offered to list it all on the Free Rummage site at his school. The day he posted the photo of the table was the same day that another student had prayed for the same. She called and exclaimed with excitement she could scarcely contain, “I just prayed for a table. I’ve been eating at my desk for two years. Now I can have people over for dinner and study groups and my kids can sit at a real table when they visit!” I still get chills when I recall her story and I thank God for the opportunity to bless. That was His table to begin with and it was used in a mighty way.
But here I am, boxing and sorting and forcing myself to practice what I preach. Should I have purged through the piles each year? A resounding YES. Did I have time? Well, there is a reason why many of the rooms still are painted ‘contractor white’ and we still tread on the same carpet that was here 21 years ago. We moved in when I was a six- months pregnant, homeschooling mom. I did paint the kids’ rooms (not ours, because I could live with white) and a trip to Ikea provided the necessary furnishings. Then another baby, more necessary accoutrements, more clothes, just…more.
We also have the ‘older house’ issues too. We’ve never been the types who need the latest and greatest stove, counters, faucets, or decking. When our home was listed and that first showing was complete, we were excited that they wanted to put in an offer! We were then rather gobsmacked three days later when they returned with a litany of, well I shall be kind and call them dissatisfactions, and a price tag of nearly $20K in assorted changes they felt must be made. Well, okay, our house was built in 1988, but it has been a good, serviceable house filled with books and memories. Our hand-me-down furniture had seen its better days, but could be remedied with a careful application of wood glue or a throw blanket to hide the wear spots. Surely these buyers were out of line. Surely.
We called the realtor and asked for her opinion. Her advice didn’t help. She stated that we really did need updates: pull up the carpet and replace it, new countertops, carpet the basement, and dump the area rugs. And she said we should “probably reface those cabinets since they are a dark finish. And it would be $15K well-spent, because you will sell the house faster and probably make it all back.” Was it out of place to snort and laugh at her suggestions to add the latest and greatest accoutrements? Perhaps, but I did. Then I hung up the phone.
I looked around at my kitchen. That gold Formica countertop survived countless Epiphany feasts and cookie parties without a chip or a burn to show. Those dark wood cabinets held sippy cups, cartoon character bowls, and chipped dishes that held cereal and homemade soups. The wooden floor tells its own tale of little scrapes from high chairs, an expanding table, and little water stains from countless pets we loved. After a proper vacuuming, the carpet is still serviceable. Not lush and plush, but warm to little bare feet and cat paws. A couple of spots of paint on our daughter’s bedroom carpet are markers of hours spent creating the pretty pictures that grace our walls. Updates? No, these symbolized important dates that make up our family story. What I learned from moving my parents is that it’s not the stuff that makes our history real, the beauty comes out of shared experiences and stories told around the dinner table, then shared again with the next generation. The perfect table isn’t important — those who surround it bring the beauty.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. —Matt. 6:19
As we continue to pack and purge, scripture is writ large. Moving the furniture revealed evidence that moths had moved in and eaten away at our hand-me-down oriental rugs. I had saved toys and stuck them in a corner of the basement — those battery-operated lanterns, keyboards, and dolls that were just too fun to give up. “We should save these for (insert reason here),” I said years ago, but when I opened them to insert fresh batteries, there was nothing but corrosion and rust. Okay, Lord. Point taken.
Are you entering a new season of life? Perhaps the kids are grown, you have a new job, or a move is pending. Take time to evaluate what you are clinging to that is keeping you from a fresh start. You cannot cross the stream if you don’t lift your foot and step in, leaving the embankment behind to reach new ground. We have given away or thrown out nearly all of our furniture and will replace it with only what we need. Of course, there are those items, I call them my Ebenezers, that I cherish and will keep. (Remember from a prior article that I have my grandfather’s duck decoys as a wonderful reminder of my family history) But I’ve learned a few things:
The art of living is made beautiful by paring away clutter in schedules and accumulated stuff. We find the essence of life’s goodness and beauty in simple, intangible gifts.
And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:7
Annie Nardone is a flannel-clad, cowboy boot-shod adventurer who seldom travels with a map! Her passion is the reintegration of the arts and humanities with theology and Christian imagination. Annie holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from HBU, is a founding member of The Society for Women of Letters, and is Managing Editor of The Cultivating Reader for Cultivating magazine. She also writes for Literary Life, and An Unexpected Journal. Annie resides in Florida with her Middle Earth-Narnia-Hogwarts-loving family, & her wild assemblage of cats.
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