Downsizing is all the rage. “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” is a hit show on Netflix, as is the film “The Minimalists: Less is Now”. If you go to Amazon and search on “minimalism”, you’ll find no shortage of books on the topic, most written in just the past few years. Even before the pandemic hit, this trend was taking hold, but I suspect that the past year has only intensified the interest in making do with less. Lately, I have been tossing out clutter, making regular trips to Savers and donating items to New Life Furniture Bank of Massachusetts and The Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I’m making headway… but still have a ways to go.
I’ve been surprised by this process, by the reality that the stuff I actually need to live, and comfortably, is not all that much. I have items I use occasionally and truly need. I have other items I don’t really use much, but which have some value, including nostalgic. But then there are all the things that I don’t really need, hardly if ever use and which I feel might have some value but would be hard pressed to prove it. I sometimes look around my house and marvel at what I store away. For example, I’m pretty sure I’m never going to need a street hockey stick again. And even if I could lose enough weight to wear those pants again, they will be horribly out of style by the time I do. They’re horribly out of style today. Yeah, I can get rid of a lot.
The experts on the Netflix shows and who write books about minimalism speak about the freedom that comes when we eliminate all the clutter from our lives. They note that it’s easy to become possessed by our possessions as accumulating all of it, then storing it, and sometimes moving it in boxes from place to place, brings us no real value. Instead, this can cause aggravation, stress and even pain. Rather than gaining pleasure and utility from some of these items in our lives, we become weighted down by them like anchors. All this takes a real psychological toll on us.
And, it can take a real spiritual toll as well. Having “too much stuff” in our lives can distract us, keep us focused on things that don’t matter very much. And this “stuff” can be more than just our possessions; this can relate to how we spend our time, where we direct our energy and whether we allow for the necessary quiet and peace we need in order to find time for ourselves. And for God.
Just as we sort through physical clutter, we should also pause to consider the emotional, psychological and spiritual clutter we may be carrying with us every day. Lent is the perfect time to do this as we can become so accustomed to adding more and more onto our plates that we eventually misplace those things which are on our plates that we should never lose.
It’s worth creating an inventory of how we spend our time, of what we occupy ourselves with and then whether we leave enough space for those things that really have value. Nothing in life will ever have as much value as making sure we carve out enough space for God. Adding more prayer time, taking in spiritual content such as relevant books and video seminars, and ensuring that we commit to contemplative silence will require that we stop giving our time over to other things. That we remove the clutter. That we downsize. In many ways, this is an exercise in humility. Lenten humility.
The author, Fr. Jacques Philippe, states: “This is why humility, spiritual poverty, is so precious: it locates our identity securely in the one place where it will be safe from all harm. If our treasure is in God, no one can take it from us. Humility is truth. I am what I am in God’s eyes: a poor child who possesses absolutely nothing, who receives everything, infinitely loved and totally free. I have received everything in advance from the freely bestowed love of my Father, who said to me definitively: ‘All that is mine is yours.’” (Jacques Philippe, “Interior Freedom”)
Let’s reduce the clutter in our lives. Let’s create more space for God…