We’re in “de-cluttering” mode in the 4thDaveHousehold. The upcoming new addition, plus an impending move, is motivating us to reduce our Stuff footprint. This usually happens right before a big move. Staying in one place creates a strange magnetism that draws Stuff from the surrounding environment and sticks it to us, in attics and closets and garages.
I struggle with clutter. That doesn’t mean I’m a hoarder–I know how to throw away garbage (or recycle plastics and paper–something new I’ve learned in almost 3 years of marriage). I’m not saving old paper cups or coffee filters. But I do collect mementos and I struggle to let them go.
I’ve grown stronger in resisting Stuff over time–I threw out a LOT of Stuff when I got married, boxes and boxes of hand-me-downs and souvenirs, all at once (the Band-aid Rip Method). But it’s still challenging.
Last month, I read a book by Eve Schaub called “Year of No Clutter.” It’s not a guide for how to de-clutter as much as it is a memoir and confessional of a Stuff-addict. In one chapter, she confesses that the motivation for much of her keeping falls into two categories: nostalgia and potential.
She talks about how objects connect to memories for her, and because she finds herself forgetting stories from the past, she tends to hang on to random items that mean something to her. That’s the nostalgia piece. Even if it is just a scrap of paper with writing on it, she keeps it, because it reminds her of an event or place or person.
She also talked about how potential usefulness kept her from throwing away items, “just in case…” Even items that she could easily re-acquire would be kept for possible future use.
I relate so much to these two ideas.
Like Schaub, my memory is awful, and for years, I saved the fragments of experiences in physical form so I could go back to them later. That’s not true: it was more that I was afraid that the memories of those events or people or places would be lost forever. Losing memories felt like losing pieces of myself.
And like Schaub, I sometimes have a hard time letting go of things that might be useful to me later: for example, I held on to the tape-adapter I used to connect my iPod to my old truck, even when I got a newer truck and didn’t need it anymore. Later, when that truck was replaced by an old van and I actually “needed” the tape adapter again, I realized it was tossed during the great pre-wedding purge. What a terrible loss! (Turns out, I just asked around, and someone had another that they gave me. Crazy, huh?)
What motivates this?
Part of my tendency to hang on to Stuff may simply be habit. During the decade-plus between college and marriage, I have to admit that I spent a LOT of time looking backward, thinking how much better the old days were. In the first decade post-college, the memory of my college experience was utterly drenched in nostalgia. And all those single years, when I battled feeling frustrated and lonely, I looked backward at a time of my life that I really began to miss.
These days, I realize that I’m looking forward a lot more. My life right now is exciting and challenging and full of love. There’s more anticipation. More potential. I really have no idea what life will look like in 5 years, and that’s exciting (and really scary, but still exciting!).
What about the “potential usefulness” question? Schaub fights against this fear of losing something useful by trying to have more confidence in herself. As a Christian, I can do something better than that: I can have confidence that God is sovereign, that God is good, that God will provide everything I need, that He is trustworthy, that He declares the end from the beginning. Rather than try to hold on to Stuff as a hedge against the future, I can learn to let go of some things and trust that I have what I need, because my Father is good to me.
And to be clear, I’m not saying I don’t plan or save for the future; on the contrary, I am trying to be wise and prepared for whatever comes. But those of us who follow Jesus are warned not to put our faith in the “uncertainty of riches,” because even our best savings plan is not enough to protect us from every calamity.
I’ve still got room to grow, when it comes to my relationship with Stuff. Lately, God has been working on me through I Timothy 6–“Godliness with contentment is great gain… If we have food and clothing, we will be content.” Honestly, I couldn’t say that was the case, even now. My prayer is that this will grow truer and truer in my life.
If nothing else, that would make moving a lot simpler.