What do you do when you feel totally stressed and like your life is out of control? When I feel that way I clean out closets. Not only closets but drawers, shelves, entire rooms. I didn't think much of this until one day I started to question myself as to why this helps. The answer was, that if I felt like I was in total disorder emotionally, I craved order physically. It helped me calm down, breathe and feel a tiny sliver of peace.
I started to see a connection between the physical clutter around me with the dissatisfaction and frustration I felt in other areas. Even though I craved order and organization I was constantly discouraged by the fact that I could so easily get distracted and give my time and attention to things that don't really matter. They surely didn't have eternal significance. Not only didn't they really matter but they were often destructive such as chewing on some bitterness in a relationship or in obsessing over an application of a biblical teaching, only to see later that it shouldn't have been so important.
I wondered if I could use this same model of deciding what to clear out and then organize what was left, in those areas as well. I took a look at the parts of my life I thought I needed more focus and simply more success in and I decided it was in relationships (with God, others and even myself), my use of time and money, and in health and wellness. What would happen if I could eliminate a lot of "waste" in these areas in order to give room for what was important.
I started to ask some questions. Would organizing my time better actually give me more permission and peace in being spontaneous and more available for God's agenda? If I was better at budgeting and used more discipline in my spending habits would I be able to give to important causes more readily? If I was better at denying my desires for sweets and other foods that are not exactly the best for me, would I feel better when indulging in the occasional treat and enjoy it more?
I am still in the process of studying this through and applying the principles of decluttering in these areas that are not as natural for me and will be sharing what I learn. I am trying to be my own case study if you will. But, in the meantime, I am tackling the area that is most comfortable and where I have had the most success so far. I figure if I can learn the ins and outs of decluttering and organizing the area where I spend the most time, which for me is my home (although it could be your place of work), I can roll the principles I learn into the others.
I first had to look at what was behind the overindulgence in this specific area to see if there are some principles to apply overall. So, as I look into the idea that we all have clutter in the form of owning way more material items then we really need or can use, I have had to dig in and see the truth of our own American culture. According to Joshua Becker at becomingminimalist.com, here are some staggering statistics:
- There are 300,000 items in the average American home
- Even though the size of the American home has tripled in size over the past 50 years, 1 out of 10 Americans rent an offsite storage unit
- 3.1% of the worlds' children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally
- British research found that the average 10 year old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily.
- The average American woman owns 30 outfits-one for every day of the month. In 1930 that figure was 9
- Some reports indicate we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago.
- Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on non-essential goods. In other words these are things we don't actually need.
- While 25% of people with 2-car garages don't have room to park cars inside them, 32% only have room for 1 vehicle.
- The average American family spends $1700 per year on clothes, while throwing away 65 lbs. of clothing away per year.
- Currently, 12% of the worlds' population that lives in North America and Western Europe consists of 60% of consumer consumption, while the 1/3 living in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2%.
Some may feel that we are simply living out the idea of the "American Dream", which is actually a great thing. We should just be thankful that we have the ability to live at this level. It's true that we do need to be grateful for all that we have, understanding all things are a gift from God. But when is it too much? When does it cross the line between being good and being harmful?
We are seeing some of the effects of having too many things with the advancement of brain research. Some of the things researchers are finding is the clutter and an abundance of material things around us:
- overstimulates our system (visual, olfactory, tactile) causing our sense to work overtime on stimuli that aren't necessary or important
- draws our attention away from what our focus desires to be on
- makes it more difficult to relax and to be calm- both physically and mentally
- constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done and cause anxiety since we feel we will never get to the bottom of the pile
- creates feelings of guilt..."I should..., I need to..."
- inhibits creativity and productivity by invading the open spaces that allow most people to think, brain storm and problem solve
- cause financial pressure since we end up buying more since we can't find the things we need but already have
From a spiritual stand-point, we know that the Bible addresses the heart issues that too much stuff can cause. It's because God knows that you can't serve two masters (Mathew 6:24). Our hearts will naturally seek what it values and if material goods take that place, then God is squeezed out. John Calvin said, "Where riches hold the dominion of the heart, God has lost His authority."
So, how did we get here? What has created this insatiable appetite for more and more goods? It's fruitless to tackle the process of clearing out if we don't change the attitudes that created the problem in the first place. So, I'll ask you the same questions that I have had to ask myself:
- What empty place am I trying to fill with things I don't necessarily need?
- Do I convince myself that by buying something: it will help me to feel better about myself, I will feel like I finally fit in, it will be the
magic pill" that will fix the problems in my life, it will show that I have value...
- Am I using shopping as a distraction or a numbing agent to soothe the emotional pain I struggle with?
- Am I buying things for others (mainly my children) instead of giving them my time and energy?
- Am I simply undisciplined in my buying habits and therefore out of control.
A couple of years ago, I decided that my shopping for clothing was out of balance. I had more than plenty of what I needed, but I found that I tended to shop for more when I was feeling sad or discouraged. Of course it would help for a few hours but the relief it brought was short-lived. I decided to take a year off of clothes buying, which ended up to be a challenge. I relapsed one time but learned a lot about how I often try to buy my way into felling better about my life and myself in general. It's led me into evaluating other areas where I experience the same imbalance as well as how to catch myself when I give into this deceptive mindset.
Everything is certainly in need of balance. We do need to be thankful that we live in a country which places most of us in the top 10% bracket in world earnings ($25,000 per year). God has been very giving to us and we don't need to feel guilty about that or demean ourselves over it. God wants us to enjoy life and has created so many things to experience, savor and be emotionally connected to. But, we do have to be careful what we turn to complete or to nurture us, and what we choose to ultimately worship. We can surely be grateful for the gift but worship the Giver of all things.
One last thought: We need to realize that we won't be fully satisfied here on earth and will always feel a bit lacking. But that's okay. Some day all things will be restored as they were meant to be and we will be with Him. There will be no need for anything else. Until then, we need to be satisfied with what we have without getting too carried away!
Blessings until next time...