We have begun the infinite process of sorting and ridding ourselves of stuff. As my husband said the other day – we want to simplify so that we can spend time on more important things than caring for, cleaning, and organizing our stuff. We want to own our stuff, we don’t want our stuff to own us.
It’s easy to collect stuff – too easy. Not just things like furniture and decorative objects (how many of you still have that pineapple from the 80’s in storage, or the giant star that came out in the early 2000’s – it’s okay. No judgment. You can confess.) but other things like cards given to you at different points, pictures that come at Christmas time, too many pens from hotels and conferences, the odd button that comes in the tiny ziploc bag – you know the one, the one that you can’t figure out what sweater or shirt it goes to but you know if you throw it away then you’ll need it!
But sorting can take you on unexpected journeys to the past. As I sorted through a large box of papers and pictures I went back in time to May 1987 in Islamabad, Pakistan. It was a hot May and it was Ramadan or Ramazan as it’s pronounced in Urdu. I gave birth to our second child at Ali Medical Center. The nurses giggled the entire time I was there – they had never met a woman who had her husband in the delivery room during a birth. Both of us were novelties, like museum displays only we were alive – and this was a hospital. I smiled at the memory and put the copy of the birth announcement that had sent me into this memory into the ‘keep’ pile. Because some things you just don’t throwaway.
I’m then transported to Phoenix as I look at pictures of friends and read cards given to us when we left. Our move from Phoenix came in a bleak December. Only it wasn’t bleak in Phoenix. In Phoenix it was sunny and perfect. We left a 2400 square foot home with a pool to settle in an apartment half the size with snow up to our eyeballs. This is not hyperbole. The storm of all storms came just days before we moved and we arrived in Cambridge to snow that wouldn’t fit anywhere but up so the piles were massive. The pictures send me into a short moment of regret, missing the warmth and the freedom that warmth brings. The moment is over quickly because I come across a card from a friend I would never have met had we stayed in Phoenix.
You can’t engage too long in regret. It will take over and pollute your mind and heart, preventing you from living fully.
I have to stop the reminiscing or this job will never be finished. And I desperately want to be free of clutter.
At first I felt like the collect, sort, reminisce, throwaway, repeat was a mantra of living in a society that has far too much and this is true. But I think there is more to it.
I wonder if being created for eternity is what makes us long to keep our stuff. Think about it – if we are created to last forever then it makes sense that our hearts move toward gathering and preserving these inanimate objects. Because often these inanimate objects represent the people and places that we love but that are no longer a part of our world. Our desire may be misplaced but does it not reflect our Creator and his original plan – that we live in harmony with him and others forever?
Whether I am correct in that wonder I don’t know, but of this I am convinced: sorting and throwing away takes strength and a vision of the eternal. I have to know that there is more beyond what I see now. I have to know that someday, somewhere none of the stuff will matter, what will matter is the people I have loved and the time I have spent with them. What will matter is how I lived and how I loved God and people.
Strengthened by a brief glimpse of the eternal, I will continue the task at hand.
What do you think? What is it that makes us want to hold on to stuff?