Collect.Sort. Reminisce.Throwaway.Repeat

Collect.Sort. Reminisce.Throwaway.Repeat

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? 

9 thoughts on “Collect.Sort. Reminisce.Throwaway.Repeat

  1. I confess that, when I look at my mementos, I tend to focus on the regret rather than the joys. I spoke the other day, when I commented on your post about your book coming out party and how it’s so easy to spiral into shame, thinking of my inadequacies and failures.
    But, again, I am learning that it’s a choice. What do I choose to focus on?
    I choose to focus on the joys, the triumphs and the low points – and how Father has seen me through them all and has walked with me, redeeming my story and whispering his truth and grace to me.
    I was told once that ‘regret is worrying about the past’. I believe it pretty much. I can’t change it and it robs me of my joy and my focus on Father and his story of redemption, both in my life and in the world around me that so desperately need him.
    We are currently in transition – not only transition from Spain to Ohio for the summer and now on to Pasadena, CA for a few months before returning to Spain, but also from a 6 to then 5 and then 4 and now 3 member home. This is where the regret can wreak havoc in my life – seeing the many ways that I failed my kids and my husband to be the mom and wife I desire to be. Then in January, when we return to Spain with our youngest, we will be finishing packing up our house and moving to another home – smaller and closer into Madrid so ministry there is more accessible for us both with the train line, yet school is still accessible for our son with the bus.
    I tend to collect things in my travels. Small, functional, beautiful and also representative of the place where I was traveling and bought it. Little pitchers, saucers, serving bows/dishes. These will accompany wherever I may move. The mementos – cards, pictures, etc.
    I was just realizing that we are on the downhill of overseas ministry! I am 48 and my husband is 56. Sometime, sooner or later than I anticipate, I WILL be packing up these things and deciding which ones are worth packing and paying to bring with me back to the USA. Not the furniture. Not the framed paintings, necessarily. But the things that have meaning.
    I am living in Missionary Housing here right now and there is a young family who is heading to Spain in the next year. They have asked me what to take. What to leave. And now that luggage restrictions are much more restricting than when we went, I told them to take what is meaningful and what is a value in their family. Spices to create the foods that are favorites in their family. And for the young kids, the small things that are important. Otherwise, the rest can be bought. It really gives you the opportunity to really think about what is a value in your life and what can or ought to be set aside.
    Anyway, I’ve rambled enough – that’s the thing about moving to Pasadena – I don’t really know many people so I am alone alot and don’t have people to share my deep thoughts with other than my family. I am not lonely at this point – but I do have a lot swirling in my head these days. :-) So you’ll probably be hearing from me a lot these days!!


    1. I completely understand, and empathize, with this comment. This is exactly where my mind has been going. These massive regrets that spell failure. Failure as a mom primarily. Feeling like I was so focused on my own pain at different points that I was unable to parent well. My kids have given amazing grace but the regrets are still there. And I know they pollute – but it’s hard to seek healing in those areas. All of your words are so wise and so true. I don’t think I realized you were so in transition right now. The up side for me and other readers is that we get to hear from you – but that doesn’t take away from the hard side for you. Thinking of you in the midst of transition and the moments that come with that. Hugs back!


      1. I should have known better than to so matter of factly state that ‘I choose’ not to go down that path – cuz inevitably the Enemy chooses that time to say ‘oh, really? Let’s see what you say now’ and then things go sideways and the shame hits.
        I have been doing fine through this time, But that seems to be just the time that the Enemy takes another stab at our heart, pulling out the shame and self-contempt. And somehow, I always seem to forget that this is exactly the time that I should be expecting the attack and for things to go sideways.
        It’s so hard to hear Father’s voice in the midst of the screaming inadequacy in my brain. But that’s the battle, no? That is exactly the battle ground – our hearts – because Father knows (and the Enemy too) just how vitally important the heart is in our lives.


  2. We are also going through the process. My co-workers are benefiting from some of the sorting. :) I’m becoming a Craigslist queen. It is both fun and heartbreaking to go through the process. But we are determined to get our possessions down so they mainly fit in a suitcase. We will store some of our furniture, but everything else goes!


    1. I’ve seen some of your posts that talk about this and I have felt supported from afar. “If Jenni can do it, I can do it; If Jenni can do it, I can do it” has gone through my head more times than I’d like to tell you! But we are doing it for the same reasons – we are determined to change this life. I have a dear friend and a few years ago, right after her husband had built her a dream kitchen she came home and said “I’m done” she had spent time as a teenager in Pakistan and it affected her all this time. They got rid of everything except what would fit into a 650 square foot condo. I’ve talked with her a couple of times and I LOVE what they’ve done. That’s what I want (I think!!!!)


  3. I take a bag or two of “stuff” — everything from clothes that don’t quite fit me or my wardrobe now to household things to pots and pans I no longer use — every month or so. It is a continuous process. I keep wondering where it all comes from??? But I whisk it away from time to time, knowing that my space and I feel better.

    Your question about why we keep what we keep. I retain the beautiful things I collect along the way. I hold on to those things that I find useful in my everyday life. I squirrel away the notes, cards and messages from my husband and daughter.

    Someday when I am alone, I shall reread them all and cry for a month for the joys I can recall, not from the regrets of not having lived.


  4. I remember that birth announcement too!!! And, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is in my box of “important letters received”……:-)


  5. I remember that birth announcement! ! Grace to you. Simplifying is not for the weak. It takes resolve. But there is freedom to be found at the bottom of those piles! I guarantee it!

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