God is a minimalist
I’m hardly the first person to look around their home and realise they simply have too much stuff. What did take me by surprise, was the moment I had a shocking realisation: all the stuff was actually making me feel quite ill.
I know what you must be thinking – oh dear, poor you, what a terribly third-world problem! All my wealth and privilege and disposable income is making me miserable when there are people in the world fleeing violence and persecution. It does sound shamefully superficial and self-indulgent doesn’t it? And, on first consideration, I agree. It is. But I suspect the issue really does go much deeper, even right to the heart of our relationship with God.
Bear with me…
I’m a busy working Mum; home has often been an extension of my working day. Rather than being a sanctuary of space, peace and a place for quiet reflection, it is a loud, busy mess of laundry, washing-up, paperwork and toys. The toys particularly drive me nuts. Add dinner, homework, marking (I’m a teacher), quality time with the kids, eating, showering, speaking to my husband… You get the idea. Even simply writing this down is making my heart-rate increase! Somehow the things we choose to surround ourselves with become a mixture of white noise and demands on our time – demands to be put away, cleaned, used, justified as purchases…
My first solution was, as I suspect most people’s would be: to set aside time (and money) to tidy, clean and reorganise the clutter utilising a veritable smorgasbord of nifty storage solutions. And it worked! To begin with. However, fast-forward two weeks and we found ourselves back at square one – except with the added guilt of all the wasted time and money spent trying to sort it all out.
My second solution was to get some help – some self-help – in the form of an organisational book. This one suggested that starting by organising your sock drawer, you would naturally progress to a beautifully tidy and well-ordered home. It didn’t.
My third solution was to enlist further self-help from a rather enthusiastic and energetic YouTuber who has posted literally hundreds of very sensible ways to clean and organise your home and family. I lapped it up and even bought her book, discovering exactly what ‘type’ of messy person I am. The result was some minimal effort at decluttering, some ingenious storage solutions for the kitchen cupboards and a new spray mop.
My fourth solution was, undoubtedly, the triumph of hope over experience. This time I borrowed an organisational book from a friend - see? I was already considerably less invested by this point! However, something was different this time. I don’t know whether it was the natural advance of grim determination to take drastic action after all my previous failed attempts or maybe, just maybe, this book was different. It certainly was more drastic!
In this book, the author prescribed a serious, dramatic decluttering which really examined what you have, how you acquired it and why you’re holding onto it. The simple self-examination of ‘Does this spark joy?’ was deceptively effective. The folding method taught and the author’s aversion to innovative storage solutions was a revelation! Who knew I hadn’t been folding things correctly all these years?
Half-a-dozen trips to the charity shop later and the magic seemed to be working. Physically having less stuff was liberating. The white noise was disappearing, the house felt lighter and calmer and we stopped losing my daughter’s school shoes every five minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re still on a journey with this one and there’s still lots to declutter but we’re well on our way to achieving our goal of living with much much less than we’ve been used too.
Now for the God part.
One Sunday morning, we were all getting ready for Mass – the kids were dressed and playing together in the living room, my husband was in the bathroom and I had just finished choosing which earrings to wear from my massively reduced stock of jewellery (which is now effortlessly tidy because there’s so much less) when I suddenly realised I was ready! We weren’t running late (as usual) and I was relaxed and unhurried. I suddenly felt the urge to pray – so I lit a candle on my dressing table and took a moment to be still in the silence.
Before you think I sound too smug and self-satisfied, it was at this point I realised I had no idea what I wanted to pray for! So, I chose instead to say an Our Father, a Hail Mary, a Glory Be, a Jesus prayer and the Fatima prayer – all the prayers I could think of in that moment! And this is when it struck me: tidying and decluttering had made room for God in my life.
To me, making time for daily prayer in my life always felt like a luxury I didn’t have – much like daily exercise. I know both are incredibly good for me, but I just couldn’t seem to fit them into my day. Now, sat at my (clean) dressing table, I realised that this wasn’t because I had less hours in my day or more children or a more stressful job than other people, it was because I had been unconsciously worshipping a golden calf: stuff.
Jesus repeatedly warns us that a man cannot be a slave to two masters; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven; that we must love God before everything else. He wasn’t joking! But I think we’ve overlooked the very literal application to this in our lives today. I can’t help envisioning the devil laughing himself silly as he watches people excitedly buying more and more stuff before anxiously tidying and organising the same items over and over again for all eternity – all the while continuing to add to the hoard whilst God is cleverly removed further and further from their lives.
So, what’s next for me and my family? Well, we plan to continue to declutter and tidy our home over the next few months so that we can free-up more and more physical and mental space for God to come back into our daily lives. For the first time in my life, housework suddenly seems exciting!
Further reading: Read Marie Kondo’s The Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter as a useful aid in decluttering your home and making room for God!