"During this season of spiritual decluttering, of focusing on what is necessary for growth, learn to say 'yes' to what you love. Pick up some bags and start to prune."
Can Decluttering Be a Spiritual Exercise?
Joy is not a word most of us associate with the seemingly-endless task of keeping a home free from clutter.
But decluttering with intention can be a spiritual practice, and as such, can bring great joy. When we are no longer controlled by the clutter in our lives, we can grow and change in ways that bring us closer to God.
Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, recognizes a painful truth: our possessions have more control over us than we would like. Her solution is to thank unnecessary items for their service, and then give them away. In a way, Jesus speaks of this kind of freedom – when the rich young ruler asks what he must to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus tells him to release all his possessions (Mark 10:17-23).
As one decluttering practitioner has said, "Decluttering with a goal [40 Bags in 40 Days], helps us focus on what's really important in our household. It shines a light on what is getting in the way of living life and what we have in excess that we can share with others." This too, is a discipline that calls us towards a fuller life. Recall John the Baptist – as he baptizes, he tells his followers how to show they have turned towards God: “The one who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” (Luke 3:11).
How Do I Start Decluttering?
You may already have heard of Marie Kondo's solution to decluttering. She calls it "tidying up" and it boils down to this simple method:
Gather everything of one type together. Kondo starts with clothes, as they are the least emotionally laden of our objects, then books, papers, the miscellanea we all cram into junk drawers, and finishing with mementos. She recommends sorting by category, not room, in part to experience the overabundance most of us live with.
Pick up one item at a time and ask yourself, "Does this ____ spark joy in me?"
If the answer is no, thank it for the time it has spent with you and discard it. This is where "tidying up" and simply getting rid of stuff dovetail.
If what you are holding does spark joy, keep it!
When what you have is what brings joy, store everything of one type of thing together. This way, you'll know where to look when you need it, thus gaining the precious resource of time. It also aids in putting stuff away, which will help you maintain a tidy home.
Of course, some things won't "spark joy," but they are necessary. Some things will spark joy, but are totally unnecessary. The goal isn't to be bereft of all things, but to appreciate and be joyful with what is around you.
Here are five points to keep in mind as you declutter or encourage others to do the same.
- Never declutter another adult's possessions without their permission.
- Immediately put what does not spark joy into a bag or a box and place them in the trash or in your car for delivery.
- Give yourself permission to delay decisions that cause you true distress.
- Focus on one category at a time.
- Allow yourself the necessary time to go through your stuff.
Choosing What Stays, Choosing What Satisfies
Most decluttering gurus will have you start the process by getting rid of what you don't use or don't like, emphasizing the negative in the action. But I think we need to flip to a positive approach. When you choose what you keep – using the standard of what "sparks joy" – you change the perspective of tidying up. Intentionally choosing what is satisfying is the key to "delighting in abundance." Recall the words of the prophet Isaiah:
All you who thirst, come to the waters
And you who have no money, come and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
and your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourself in abundance.
Incline your ear and come to me.
Listen, that you may live.
- Isaiah 55:1-3 (NASB)
During this season of spiritual decluttering, of focusing on what is necessary for growth, learn to say 'yes' to what you love. Pick up some bags and start to prune.
Charlotte Greeson is passionate about exploring the intersection of culture and faith. In exploring the phenomenon that is decluttering, she asked for assistance from Susan Messina. Susan is a professional declutterer living in her joyfully tidied home in Washington, D.C. Contact Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.