Love Life Live Advent – 4th December – Where did all this stuff come from?

…and more to the point, how can I get it to go away?

In August this year we moved house. But we didn’t just move house, we moved continents. And jobs. Just for a year.  But given that there was no way we could afford to put our whole 4-bedroom vicarage worth of accumulated stuff in storage, we had to downsize. We started downsizing about eight months before we left. We stopped replacing broken items, we ruthlessly combed our wardrobes for clothes we didn’t really wear (enough to populate a whole charity shop, I think!), we gave away the toys that the children had grown out of, and we thought we’d done quite well.

Then it came to actually moving. The removal people came and estimated how many boxes we’d need, and we laughed. ‘We haven’t got that much stuff!’ we said. We were wrong. We filled many, many boxes. Dozens. We asked Emmaus to come and take away all the furniture we didn’t have room for, a friend kindly took two van loads (yes, van loads) of stuff to the tip for us, and then on the day we moved out we still ended up with enough for two trips to the charity shop and enough bin bags of absolute rubbish that my poor parents ended up making six more trips to the tip for us after we’d gone…..

Where did it all come from? How and why on earth were we sharing our house with such a huge amount of stuff that we didn’t need?  And if we hadn’t been moving abroad,  would we have simply carried on living with it, accumulating more and more, until we finally couldn’t move at all?

And why, as I sit here in our rented house thousands of miles away, can I see piles of stuff on every surface? We only brought a suitcase each, how can we possibly be creating clutter so quickly and effortlessly?  Especially as come July we know we’ll be packing our lives into one suitcase each again to come home!

I am getting more and more certain that clutter is the only thing now that ever gets created ex nihilo.

I don’t know many people who wouldn’t be nodding their heads at at least some of what I’ve written here. Stuff arrives in most houses most days, and it’s jolly hard to find a way of dealing with it so that it doesn’t take over. Here are some things that I’ve tried, with mixed success:

  • Have a recycling bag/box/container easily accessible so that if you see something that can be recycled, you can put it in there straight away with little or no effort (step two of this is to actually empty the recycling into the wheelie bin, of course, before it overflows….).  You may need recycling bins in every room if you’re anything like us.
  • Have a box/bag/container near the front door marked ‘Charity shop’ and put in it anything that’s finished with but good enough for someone else to want.  When you next go into town or get a genuine charity bag through the door, it’ll be easy to make sure your stuff gets to a new home.
  • On that subject, if you have children, get them into the habit of telling you when they have grown out of clothes or toys and putting them straight into the charity shop container by the door.
  • Whenever you tidy up, think about whether each item you’re putting away is needed (and if you have trouble fitting it in the cupboard or drawer, earmark that cupboard or drawer for next time you have time to do a proper sort out, as in today’s Love Life Live Advent action.

It can be hard to throw things away.  The best advice I got when we were preparing for our big move was rather than trying to decide what to get rid of, I should decide what I absolutely had to keep.  It really concentrated the mind, and was strangely liberating.  It was amazing what we found we could live without.  We no longer have a television.  We do not have any of our CDs.  We only have a small proportion of our books (but yes, the rest are all in storage waiting for us when we get back – there are limits to what I’ll say goodbye to!).  We have one of something instead of ten of them.  We are living less cluttered lives than we were.

But yes, we still have ‘stuff’ and I am still hopeful that by the time we return to the UK next year we’ll have better learned how to live without that, too.

Tidying a shelf or drawer is a microcosm of what you do when you have to downsize. It’s a chance to do some good things:

  • You can make some space in a room that can become beautiful, calm, or useful.
  • You can start to work out what’s rubbish and what’s good, and what’s rubbish to you but gold to someone else, and both you and they will benefit from transferring ownership!
  • You can find things that have long been lost, and enjoy them all over again.
  • You can work out what really matters – what you actually need, not just what’s accumulated around you.

In the Christmas Story, the Holy Family unexpectedly have to up sticks and journey to their ancestral town,and then later had to flee for their lives to Egypt.  They would have had far less luggage than we had when we moved. They would have had to think so carefully about what they really couldn’t live without, and take only those things. Across the world, millions of people live like that every day, displaced by natural disaster and conflict.

So, finally, some prayerful thoughts as you clear your shelf:

Lord Jesus, you came into the world with nothing
save the love of your family
and your love for the world,
help me to cherish the things that matter,
and sit lightly to the rest.

Lord Jesus, across the world
some live in plenty, and some in poverty,
may the goods that I have be shared more justly,
and may the giving bring freedom
to me, to those in need, and to your world.

Lord Jesus, my mind is full
with clutter of all kinds,
speak your peace into the stresses of the season,
and focus my heart on the story of your coming,
so that I will have room for you.
Amen.

Lord Jesus,
Bless this bin and those who work hard to process my rubbish,
Bless these donations, and all the giving and receiving this Christmas,
Bless this clear space,
in its emptiness, let it bring calm,
and if it is filled, let it be with things
that will bring happiness and wholeness
to all in this house.
Amen.

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