“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Matthew 6:19-20 ESV
It was early morning and I needed chicken thighs for tonight’s dinner. After taking a slug of coffee for strength, I put on my shoes and entered my garage. I stared at the 14.5 cubic feet chest freezer, taking a deep breath as I slowly lifted the lid, reaching my hand into the abyss. I shuffled through my frozen produce, bags of blanched corn, peas, and beans. I pushed aside beets and peppers along with blueberries and strawberries. I dug around my batches of homemade spaghetti sauce and apple sauce, but still no chicken thighs. I slid aside the baskets that held my jars of jams, bags of nuts, and Christmas baking chocolate, to reach the depths of the freezer. I silently thanked God that it wasn’t Christmas, where I would have to shift the containers of cookies and candy made in advance, pulled out for gifts and holiday celebrations. Finally, I found the chicken thighs along with a few bags of unidentifiable leftovers, a loose frozen cranberry, and a few crumbs. I wondered how breadcrumbs end up in the bottom of the freezer. I grabbed my chicken thighs, shifted things around haphazardly, and closed the lid.
For eight years, I repeatedly engaged in this search and rescue pattern to find the items I needed for dinner. Occasionally, I would call one of my unsuspecting teenagers downstairs and say, “Can you help me organize the freezer?” They reluctantly agreed realizing it was more of demand than a request. We would pull everything out, throw out the UFOs (unidentified frozen objects), and scrape some of the ice off, organizing the food in categories of vegetables, meats, fruits, and bread. And then, a few weeks later, the freezer would turn once again into a chaotic abyss!
For eight years, our freezer served us well, the storage for summer abundance in preparation for winter meals. After Maggie’s wedding, we decided that this freezer was too big for only two people. We no longer buy frozen waffles in bulk or eat twenty bags of frozen corn in a year! Terry took a few pictures, we listed it on Facebook Market Place, and it sold within an hour of being listed.
We still haven’t found a new place to move into yet, but I am currently de-cluttering my home in preparation of moving. A friend recommended a book called “The Joy of Less” by Francine Jay. As a self-proclaimed minimalist, she asks some hard questions like, “How many paper clips do you really need?” She then outlines some principles and shows you a path toward ridding your home of all the extras. I believe her approach is similar to the wildly popular “KonMari” method. As I read the book, I find myself feeling anxious and relieved at the same time.
The anxious feelings indicate that maybe I am too attached my stuff. Terry and I went through our coffee mug collection, eliminating the ones we didn’t love due to size, shape or design. I was so excited when we eliminated ten coffee mugs. Feeling proud, I had Terry count how many coffee mugs we had left. He reported he had four, but I still had sixteen! I delight in having a different mug every morning, but maybe sixteen is still a bit excessive. Once again, I am going to pull out my mugs and make some tough decisions.
We all have our “things”, things we believe we can’t live without. Mine might be coffee mugs, serving dishes, and cake plates. My husband’s “things” are office supplies, including his collection of binder clips. Yet, if we take those things aside, I still find we have a pan for Danish pancakes, a broken laptop we haven’t discarded, outdoor Christmas lights we never used, and grapefruit spoons that crowd my utensil drawer. This stuff takes up space in my house that either gets moved around when looking for something else or finds itself on a shelf collecting dust.
Why do I hold on to things I don’t want, need, or use? Let’s take the Danish pancake pan. I bought it over twelve years ago, envisioning making stuffed round pancakes, the name of which I can’t pronounce. I did make one batch, stuffing them with pumpkin butter. They were so much work that, honestly, I don’t even remember how they tasted. Yet, I have held on to the pan because I spent money on it, and occasionally see Bobby Flay making a stuffed pancake on his brunch show and I feel inspired. But after my fleeting fancy, the pan remains in the back of my cabinet, unused and unwanted. Yes, I spent money on it and maybe it was a bit foolish. But the reality, is that I can’t return the pan, and it consumes mental energy and space that should be freed up. So, I am moving the pan to my rummage sale pile, and hopefully it will find a home with someone who wants to make ebelskivers!
The other pile of stuff that I hang onto is the rainy-day pile. A few years ago, Terry and I started to replace our fifteen-year-old bath towels. The new plush bath towels soon were the chosen ones, pushing aside the old, frayed towels. Eventually, I had enough new towels for everyday use, but I still didn’t throw out the old ones. I replay messages in my brain from well-meaning people: old towels are good for cleaning up grease spots and paint spills. First, my husband never changes his own oil or messes around with our car, therefore we have never had grease spills. And as far as paint goes, my husband is a careful painter, and we have never had huge globs of spilled paint. Thus, the old towels need to go, along with any broken appliances and old bedding that hasn’t been used in years.
As I work through my anxiety, I start to feel relieved. Less stuff means less to clean or clean around. It means less to move and store. It also frees me up from needless spending. If I live a more minimalist lifestyle, I am less likely to purchase a book on a whim, instead checking it out at my local library for free. I am less likely to buy another shirt on a clearance, without thinking about what I am willing to give up. And I can’t honestly think of a single small kitchen appliance I still need to get except a spice grinder. It frees my budget up for travel and experiences, which, in this stage of life, are more important to me.
Finally, de-cluttering reminds me that I can’t carry this stuff with me when I am gone. I want to keep the things that are useful, that bring me joy, and help me connect with other people. I think my home is already a comfortable space for family and friends, but I want to keep it uncluttered so that it remains a welcoming place.
Francine Jay sums up a thought in her book that I want to carry with me for all future decisions. She says, “Once we’re warm, safe, and fed, we shouldn’t feel compelled to browse a shopping mall or surf the Internet to find more things to buy. Instead, we could devote that time and energy to other more fulfilling pursuits-such as those of a spiritual, civic, philosophical, artistic, or cultural nature.” When I follow those pursuits, I create memories which cost nothing and don’t require dusting. And so I continue, going room by room, and choosing carefully what I really need!