What do you think of when you hear the word “Declutter”?
Chances are your mind turns to all the papers that are piled up on your kitchen counter, or your bookcases that are overflowing with books and magazines and toys, or your mud room with 40 pairs of shoes, some of which are probably three sizes too small for the little feet that once wore them.
This week I want to challenge you to think of decluttering in a broader way: Let’s examine the things that are unnecessarily draining our energy and our time, and instead fill our time with the things htat match our real priorities.
Today we’ll be looking at decluttering in a broad sense, but tomorrow and Thursday we’re going to turn to our kids, because with Back to School upon us, we need to think about how we’re actually spending our time and our energy.
We only have so much of both. I’ve been overwhelmed with work lately, and been much busier than normal. But the one thing that kept me sane was that, on the whole, I don’t have a cluttered life. So when something comes along, out of the blue and temporarily, that does require more energy and time, I’m able to fit it in.
That hasn’t always been the case. I remember times when my best friend was sick and needed help with her kids, and I could not do it. I had no leeway or give in my own schedule. There were times when I desperately needed some rest, and I couldn’t find it, because there was no leeway. But over the last ten years I’ve gotten rid of things–clutter in my house, church commitments, even friends that took too much from me–and I found that I then had time for the important things.
Too often, I think, we allow our lives to carry us along, instead of standing in front of everything and deciding how we’re going to live those lives. We just simply have too much: too much stuff and so too much to clean; too many responsibilities, and so too hectic a schedule; too much debt, and so too much stress.
I just finished reading Lindon and Sherry Gareis’ book Declutter NOW, and it deals with this concept: that our lives are cluttered not just with physical things, but with other stresses and commitments that keep us from being able to focus our time and our energy on what is really important. Decluttering then, is not just about organizing your home but also about freeing up space in your life. In the book they lay out eight areas of our lives that need decluttering, including, of course, our physical space, but also our schedules, our job commitments, our kids’ commitments–even our friendships.
Neither Lindon nor Sherry is perfect, and they don’t claim to be. For both of them it is a second marriage, and they had a lot of baggage from their first marriages that they needed to “declutter”. They both made mistakes parenting that they’ve realized were largely caused because they forgot how to live their lives with God’s priorities at the center, and they let other things sap their focus.
I really enjoyed it, and I want to share a few nuggets of wisdom from them, and then a few very practical things you can do right now to start decluttering.
Realize that You Are Making a Choice to Live a Cluttered Life
Too often we’re exhausted or broke or stressed, and a large part of the problem is that we feel out of control. We aren’t controlling our lives; our lives are controlling us. Yet we always have choices–choices to concentrate on our priorities. They say,
Freedom allows you to step back, catch your breath, focus, reorganize, and get control. Freedom empowers you to broaden your vision and see the bigger picture. You’ll have choices and can operate without guilt or obligation.
We don’t tend to think of this as a spiritual problem, but it is. When we try to address the issues in our spiritual life, we tend to look at the “spiritual” symptoms. Are we praying enough? Do we read our Bible enough? Do we have time for a quiet time? And yet what if the main problem is one of focus in the rest of our lives?
Have you ever felt too busy for God? Too overwhelmed, rushed, or un- focused?
If the answer is yes, it’s probably because you’re trying to do too much. And when we do that, we don’t have time for the important. I remember reading in The Purpose Driven Life that there is always time in everyday to do what God has for us that day–and if we’re not getting it done, it’s likely because we’re filling our time with the unimportant. Sometimes those unimportant things seem urgent–the soccer practice, the costumes we have to make, the meeting at the church, the huge cleaning we need to do in the living room. But those urgent things were all choices. Choices to say yes or to get involved with more things than we could handle. And so no wonder we often go to bed dissatisfied, feeling like we somehow “missed” what God had for us today.
I’ve already written a big post on ideas of what to do with physical clutter, but I’d like to share just a few practical thoughts gleaned from the multitude that are mentioned in Lincoln and Sherry’s book:
1. Decluttering Means Operating in Trust God mode, Not in Survival mode
Sherry shares how after her divorce, she was so scared of her kids going cold that she collected blankets. Tons of blankets. And do you know how much room blankets take?
So often we do that–we keep things “just in case”. But those “just in case” things that we don’t normally use can quickly take over a house. So instead of operating in “survival” mode, let’s get rid of most of our “just in case” items and instead trust God that if we ever go through a hard time, He’ll bring us through it. And in the meantime, is it really worth the physical and emotional toll on you to store that thing?
One area of homes that I think goes to real disuse is the “guest room”, for those of us blessed enough to have one. How often do you really have guests? Twice a year? Four times a year? And in the meantime you don’t have a place for your sewing machine or your scrapbooking, which bring you so much pleasure, so they clutter up another area of the house. Let’s not live in “just in case” mode. Let’s live in today.
2. Look Forward, Not Backward–and Declutter those Photos!
Do you cling to photo album after photo album of pictures you never look at, or home videos you can’t even play anymore because you don’t have a machine for them? Maybe it’s time to declutter our family memories!
One of my current projects is scanning all my old family photos–and then throwing out the majority of them. I know that sounds radical, but photos fade, and that sticky stuff in albums can wreck photos after a few decades. So instead, I scan them and toss them. Most photos I don’t really want anyway. It’s hard letting go of the past, but sometimes we really need to!
If you don’t want to do this yourself, YesVideo will transfer all your photos onto a CD for you. And they’ll take all those home movies you can’t watch and put them on DVD. I’m not saying we should lose our memories. I’m just saying let’s keep them in a more practical way–and one that takes up a lot less space.
3. Declutter Toxic People
Here’s a rough one, but oh, so necessary. If people are draining your energy, it may be time to cut the strings.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about setting boundaries with your in-laws, which caused a lot of comments and a lot of really heartbreaking emails or people saying, “what do I owe my parents if they’re really mean to us?” In Declutter NOW Lindon and Sherry take you through a process of looking hard at the friends and family in your life who eat up your emotional energy, and then give you a practical way to classify them and figure out how much time you really want to spend with them. Go through the exercise and you’ll likely find that your life would be vastly improved if you spent LESS time with some people and far MORE time with others–people who encourage you and give you energy, whom you don’t currently have time for because of the toxic people.
In the two weeks or so since I banned a number of commenters I have felt lighter than I have in years. I didn’t realize how much certain people were stealing my emotional energy. I always checked the comments with trepidation; that’s gone now.
I like their objective method of figuring out who should be most important in your life, and if you’re really struggling with friends and family who bleed you dry, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.
4. Declutter Your Coupons
Here’s something really simple: stop using coupons if they’re not really saving you money–and for many of us they aren’t. I read recently that the biggest grocery cost to the average family in North America is food waste. We buy more than we can actually eat because we buy in bulk, or we buy stuff we don’t normally eat because “it’s a good deal”, and then it sits in our cupboards.
The Gareis’ aren’t against coupons, but there’s a right way to do them and a wrong way. And the right way is far simpler (and doesn’t clog your cupboards).
5. Replace the Space with God
Lindon and Sherry’s book Declutter NOW is available in paperback and in ebook format. And the Kindle edition is just $4.99–THIS WEEK ONLY! They put it on sale especially for our readers. So do check it out!