We’ve taken off the top layer of knick-knacks, wall hangings and books—twenty years of pictures of Jessica growing up, snapshots of vacations, dozens of refrigerator magnets holding senior pictures, expired coupons, newspaper clippings and birth announcements—and loaded up two trailers-worth of boxes and furniture that we can live without for a while (and perhaps longer). The stuff that we can live without has gone to a better home.
Following the advice of our Realtor, we are cleaning the clutter so our house will look more spacious and inviting for potential buyers. And now, I’m thinking, our house looks more spacious and inviting for us!
It’s easy to let things accumulate—a new year of class pictures, a birthday gift, a souvenir from a vacation, a stack of Christmas cards, a couple of new books. Then you add more stuff, another knick-knack, another gift, a few more books and so on. It didn’t seem like too much at the time, but now that we’ve removed the top layer, I realize how much stuff was there. We just weren’t really seeing anything anymore. We saw the collection of stuff, but not the individual items. It became the background we walked by each day, but never really noticed.
I want to do life differently. A few years ago, I received a health diagnosis that changed how I see everything—stuff, time, people, God, everything. One of the first thoughts I had during that time of uncertainty was—“Let’s sell everything and move into an apartment.” I just knew that the stuff was not only not essential, but perhaps counter-productive to a more intentional, fully-lived life. When it comes down to life and death, the stuff has no meaning. Being more self-aware becomes more important…even if it means watching oneself live without.
I want to manage the stuff I bring into my life with these two questions, wisdom from a recent retreat at St. Benedict Center, Giving Up to Gain—A Lenten Retreat, led by Fr. Mauritius Wilde:
What do I really need?
What is too much?
Maybe this is trendy—this downsizing, decluttering thing. Some say it’s the new “shopping.” This is one trend I can get on board with! I hate shopping (the crowds, the time spent, the money spent, yuk…unless it’s books) and I really like seeing this new space when I look around my house. It makes me feel the word “enough.”
A few years ago I came across a blog called “Becoming Minimalist” by Joshua Becker. Becoming Minimalist is “designed to inspire others to pursue their greatest passions by owning fewer possessions.” This pursuing passions is right up my alley (and I have a lot of passions; you shall not find me bored). I shared the blog with my friend, Beth, who had been purging her house of clutter for some time. Beth was so enamored with Becker’s ideas that she invited him for a speaking engagement at her church. A few hundred people turned out to hear his message. Beth also shared her story of feeling freedom from material possessions. The seed was planted for many.
This “Becoming Minimalist” idea isn’t just about having fewer things, it’s also about being grateful for what you do have. Feeling appreciation, not entitlement.
The idea may be trendy, but it’s not new. St. Benedict wrote about detaching from material possessions in his Rule for monks. The Rule of St. Benedict, a counter-cultural, spiritual path, relevant still 1500 years after it was written, is easily adapted for those living in the world, not just in the monastery.
I’ve learned a lot about Benedictine spirituality at St. Benedict Center—from retreats, spiritual direction, the example of the monks and being an Oblate. It is a spiritual, practical and purposeful way to live one’s life.
In Chapter 34 of the Rule, St. Benedict encourages gratitude over materialism. “Gratitude is a key to joy and happiness. When you are in a grateful mood, your day is made. It is the perfect way to live, to be grateful. When you are grateful you are already satisfied. You have enough, you don’t look at tomorrow. You are satisfied with what you have now. This is part of humility. You are at peace where you are, and how you are, with whom you are and how you find yourself, even with your limitations.”– Fr. Mauritius Wilde
Marketing certainly tells us that we need things to be happy (or to decrease discomfort or to calm fears, etc.) I teach my Marketing students (ironic, isn’t it?) that “all good products solve a problem”… and they do. We do need some things and some things we don’t want to live without. There are some things worth paying someone else to do as well. This is okay. Even St. Benedict told his monks they should have what they need, and that those needs vary from person to person.
I am not taking a vow of poverty or swearing off buying anything new, especially books, but I do want to be more intentional. More aware. More humble and satisfied. Filled with gratitude. This is just one of the ways I choose to learn more about myself and God.
For more blog entries on Benedictine Spirituality.
For information about upcoming retreats.