This week I’m revisiting the process I went through to downsize our 1800-square-foot home to 12 suitcases (plus a some storage items) as we prepared to move abroad. [This is part 2 of me exploring the freedom of living with less. Read part 1 to catch up.]
When I originally wrote Part 1 of my 3-bag challenge, I figured I’d wait a week or two and then add part 2. But then it took a little longer than that for me to wrap my head around this whole living with less thing.
One Sunday, our pastor spoke about idols as being anything that you can’t live without. He said that all of us show — with our actions — what it is that we worship in our hearts. We take good things, and make them ultimate things, because we are convinced they will give us satisfaction and joy.
Idols are the things we look at and say, “if I just had that _____, I would be happier.” They are God-alternatives. The Bible says we were created to worship and serve the Creator, but instead we end up worshiping and serving created things.
Mostly, I sat there thinking how I didn’t really have any idols. [Woop! Woop! Woop! Warning: whenever you start thinking someone is not talking to you, he probably is!]
On the way home from church, our 10-year-old pipes up with: “So, Mom, Dad, what are your idols?”
Umm… since when did she start paying attention in church?!
Like I said: I never thought of myself as an idol worshipper. But this whole packing-and-moving-thing has caused me to seriously reevaluate that thought.
Let me say that a bit more plainly: my family clearly idolizes stuff. (Wait, who does all the shopping for my family?) OK, fine. I’ll say it: evidently I have been a contestant on Stuff Idol for the past decade and just didn’t know it. Whether it’s dollar-store trinkets we buy because they are so cheap, or the amazing-sale items that are too good to pass up, we’re buried under piles of stuff.
We’ve moved before (plenty of times) and I’ve always said I like how moving makes you purge. But the process of moving to another country, with three bags per person (if you count the free bag, the $40 second bag and the carry-on), brings purging to a whole new level. Instead of dumping the contents of the junk drawer into a box to be dealt with later, I have to actually do something with everything in that drawer (and the dozen others like it).
And the paper! Oh man — the paper! I knew our office would be a struggle, but I didn’t realize just how big of a struggle it would be. We have two bookshelves, two desks, a two-door/two-drawer cabinet, another three-drawer cabinet, a nine-cubby something-or-other, and a closet — all meant to just hold the stuff in our office.
One of the reasons this move is so difficult is because I am coming to fully recognize my need for stuff. And. It. Sickens. Me. I’ve heard stories of friends who have lost enormous amounts of weight, and were disgusted with themselves when they realized what it took to get them that heavy.
It’s the same with me and my stuff.
And I cannot believe how much we — as a family — obtain, store, and hoard just because. When I was growing up, my dad cashed his check and then gave the money to my mom to disburse through budget envelopes, for the mortgage, food, utilities, and so on. If the money wasn’t there, we didn’t spend it.
So what happened? Somewhere between that generation and now, we’ve become a nation of impulse-buying-credit-card-spending drones. Well, maybe it’s not the whole nation, but certainly I suspect I’m not alone.
But very gradually, I feel a change happening in my heart.
I used to think that buying stuff for my kids was a way to show them how much I loved them.
But now I realize I’m just setting them up to believe happiness and love = stuff.
I used to think that buying stuff on sale — even if I didn’t need it at this very moment — was an indication of my thriftiness as a wife and mother (as if I should be given a prize!).
But now I realize I’m just contributing to waste when I could be resourceful with what we already have.
With technology, we don’t need bookshelves filled with books, CDs, or DVDs. I have a scanner to make electronic copies of important papers, and a camera to take photos of things that won’t fit on the scanner. Really, the only piece of furniture I need in my office is the desk (and a chair)!
Last summer, we spent a month at a small vacation home in Maine. That house didn’t have all sorts of stuff stashed in drawers or piled on shelves, and yet we weren’t lacking anything. I think we were quite comfortable those four weeks, empty closets and all.
I want to live like that always. I want to live like I’m on permanent vacation from all the stuff that weighs us down.
When we started planning this adventure, I questioned whether God might have to take us to the third world for a year to teach us a few things about living in the first world. Gulp. Looks like school’s in session.
There’s a beautiful rose bush outside my office window. Every fall my brother-in-law (the landscaper) comes and cuts it WAY back. And every year I complain that he was too harsh on the poor plant, that it looks like he killed it. And yet, every spring it comes back bigger, and stronger, and more beautiful than ever.
I’ve heard this analogy used plenty of times before in reference to shaping our lives. But the past year has made me realize just how painful that pruning can be (at a variety of levels). This month I’m cutting out a ton of trash in our home and our lives (ten bags of it from the office alone!), and can’t wait to see how it all blooms.