I was in the fetal position under the covers avoiding the day. Why didn't home feel like home to me? The rest of my family seemed to like it pretty well. As a matter of fact, they loved it! Why was it so hard for me to feel like this space was anything other than a workplace? Other people complimented us on our beautiful home and it had even been photographed before. But over time, life had happened and stuff snuck in without our realizing it. Everywhere I looked, I saw a project and because of this, relaxation was elusive. Instead, tension took its place and when tension is inside, it inevitably will spill out. The girls' closet needed to be cleaned out again. Those trays that are supposed to organize the papers so beautifully were overflowing. All the church crafts that actually make it from the van to the house were scattered about in pieces. The laundry...every time I walked into the laundry room, I could feel anger rising in my chest and making my face hot. I didn't own this stuff. It owned me. It's terrible to feel owned. Anxiety was starting to bubble in places in my heart that were new. Breathing deeper than the surface level was taking too much intentionality. Listening to my kids was becoming work. Hard work. They could tell. Talking with my husband in a way we both enjoyed was becoming less and less frequent. Something had a tightening grip on me and we could all see it and feel it, but I wasn't sure exactly what it was. Something else was looming. Christmas. We have seven members in our family. On average, we each receive at least 12 gifts for Christmas when you factor in all of the branches of the family. This made 84 new items I was going to need to find a place for...and that's when it hit me. Place. Place. Place. Things, by their physical nature, absolutely must have a place in which to exist. When they don't, we call them lost. Our home, I realized in a flash, was full of items that had never been assigned a place. Mini-polaroid photos, random Target purchases that weren't on the list, gifts that we didn't really want, but couldn't give away. There were other things like too many clothes for growing children that hadn't been properly cycled out and books bought on Amazon that would have been borrowed from the library in past eras. There were wedding gifts I had never used, but couldn't get rid of. (They were wedding gifts, after all!) There were toys handed down from past generations that had made it 50 years. Was I really going to be the one to throw those 1970's Hot Wheels away? Those guys were vintage! But the more those things moved in, the more a healthy version of me was squished out. In an effort to create space where there was none, we stuffed and crammed and piled and shoved and all the while, my throat tightened, my head hurt, and I couldn't find a breath of fresh air. And I'm someone who clears things out monthly, but somehow, in our culture, it comes in faster than I can clear it out. All those Pottery Barn Outlet purchases didn't make me completely happy like they promised to do. As it turned out, they actually stole my spirit. So one day in early December, for the sake of self-preservation, I said goodbye to my emotional attachments and I started reclaiming my own place in my home. I didn't tell my family I was going to do this the way you don't tell a toddler they're about to get a shot. It might hurt for a second, but it's better if they don't even see it coming, cry for a minute, and then avoid measles, which would have made them cry much longer. I would love to tell you that there was a method to this madness, but mostly, it was my gut that kept me going. I knew, deep inside, that what I was pursuing was so much more valuable than any Amazon purchase I might come across. In the midst of the sweaty trips of carrying stuff to the minivan, I found bits and pieces of mental clarity. When I say bits and pieces, I mean, teeny tiny bits and pieces, but enough to keep me going. On that first day, I threw away eight bags of trash (don't think old food...think popsicle stick houses made on a rainy day and socks that had no match). EIGHT BAGS. In addition, I took an entire van load to the charity shop. That night, I smiled effortlessly. More than usual. There was an airiness to my spirit that felt like wearing a sundress on a late spring afternoon. The blood was flowing more easily through my veins and when my daughter was telling me a story about her fifth-grade day, I could give her my full attention and an honest reply. I didn't have to make one up because I had zoned out midway through thinking about my to-do list. What's more, I looked at the kitchen cabinets I had painted blue a year earlier and they were pretty to me again. Suddenly, in a moment, color was trickling back into my gray existence. I could tell I was starting to actually like my place in this world again and I felt free to live fully in it because it wasn't too full for my life. I wonder if it might be true that when your space is cluttered, so is your brain, and maybe even your spirit. My grandmother would have said, "A place for everything and everything in it's place." I thought that was a sweet suggestion for another generation, but now I'm starting to believe it as an essential truth for every human being. For six weeks, I cleared and I decluttered. I cleaned and I threw away. I sold and I gave away until every item left in our home was there intentionally. Did you hear that? Every item in my home is there with a purpose, even if that purpose is to beautify things. I know where to find it, and for the most part, so do my family members. When something new arrives and asks for a prized spot, its easier for me to look at it and determine with a severe perspective whether or not this thing is deserving of a piece of real estate in my house, and a piece of clarity in my soul. If I say yes, then something old may have to go to create intentional space. I need to send a message to our consumer-driven culture that I have fallen prey to, and still sometimes do: Neither stuff nor clear space makes my heart truly content. Only God can do that. But I will no longer believe the lie that having more stuff or the newest stuff or the best stuff is going to make our lives better. On the contrary. "The more you have, the more it has you," I do believe is a true statement. And no thing on this earth is worth giving my life for.
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