by Jessica Hanewinckel July 29, 2011


By Jessica Hanewinckel

The junk was starting to pour out of cabinets, and piles of clutter were suddenly appearing on the desk, the kitchen counter, the dining room table, the floor…everywhere. And it seemed the faster we tried to clean it all up, the quicker the little pieces of junk crawled back out of their organized spaces and rearranged themselves into messy piles again. Something had to be done, and fast. No more shoving things back into drawers or cabinets, or moving a box from one shelf to another. We had to start eliminating the excess in our lives that was causing stress, creating messes and taking valuable time away from more important things.

I’d read in the blogosphere about some Catholic moms who practiced an annual “40 bags in 40 days” challenge during Lent. The trend caught on, and lots of so-called “mom bloggers,” Catholic or not, ready to rid themselves of the excess junk in their lives, started doing just that. I’m not Catholic and I’m not a mom trying to run a household of seven people, but I decided we’d give the little experiment a shot ourselves, if for nothing else, our own sanity.

We started room by room, first weeding old clothes out of the closets, then moving to the office area and tossing a bag full of expired insurance policies and other outdated paperwork and inkless pens. Next came the storage closet, where we went through all our boxes of things from the past we deemed too important to toss but not really significant enough to display or keep handy. I dug through a box my mom had given me of mementos she’d saved from my childhood. I saved my report cards and one of the birth announcement cards she sent out when I was born, but opted to toss the receipt from a hardware supply store the day I was born. (Clearly, she saved everything. I wonder where I get it from?)

Then old kitchen gadgets we never used went in a donation box, along with all my old formal dresses from high school, because it’ll be another 20 years before they’re back in style. In the end, we made four or five trips with a packed car to Goodwill, filled a large trash can a few times over, gave away an old TV and a semi-working dust collector elliptical, and sold a sofa, guitar, framed Monet print, bookcase and even a Native American rain stick. We’ll probably find more things to toss, but at least the bulk of it is gone, and our house already feels so much lighter and more peaceful.

As I sorted through all this accumulated clutter, I was very aware that the more I emptied from the house, the freer I felt, and the more I wanted to toss. The process was therapeutic, and even a little addictive. I started to realize how much of our hard-earned money we’d spent over the years on things we didn’t really need (or probably want, for that matter). A quick trip to Target or Costco turned into an hour of tossing things in the cart, not really thinking whether we really, truly wanted or needed it. Caught up in a whirlwind of consumption and materialism, we occasionally found ourselves the victims of mass consumerism, and we had the evidence of years of it right before us. We always wanted more, something new, something better, without appreciating what we had, and what’s truly important. There’s something to be said for living a simple life, where real happiness is so much more attainable. Now, with a newly pared-down list of possessions, I’m already starting to see that what I had was plenty.


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