One of the most common comments I get about my life with clutter is, “Oh, you wrote a book about clutter? Is your house perfect now?”
Or people will say, “I could never have you over to my house. You’re the clutter free person. I’d be too embarrassed!”
These two statements highlight two different misconceptions:
1. Because I’ve found something that works for me, I will never struggle again.
2. I can’t remember what it’s like to be in the hardest part of the struggle.
So let me share the reality of my clutter free life:
I still struggle.
My natural tendency is towards clutter. To put things down, leave them for later.
My garage can still be an embarrassment.
My relationship with stuff has changed dramatically. I still keep stuff I shouldn’t, but it’s not households of stuff. I still have too many clothes, but it’s not closets full of them. I’m so much better, because I’ve learned some of the reasons for my struggle along the way, and I realize that even when I’m at the hardest part of my struggle, God is not a disappointed and disapproving relative waiting to love me when I (literally) clean up my act. In my struggle, God pulls me tighter, loves me hard, and doesn’t let me go.
So much of this paradigm reminds me of my struggle with depression about a dozen years ago. I felt that if I just tried harder, worked more, and wasn’t so lazy, God would be pleased with me and would make my depression go away.
I know. I know.
What crazy, faulty, thinking.
But that’s the kind of thinking that so many of us do when we are dealing with a struggle.
If only I tried harder…
I should be able to get myself out of this mess.
If God was pleased with me, He would get me out of this mess.
Recently, I had a conversation with Melissa Maimone author of The Radiant Midnight: Depression, Grace, and the Gifts of a Dark Place. (Holy cow, what a title!) What I love most about this book is that Melissa believes not only will God lead you out of darkness, He will be fully and beautifully present within it. Instead of trying to give anyone three simple steps to deal with a hard situation, she takes the radical notion that God sits with us in our pain and suffering. Instead of always looking to get out of the circumstance, she urges us to recognize that God is guiding us on a journey of surrender, suffering, rest, and restoration in the midst of what we are going through.
There is value in knowing that we don’t just have to try harder to get out of the circumstances we are in. There is value in recognizing that there is good in the hard places, whether it’s outside of ourselves (clutter) or inside ourselves. God is there, and He is good, even when our challenges are hard.
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Enter to win by commenting below- have you ever had a situation where you believed you had to just try harder to get out of the hard place and then you would find God rather than knowing He was right there in it with you?
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).
Have you ever met a woman and wondered, “How does she do it all?!”
I know I have. I see the mom who has the kind of house where everything has a place and kids with perfectly coiffed hair and coordinating outfits and I wonder, “What does she have that I don’t? How does she do it all?” The same goes for the homeschooling mom and the mom who recreates every DIY Pinterest idea to perfection. I make judgments: They must be super-human. They mom way better than me.
Yet there are also those who would say the same about me.
When outsiders look at me, they see what I do: full-time PR pro, ministry volunteer, grad school student, wife, mom, part-time consultant … the list goes on. They think I’m organized and accomplished. They jump from the facts to judgments: intelligent, super-human, even perfect. They want to know what I have that they don’t.
Sound familiar? Have you ever had these thoughts? Would you believe that somewhere out there, someone thinks the same thing about you?
Our perceptions and judgments are comparison clutter, and they secretly interfere with our relationships. Comparison keeps us at arm’s length. The desire is there to go deeper and know each other better, but we have to dump the clutter to get there.
Others use their perception of what I do to highlight what they think of as weakness in themselves. I get it. I see gifts in others and think of my own deficits. But Hebrews 4:13 tells us that it’s God to whom we must give account – not each other. I do what God created me to do. These gifts were made for me, not for others. Just like the gifts of organization and crafty creativity that come so easily to others missed me by a mile. Comparison clutter is sneaky. It separates us not only from each other but also from what God has designed us each uniquely to do.
This is where I hope we can remember the spirit of Ephesians 2:10. God created us individually to do good works that he already has prepared for us. We all have a sweet spot when it comes the number of hats we wear. Some of us can be working moms who invest in their marriage and in their community. Others can’t handle more than just a couple of roles before feeling over-extended. It’s by design. You were made to do what you do, just as I was made to do what I do. Neither of us gets salvation bonus points by reaching beyond God’s desires for us.
We often wear our busyness like a badge of honor, an outward sign of our importance or our sacrifice. This is like putting the welcome mat out for comparison to enter. What if we instead looked to live life within the margins our creator designed for us? What if instead of comparing ourselves to others, we celebrated the way we each use the gifts God has given us?
One Small Win
Write down all you do – all that keeps you busy – in a given week and pray over it. What on that list has God created you to do and what might be meant for someone else? Consider what can be delegated or eliminated and take the appropriate action, knowing you are fulfilling God’s design.
Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours (Isaiah 61:7, NIV).
Before I could change my mind, I scooped up my bathroom scale and tossed it into the box labeled, “Goodwill.”
I took a picture of the giveaway box containing a perfectly good bathroom scale (one I’d used daily, sometimes multiple times) and sent it to my friend, Melissa. “Goodbye, bossy box!” I captioned it.
Though technically not house clutter, it did represent a whole heap of heart clutter.
After sharing with Melissa my struggles about shame over my weight, I realized I had become a slave to a digital number. My mood each day depended on whether that number went up or down.
“Has it been working for you so far?” Melissa had asked. I had to agree with her; it hadn’t helped me lose weight or have a healthy relationship with food. It only added to the weight of shame I’d been carrying. I plunked the box into the garage and decided to focus on other markers of health success.
Since my decluttering session, my mood has been a lot lighter. I have the freedom to engage in self care (exercising to feel better and sleep better, rather than punishing myself for a number on a box). I base my success on how good and healthy I feel rather than a fluctuating number.
Shame only serves to weigh us down rather than to help us grow and serve the purpose God created us for (Ephesians 2:10). Before we can ever deal with the exterior problem, we have to throw off the heart clutter holding us back.
Often, items cluttering up our home are tangible evidence we’re carrying around too much shame in our hearts. To the naked eye, it looks like a bathroom scale or 50 bottles of lotion you’ll never use or 6 old phones sitting in your top drawer. But down under the useless stuff, there’s shame involved. Your clutter might represent bad financial decisions, abusive relationships, or other poor choices—any number of things we chronically kick ourselves over.
Once we recognize an item triggers shame in our hearts, it’s easier to toss it. We can’t change whatever caused the shame in the past, but we can make positive, nurturing changes that help us live in a joyful present. Without the weight of shame, we are free to go out and do what we were made to do in the world.
One Small Win
Think of one item in your house you keep, not because it serves you well, but out of shame. Imagine the feeling of lifting the weight of shame off of you when you get it out of your house. Take a deep breath, and do it!
Lyneta Smith and her husband Doug live near Nashville, TN. When not entertaining their adult children or caring for a mischievous Boston terrier and opinionated tortoiseshell cat, they’re typing away on their computers or doing teaching/mentoring ministries in their church. You can read more from Lyneta at LynetaSmith.com.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
I’m ready to throw out all of my jeans. Nothing reminds me of the extra weight I’m wearing than a pair of jeans. My skinny jeans really are a paradox. As I tug, yank and wiggle out of them after a long day, I feel trapped in guilt. Suffocating guilt traps them like a denim straight jacket onto my hips. Why haven’t I lost weight yet? How could I have let myself get this heavy? Why do I keep insisting on cramming my body into these jeans? I can’t shed these jeans fast enough. Unfortunately, those extra pounds don’t make fast an option.
Eventually I peel off the jeans and throw them in a heap on my closet floor. They lay there, mocking me. I might have removed the jeans from my body, yet I still don’t feel free of them. There’s another layer squeezing me, my heart.
The guilt. Oh the guilt.
That’s much more difficult to remove. And today it’s almost impossible to shimmy out of.
I quickly grab a pair of leggings and pull them on, their softness and comfort enveloping me. Oh how I long for the same feeling in my heart.
Deep in my heart, I hear a whisper. A reminder. My worth is not found in how my jeans fit, the number on the tag in my jeans, or the number on the scale.
My worth is in Jesus.
For me to wear the peace of that statement, I need to not only shed the too-tight clothes, but the guilt, the shame and the disappointment that comes with them.
Hebrews 4:16 reminds me that because of Jesus, I can approach the throne of God’s grace with confidence. Not with guilt, shame and fear. With confidence. No matter the size of my jeans. The number of the scale. God wants me to come to Him with confidence, but what waits for me there is so much better than confidence! He’s waiting for me, for you, with grace and mercy. And as I find His grace and mercy, I can begin to extend it to myself.
And today, that looks like adding that pair of jeans to the bag of items I’m going to donate later this week. And since I’m already in my closet, I might as well go through some other clothes that don’t fit me. They’re just clutter anyway.
As I let go of clothing that doesn’t fit me, I also let go of the guilt that God never designed to fit my heart.
One Small Win
What’s one item that you can give away or throw away today that will not only release you from physical clutter but from the emotional clutter of guilt? Once you think of it, go do it! Bag it up and put it in your trunk for the next time you’re near a donation spot or throw it away if it’s trash. As you get rid of it, say goodbye to the guilt about it too!
Melissa Mulvaney is a wife, triple-boy blessed mama, writer, certified life coach and lover of her loud and joyful life. She’s known for her cowbells skills, only writes with pink pens, has the loudest laugh in the room, uses 10 exclamation points instead of a period, and cheers her people on literally and figuratively. If cheering people on was a sport, Melissa would win the gold! You can connect with her at MelissaMulvaney.com.
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