Hold Lightly–and then LET GO!

Travel Lightly

Have you ever pondered just how little you really need? I have, and the answer never fails to surprise me. I always need less than I really think I do.

This month I’m participating (lurking mostly) in a Facebook group called “The Month of 100 Things 2014.” The idea behind the group is to support one another in the process of removing 100 things (or more) from one’s life, belongings, and possessions. The convener is one Dawn Rundman–teacher, writer, presenter, and senior editor at Augsburg Fortress Publishers, where she develops resources for children. She’s also a musician, spouse, and mother; in other words, she’s one busy woman.

Even the busiest among us can stand to shed some stuff, and most of us can ditch 100 things without batting so much as one eyelash. The problem is that there’s a lot of fear and insecurity in getting rid of possessions. We start to worry and ask questions: What if I need it? What if it’s valuable? What if those hideous trousers really do come back into fashion? Fretting about the questions allows us to avoid coming to terms with the process that’s really a very healthy one.

The key is to “hold lightly” to our possessions, realizing that we really don’t own anything anyway. Everything simply passes through our hands for our use, enjoyment, and (if we’re doing things right) for the betterment of our world. God created all of it, and we get to use it for a time. It’s all about love, grace, stewardship, and faith.

Last time I checked not even the Pharaohs managed to take their belongings with them to the afterlife, but people keep on trying to hang on for dear life to the detritus of life itself. Divorce proceeding become bitter battles over such seemingly insignificant arguments over who gets to keep the Smurf jelly jar glass collection. Really?

So how does one train oneself to hold lightly in a world that proudly proclaims “he or she who dies with the most toys wins”? It takes practice and effort and the power of supportive community.

The joy of learning to hold lightly is that it makes a person more generous. If you’re willing to share your stuff, you’re well on your way to a glad and generous heart. So here’s a project for this week…

Get rid of three things each day. Just three things. That’s only 21 items for the entire week. Either give or toss each item, but preferably give so that someone else may benefit from the use of an item you no longer need or want. If you find you want to do more look up the 100 Things facebook group and ask to join.

I hope you’ll take the time to share this idea and to comment below about your experience. Want a little motivation to get started? Read Matthew 6:25-34. And then…just LET GO! Three things. Seven days. One week. You can do this! We can do this!

Photo: Alice Popkorn, Creative Commons

Ditching the Detritus

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. — Confucious

Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” — Linda Breen Pierce

I am convinced that “stuff” has a tendency to multiply like guinea pigs–fast and furiously. In fact, we live in a world where the accumulation and collection of stuff is encouraged at almost every turn. Buy this, collect that, you need one of these…so the consumer wooing goes. If one listens to this siren song, the result is a life full of stuff, most of which is unneeded for one’s happiness and is, in fact, downright unnecessary and even wasteful.

Think about it. Just how much does a person really need?

Do you ever feel awash in a sea of paperwork? Do you regularly look at drawers or shelves or closets or entire rooms and feel exhausted just contemplating where to start with the overabundance of stuff? Do you feel worn out from the work of managing your “stuff”? Are you holding onto things out of guilt or obligation (Great Aunt Mary’s awful vase or the dollar store tchotchke a student gave you eight years ago)?  Does your detritus (what a great word!) prevent you from living fully and gratefully? Could others benefit from what you do not need?

If you answered yes to one or more questions, then maybe 2013 is the year for you to ditch your detritus. Someone will have to do it eventually. Would you rather simplify now or leave it to your children and other family members to sort through in the midst of grief and loss? Would you rather have someone hurriedly sort your stuff, consigning bits and pieces of your life to various places–including the landfill?

The more simply you can live, the more choices will present themselves, and the more options you will likely have. Can you imagine heading out in your car with your life’s possessions or even taking off with a couple of suitcases? Granted, not every person can minimalize his or her life to this degree, but all of us can take practical steps toward ditching detritus and polishing the contours of our existence.

Here are a few ways to start:

Choose one small space and a short span of time–a drawer and fifteen minutes, a closet and an hour, a room and an afternoon–and determine to make a change. Pull everything out. Spare nothing. Make three piles. One pile is for that which you must absolutely keep, one pile is for items whose fate remains unsure, and the final pile is for items that can leave your life without question. Take the unsure items and box them away for six weeks. If you aren’t forced to open the box, then part with it, preferably unopened to your favorite local charity.

Make a memory, not a mess–What about those precious photos and gifts you keep out of duty, obligation, or love? The easiest way to deal with these items is to photograph them, and keep a digital file of memories. If you are crafty or artsy, consider making something new from them or at least making an artful arrangement for a photograph. Then release these items for others to use and enjoy.

Create some capital–If you are strapped for cash, then by all means find an outlet such as Amazon, half.com, ebay, or Craigslist to sell items of significant cash value. Books, dvds, and vinyl of marginal value (it’s no longer a good deal to sell via Amazon unless you have items of value or significant stock) can be bulk grouped and sold locally via Craigslist or through a used bookstore, game outlet, or entertainment store. Hold a rummage sale.

Give–Consider simply giving items away. Local charities are often happy to take items for resale. If you have books of value, do what my mother did, and pass them along for others to enjoy.  Share from your abundance. Remember, we really don’t “own” anything permanently in this world anyway. We come here empty-handed, and we will leave the same way. If you created some capital and don’t need the funds to pay off debt or secure a college fund, then give the proceeds to the charity of your choice. Keep only what you need; share the rest.

Determine to keep your life lean and clean–Once you’ve rid yourself of detritus, determine to live a simple life that is free of unnecessary stuff and clutter.

  • Place added value on relationships, community, and experience.
  • Make it known that you would prefer any gifts to be in the form of consumables, experiences/time, or gifts to charitable organizations to benefit others. Consider alternatives to the traditional holiday gift-giving glut, such as limiting the number of gifts, choosing to give only fair-trade or consumable items, or exchanging handmade and home-crafted gifts.
  • Keep only items that are functional or beautiful to you.
  • Maintain a “loose hold” on things. Be always willing to let items come in and out of your life without fuss.
  • Designate one period of time each week to stem the tide of clutter and consumption.
  • Avoid recreational shopping.
  • Hold to a one in/one out rule–especially with clothes. If you bring an item into your closet or life, send another item on its merry way.
  • Cultivate the art of giving from your abundance–joyfully and readily–as part of a life of thanks-living.

These are by no means new ideas, but it helps to hear this message over and against the encouragement and pressure our society places on needless, mindless, and excessive consumption. Mindful living and thoughtful use of resources helps to foster a life of thanks-living, and that is a very good thing indeed.

  • How do you discard the detritus of your life in a way that is healthy, fruitful, and mindful of the environment?
  • What advice can you offer from personal experience?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in simplifying your life in 2013?

Photos by coiros and puuikibeach. Thanks!

Lessons Learned in Lent

The 40/40/40 Lent Challenge is history. I spent the week following Easter recovering from Holy Week, enjoying my family, and reflecting on the Lenten challenge to honor relationships, pare down possessions, and live more thankfully. It has been a busy time but a good one.

So what did I learn from my Lenten discipline this year?

1) I discovered that so many people have had an impact on my life and have shaped who I am today. I could spend a year writing notes and e-mails and still not exhaust the list! This tells me that virtually everyone with whom we come into contact has the potential to shape us for good (or ill). The key is to look for the best in others, to always be open to learning, and to accept the gifts others bring to your life. We do not live in isolation, and part of the joy of living is making and strengthening our web of connection and relationship.

2) I have too much stuff. It must replicate like guinea pigs in the night because there always seems to be more of it whenever I think I have cleaned out and cleared out my life and home.  Either that or I’m learning to live and be content with a whole lot less! Likely it is a combination of both! I’ll continue to dis-attach myself to as much stuff as possible and instead place value in people and experiences.

3) We all have so much for which to be thankful. Naming just one thing a day is like eating only one Lay’s potato chip or a single M & M. Splurge on gratitude; there’s no calories or fat, and the more you give thanks the fuller and richer your life will be.

Thank you for following along with me. I hope you’ll continue to stop in for more adventures in thanks-living. There’s always something for which to be grateful.

Peace and blessing!

Photos by Ben Gray, bradipo, and Nick Saltmarsh used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

The Joy of Shedding “Stuff”

Give Way

Dependence on God may be what is lacking in a society where consumerism and accumulation have become the root deseases of a world in which everything is not enough and nothing satisfies.      — Joan Chittister from The Rule of Benedict: Insight for the Ages

Ever wonder why sometimes an item you purchase seems to lose its luster once you get it home? What looked so shiny, bright, and desirable on the shelf at your local big box now looks downright ordinary. The root desire that made you whip out your cash or credit card is still there — along with one more thing to clutter your closet or yet another knick-nack to dust.

Very few of us are immune to consumer cravings; in fact, I shudder to think of the amount of money, time, and energy I have wasted over the years on accumulation of really rather pointless “stuff.” Having pared down my possessions from a 2600 square foot parsonage to two carloads plus a few boxes in 2010, I also know the freedom that comes from unburdening oneself of excess accumulation. I learned a lot about needs and wants, about desires and whims. Unfortunately, I let the consumer creep poke its camel nose under my tent, and by the time we movedagain in 2011, it took a small U-Haul to transport our belongings. Granted, I purchased a couple of beds and some living room furniture that was too good to leave behind and that we could use in Pennsylvania, but a lot of what we transported was simply “stuff.”

“Stuff” can be a major distraction to living a life of thanks-living and purpose. When a person has to worry about his or her stuff instead of the people, relationships, and created order, one’s quality of life begins to be compromised. Focusing on and clinging to one’s “stuff” can also be a barrier to cultivating a strong relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Here’s the thing I have discovered and continue to discover afresh with each new day: shedding stuff contributes directly to joy in the present moment. Buddhists strive for “detachment,” believing that nothing lasts and therefore it is important to be attached to nothing. Christians believe that one should attach oneself to the only thing that matters. In the attachment to (and consequential dependence upon) Jesus, everything else then becomes detachable. Either way, shedding excess stuff becomes an opportunity rather than a burden, a joy rather than a pain.

Click here for a wonderful story about creative detachment posted on Francine Jay’s Miss Minimalist blog. It’s a story about honoring relationships, giving possessions, and being thankful. My appreciation to Heidi J for sharing her story.

Honoring Relationships

Today I want to honor three women who gathered with me around the kitchen table to pray the night before I underwent surgery for breast cancer. Adrienne, Aileen, and Mary Beth — each in her own unique way — made the cancer journey bearable and even humorous. Adrienne was my rock, Aileen was my spiritual mentor, and Mary Beth was the friend who had already walked many tough miles with me and who with humor, compassion, Irish wit, and a Springer Spaniel named Fred (littermate to my boy Pete) held my hand and lent me her strength. Without them, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today. Thank you, lovely and wise ladies. You are amazing and wonderful.

Giving Possessions

Three more books will go to the Public Library for their book sale. I feel better knowing someone else will enjoy reading them, too. Hey, that’s three less books to collect dust!


I am particularly thankful today for my spouse. He is a partner in the truest and fullest sense of the word. With him each day is an adventure. He brings out the best in me, supports me when the going gets tough, never fails to make me laugh, and is just an all-around awesome person. Thanks, Rob, for being you.

And the Winner Is…

Congratulations to Gladys, whose name was drawn to receive my autographed copy of Lee Smith’s Fair and Tender Ladies.

Photos by Loopzilla and Maarten ter Keurs used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!