For the past few months, our womens' Bible study has been reading and discussing the book 7, An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. An excerpt from Jen's blog summarizes the feeling behind the book:
Enough with the obscene excess while the rest of the world is burning down outside our windows. Enough with the waste as 25,000 people die today of hunger, while I throw away another pound of food we didn’t get around to eating. Enough with the debt, the spending, the amassing, the irresponsibility, the indulgence, the fake discipleship, the rat race, the hamster wheel, the power and positioning and posturing with a hunger still for more, more, more, all the while pretending to follow a Jesus who didn’t even have a place to lay his head.
A brief summary: Jen identified seven areas of her and her family's life in which there was a lot of excess--food, possessions, spending, clothes, waste, media and stress--and for one month per area, she challenged herself to cut down on the excess.
Our leaders challenged us to partially fast from something while reading, so I chose to give up soda for nine weeks--and I did it!--with the exception of one on my birthday. It was tempting on most days to drive to Sonic since no one would know about it, but I knew I had to get my lack of self-control under, well, control, and eliminating soda was one small way to start disciplining myself.
During our discussion one morning on possessions, a friend mentioned theminimalists.com and their "minimalist game". The game lasts for one month, and on day one, you get rid of one item. Day two, two items...and so on, until the month is up. I read their blog post in late February and decided to try their challenge in March. Thirty one days in March comes out to 496 items. A few friends thought I was crazy, but I knew I could do it...we had an entire room and closet overflowing with stuff that was rarely used.
The first half of the month was easy. My OCD self documented each day and attempted to keep like items together so I skipped around on the dates. But even still, the first three weeks of the month weren't even a challenge. I completely destroyed our spare room and eliminated so much stuff that I can now get rid of the shelves on the wall, a bookshelf, and for the first time in the three years we've lived here, I can *easily* access anything I need in the closet (which now only contains luggage, one tub of seasonal decorations, and some craft supplies). It was only the last few days that started to get tricky, but a few raids of our linen closet, our winter clothes, and the bathroom drawers/closet finished up the month nicely.
Now my laundry room is operating as a holding cell until I have a garage sale with all of our junk and use the proceeds toward my ticket to Guatemala this summer for a missions trip. Two weeks from now, our house will be 496+ things lighter!
Before I started the challenge, I wondered how far-reaching the effects would be. Would it be easy to get rid of almost 500 things, or would the last few days start to hurt? Would it be merely cleaning out extra stuff or would it somehow affect my relationship with the Lord (since that is the whole point)? And now that its done, the game wasn't as hard as I expected. Apparently we have way more than 500 items that we don't use lying around our house, which says a lot about our spending (and hoarding) habits.
A fast like this--or a purge, really--should have made me uncomfortable. I should have felt deprived of my stuff and insecure because I put my security in my possessions and the number at the top of our bank account. But I didn't feel any of that, and I kind of felt bad about it. The only guess I have about it is that the challenge wasn't painful because we have so.much.stuff. that 496 items was a drop in the bucket. I amassed 496 things I don't use, outgrew, don't read, and don't need anymore. I didn't have to touch any of the stuff I actually even like or use, and its not like we gave away thousands of dollars...that would make me uncomfortable.
So instead of feeling uncomfortable or deprived or "woe is me", I feel relieved. Sometimes I just stand in our extra room and admire how empty it is. I also feel somewhat disgusted with how much I've accumulated over the years. I'm as vulnerable as the next person when I walk into Target, so I've stopped finding reasons to go to Target. But harder than bypassing Target, I'm working on being content. I am definitely a "grass is greener" pessimist (which is a winning combination) and almost every day I catch myself thinking that if our house was bigger and/or nicer, if I had x, y and z, then I would be happy. And that is, of course, completely untrue. That is a lie used by Satan to distract me and keep me focused only on myself. The discontentment keeps me from sharing my possessions to benefit others, giving money to friends on the mission field, and a whole host of other kingdom work that would last for eternity.
So while all I've done is purge our house of extraneous things, I feel like I've made a baby step in the right direction. In my attempt to detach myself from my stuff, I hope the Lord will show me the next step I should make, and so and so forth, until my life better reflects Jesus' life.