With Christmas behind us, we may be faced with a new dilemma: how to make room for new “things” when our closets and cupboards are already jam-packed. Some home management texts include the rule: Whenever you buy something new, get rid of something unwanted. They suggest that the number of items that flow into our homes should equal the number of items that flow out. Seems like good advice, so why is it so hard to follow?
We know that if we do not get rid of things, we may find ourselves unwisely seeking a larger home, renting storage space, or living in constant chaos! That would seem to be sufficient motivation to unburden ourselves. More importantly, there is spiritual danger in placing too much emphasis on material things. They can literally take over our lives and become a false god. 2 Nephi 9:30 reads, “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to things of the world . . . and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.”
Most of us have hundreds of items in our houses that we do not want, need, use, or appreciate. My personal application of the law of consecration is that I need to give away everything of any value that I don’t need and that someone else might find useful. Since it is painful to live in a cluttered house with tons of stuff, and we would really rather have others make use of the things we aren’t using, why is it so hard to let go? Why do we keep so many things in our homes that are doing us virtually no good?
Here are some commons reasons people give for hanging on to things:
- “If I get rid of things, I’m really throwing money away.” The truth is that we lose money when we keep unused possessions. They occupy expensive space and rob us of valuable time. A home management guru wisely said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
- “Every time I consider giving something away, I think I may need it sometime. I don’t want to have to replace things I could have saved.” For every hundred things we think we might use, we really use about one. It’s cheaper in the long run to buy the one again when we need it than to try to keep track of all that stuff. And if you are anything like me—even when you know you have it, you aren’t likely to be able to find it when you need it, and have to go out and buy a new one anyway!
- “I’m sentimental. If I throw away things attached to memories I feel like I’m throwing away my past. I’m especially attached to gifts.” Things are only symbols. Keep the memories, take pictures of the things but let go of the worn-out symbols. Gifts are symbols of love. Keep the love and let go of the gift that no longer serves you. If the giver truly loves you, he or she would not want to burden you with things that are not useful.
- “It’s too good to throw away—I’ll keep it until I find just the right person to give it to.” It makes more sense to put it in a Deseret Industries box and let them find the person who truly needs it. If you don’t have a Deseret Industries near you, many other charitable organizations welcome donations.
- “I identify with my things.” The environment we create is often a mirror image of our lives—cluttered mind, cluttered house, etc. However, we should carefully avoid the false implication that possessions define us. Who we really are in the Lord’s sight has nothing to do with what we possess. The Lord “looketh on the heart.” It seems to me that President Benson’s quote that if we put God first other things would assume their proper place or drop out of our lives entirely can be well applied to possessions.
- “It was a mistake to buy it and I hate to waste money.” If we wasted our money buying something we don’t like and don’t use and can’t return, keeping it around for a long time won’t make it any less of a mistake. In fact, the item is a constant visual reminder of the mistake. Just get rid of it and remember, it’s okay to make mistakes.
Solid Reasons for Simplifying Our Lives
Saint Francis said, “Riches prick us with a thousand troubles in getting them, as many cares in preserving them, and yet more anxiety in spending them, and with grief in losing them.”
The less you have, the less you will have to take care of and worry over. Material goods gobble time and energy in many ways, such as:
- Possessions create clutter, weighing us down emotionally. Gladys Allen wore a huge rubber albatross around her neck in her de-junking seminars to symbolize the effect of unnecessary possessions. “Things” clutter our minds as well as our drawers, closets, counters, garages, and basements. We have to keep a mental inventory of them.
- Possessions cost more than the original price when we spend money storing, repairing, protecting, and cleaning them.
- Possessions demand cleaning. How many things can we actually enjoy washing, dusting, polishing, soaking, scouring and scraping?
- Possessions create errands. Not only do we spend time driving miles to the store, looking for parking, and waiting in store lines when we buy goods, but double and quadruple that time investment when we have to take our things to be exchanged, repaired, or cleaned. Time is the only truly precious and irreplaceable commodity in our lives; it is not wise to spend too much of our valuable time on possessions when we could be investing it on eternally important things such as loving, serving, and learning.
- Possessions are susceptible to the law of entropy: they spot, rust, crumble, dent, fray, and come unglued. Consequently they create worry and stress. Worrying about breakage, loss, theft, fire, repairs, and insurance premiums weighs us down. Every item we let go of is one less worry and less grief to look forward to when it gets lost or broken. Matthew 6:19-21 says: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
- Possessions need organizing. How many of us can walk through our houses without hearing our disorganized possessions cry out to be sorted, filed, or discarded. With each sorting session we are faced with tiring decisions. The fewer possessions we have, the fewer tiring decisions we have to make in regard to what to do with them.
- Possessions give us more to apologize for, climb over and argue over. Possessions encourage greed. The more we focus on material things, the more we tend to brag, hoard, compete, and want more. The more we get the less we seem to be satisfied with what we already have.
Bertrand Russell said, “It is the preoccupation with possession more than anything else, that prevents man from living freely and nobly.”
Trying to keep up with the Joneses can put stress on relationships and financial stability. It can lead to dissatisfaction and deteriorating mental and physical health. Possessions have the power to own more of you than you own of them.
Seeing Is Believing
Forty years ago when I lived in Alcala de Henares, Spain, few locals had cars, appliances, or electronic gadgets. There were only five single unit dwellings in the entire town; everyone else lived in tiny apartments with no yards, no grass. I found myself restructuring many of my beliefs about “things.” I had been raised in a society that constantly attempts to convince people that things bring happiness. Advertising slogans such as “Happiness is an Electric Dryer” had been a dime a dozen. Yet I constantly saw people who had almost nothing who appeared relaxed, unstressed, and happy.
When I had the opportunity to live in Algeria (where my husband was working) for a few weeks, I was able to take from my apartment in Spain only what would fit in two steamer trunks—and that included all household goods and supplies for two preschoolers! I was never so free, never so able to focus on loving and learning. We were privileged to visit a communal home there. We saw bare rooms, scant possessions, perfect order, immaculate cleanliness, and happy people. What a contrast from our harried lifestyles where we are inclined to spend so much time and waste so much energy on obtaining and maintaining possessions.
The Real Treasures of Life
D&C 19:38 reads, “Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof.” Who can doubt that the spiritual blessings of life are the real treasures. We are counseled to treasure up the words of Christ, treasure up knowledge, and treasure up the blessings of salvation, rather than possessions:
*JS-M 1:37 “whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived.”
* D&C 89:19 “And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, . . . shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.”
* D&C 6:3 “ . . . that he may treasure up for his soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God.”
Where to Start
We may feel that we don’t have time to sort or the mental energy to make decisions about what to keep and what to give away. We can begin by getting rid of one item at a time. We don’t have to do it all at once. When we do have a few hours to devote to a de-junking raid, home management experts suggest labeling three boxes “give away, store, and throw away” to simplify the sorting task. If all else fails, we may want to hire an organization expert to help us make the hard decisions. Whatever it takes, is worth it!
May we lighten our loads by decreasing our possessions. Simplifying our lives can increase the possibility of making 2015 a year rich in spiritual treasures.
Author note: To hear a thought-provoking interview that Nick Galieti did with me, check out the following link that will take you to the FairMormon website, entitled Articles of Faith, posts. http://blog.fairmormon.org/2014/11/03/articles-of-faith-18-darla-isackson-suicide-grieving-finding-comfort-in-christ-and-strength-to-go-on/