This week over at Episcopal Cafe, Ellen Painter Dollar (at left) has a great post on a question that plagues me perpetually: how much is too much? Why do I feel more virtuous today, when I hauled a bed frame and a bag of old clothes and books to the front porch to be picked up by the Vietnam Veterans, than I did yesterday, when the only decluttering I did was to eat leftover mini-Snickers?
How does God feel about our houses full of stuff? Like Ellen, I am a neat freak by nature, one who is quick to see the unhealthiness of holding on to clutter for too long. (My husband is the same way, but he has a fascination with the lives of the people on the TV show Hoarders; whenever he watches an episode, he has a strong desire to clean something, so of course this is viewing that I encourage.)
But also like Ellen, I am coming around the idea that matter matters. Beloved objects are memories, and memories bond us to people and to this earth, as Ellen points out. –JKR
The Lessons of a Cluttered Life
By Ellen Painter Dollar
In my 20s, I attended a church that embraced material simplicity and
detachment from stuff long before it became trendy. We engaged regularly
in soul-searching conversations about our attachment to possessions.
One friend’s long-ago purchase of a $900 wing chair continued to haunt
him as a symbol of material excess. He talked about that chair so often
that it’s the only vivid detail I can recall of him. Another friend
worried that his arrival at a school reunion driving a used Camry would
shock his former roommates, who might recall how he had spoken out
against the purchase of even mundane items like house paint in a call
for solidarity with the poor. Now here he was, driving a car that
practically defines suburban material comfort. And Christmas…oy, such an
occasion of angst Christmas was, with all those excessive, unnecessary
gifts in the name of a baby born into poverty.
Now that I am a mother of three who drives a Honda Odyssey minivan (the
supersized symbol of suburban material comfort), the Christian
simplicity ethic has gotten mixed up in my mind with the clutter-free
living extolled in the pages of shelter magazines and on
home-improvement shows, in which everything, from mail and sports
equipment to craft supplies and kitchen staples, is sorted into
color-coordinated storage systems, and anything that goes unused for a
few months is thrown away, recycled, or repurposed. I am also naturally
inclined to dislike clutter; I possess a writerly desire for a “clean
well-lighted room” in which to work.
The simplicity ethic on top of cultural values extolling clutter-free
living and my own predisposition has led to my quasi-spiritual certainty
that God just doesn’t like stuff….