In October 2011, I laid out almost every item that I owned at a yard sale and watched with high anxiety and frustration levels as strangers came and dug through my life. They haggled for a lower price on the things that I had been saving for when I got married. Things that had been in my hope chest (or glory box in New Zealand) that I saved for when it was time to set up my home. I was so overwhelmed.
I have been a collector and a saver my whole life, but it shocked me that day when I saw it all out there. This was my life as told by stuff. It was a life of waiting and preparing for what I thought my life would be. The ironic thing was now that my life had become more of what I always wanted, I couldn’t use a single bit of what I had saved.
I had met the man of my dreams and gotten married. We were moving to his home country of New Zealand. We could take eight plastic totes. EIGHT. TOTES. My hope chest had never been confined to a chest so I was certain that it wouldn’t fit into these parameters either.
When we moved to New Zealand, we lived with a friend while we waited for our things to arrive. We went for walks, had picnics at the park and attended concerts in the town square. We adventured onto hiking trails and explored the new city. Still in the back of my mind, I was more than ready to have my ‘stuff’ with me.
We had packed what we considered most precious. For my husband, it was mostly his books from preaching school. For me, it was resources for my classroom when I would teach in New Zealand, and family heirlooms as well. Shortly after arriving we found out we were going to have a baby. We decided that I wouldn’t teach. I had used precious real estate in our shipment for books and classroom things. All of that was now basically useless.
So as any logical person does, I moved on to the next new thing! I began to prepare for the what ifs and must haves of motherhood. The gadgets and gizmos I had would rival the Little Mermaid any day. I visited the States a few months into my pregnancy and when it was time to fly back to New Zealand I turned every shade of red as I had to do an emergency unload to get my bags under the weight restriction. I had two busting suitcases that were both nine pounds over the limit.
A few months and a baby later and our new house was full. We had everything our child would need for the first three years of life. We had been given furniture and couldn’t afford to turn it down. I struggled to know where to buy what I wanted but that didn’t seem to stop the flow of things into our house. If I found a good deal, I got it! I didn’t know if I would be able to find it again. If you have ever moved countries, you may understand the need to grab all of the things that seem familiar.
We kept adding to our family and I kept providing what they needed. That was my job. I was mom. I shuffled around clothes that were too small and clothes that were too big. I felt like I was drowning in the three baskets of laundry that came off of the line each day. How did four people create so much laundry?
In early 2016 we made another trip to the States. While we were there I spent time going through every item in my childhood bedroom, as well as boxes and boxes of things I had left behind at the homes of others. I was disgusted by how much time I had spent going through and purging my old things. I spent valuable moments packing and repacking new things and shuffling things around instead of spending quality time with the people I loved and live thousands of miles away from. My limit had been reached. I was done.
I was tired of managing stuff instead of enjoying my people. I was tired of the anxiety that came with figuring out what to do with all of the new things. I was tired of thinking about how many hours of work it took to pay for those things that kept filling up our house. My house was rarely untidy but it still felt like a never–ending task to keep things in their place. I talked to my husband and he wanted a change too. So we changed.
We had a yard sale. We sold things that people thought we shouldn’t sell. We converted our wardrobes to consist of what we actually used and loved. We limited our children’s toys. We started taking a very hard look at our finances. We challenged ourselves to be accountable. We started to embrace no spending months. We simplified our eating and our cooking. We started saying no to things that overwhelmed us and to things that didn’t fit into our goals that we were trying to achieve for God. We geeked out about decluttering, having space and spending less. We sought simplicity. In short, we became weird.
It was a glorious liberation that so many didn’t understand. No one was rude about it but it seemed to make some people uncomfortable. Nevertheless, we continued. We wanted to shout it out loud to the world in hopes of others reaching our conclusion much faster than we did.
We are well aware that minimalism is trending, but we are not minimalist. We are stewards of many blessings. We weren’t fulfilling our job of stewardship well. What if Jesus came to our door? Could we show Him how we are taking care of our blessings? How can I take care of things that are shoved into a box or the back of a cabinet and never used? The teaching of gratitude escapes kids who are overwhelmed by their things.
As items left our house and were not replaced, a lot of things that had been hidden came to light. Besides dusty walls and baseboards, behind all of that furniture and all of those boxes, I found my family. I slowly realized that I had spent so much time saying, “I’ll play when I finish,” to my boys that I actually had forgotten how to play with them for longer than five minutes.
I had gotten so used to having two loads of dishes to do from the day or piles of laundry to fold that I forgot how to sit down to talk to and listen to my husband. Dreaming of adventure wasn’t something I could handle with so much to accomplish at home, so why dream about it?
I had hidden what it felt like to have ample time for Bible study, time to chase our oldest on his bike, to play in the river with nets and to fly kites in the park. I had hidden those concerts, picnics and twilight strolls that I so enjoyed when we first moved here without our stuff that was crossing the sea. I had hidden what it meant to sit with my boys and read a bed time story without having to think about cleaning up everything left over from dinner. I had hidden the joy of being present and enjoying my people. I had hidden it with stuff.
In the seven months since deciding that our life story would not be told by our things, it has been a continual process. We have cleared out more than I ever thought we would and each time we do, it seems empty for a little while. Then over time, it feels like we have too much stuff again. This isn’t because we are bringing new things in, but because we are simply learning to live with less.
We dream together again and we have already started the journey on some of the adventures we had been hiding from ourselves for a long time. We look at the world differently, each other differently and we look at God differently. God really is enough. He provides abundantly more than we can even think to ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20) and we have a job to be good stewards of our blessings. Matthew 6:32 and 33 tells us that our Heavenly Father knows what our needs are and if we seek Him first, those needs will be met.
I hope your life is not hidden in your stuff like mine was. I encourage you to take a good, hard look and maybe make some hard decisions. Your questions will be different from ours and your decisions may be harder than some that we have made. Having a life story that is not told by your stuff is worth facing whatever answers those questions bring!
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