Certain times of the year lend to evaluation and the inevitable urge to be rid of clutter and whatever bogs us down. The Christmas season means more events, extra to-dos (baking, shopping, traveling), and yet, I long to take time to purge excess stuff – both in the house, and in my heart.
My usual routine for purging (which I shared in my book, Slow Down, Mama: Intentional Living in a Hurried World) consists of three big purge sessions a year. The first one is in March during the onset of traditional spring cleaning. We go through winter items and bring out warm-weather clothing, get rid of toys and items we don’t need, and I organize my gardening area in the garage.
A few months later, before school starts in August, we go through the boys’ closets, taking out what doesn’t fit, and deciding what they need. I also sort through our school closet to determine what we will be using for the coming year of learning. (We home educate, so this is a must). This end-of-summer purge sets our sails for the transition from lazy days to new rhythm of our school year.
A month-long purge
The next time we do a huge yearly purge is in November. This is probably my favorite purge because we all do it together. Our month-long decluttering includes each family member getting rid of one item a day for 30 days that month. I don’t care if someone throws out a picture he drew last week, or donates a shirt that no longer fits. The important outcome is that by the end of this process, the four of us have reduced our belongings by 120 items – just in time for Advent and Christmas.
This past November we had new floors installed. If you have ever gone through this type of whole-home overhaul, you’ll understand when I say we may as well have entirely moved to a new home. We gutted closets, moved all the bedroom items into the main room and back again. Next, our living area furniture and decor was temporarily moved into the bedrooms, and then returned after the floor was in place.
My husband told me not to sort and purge, as it was enough to have to do all this shuffling, boxing, and relocating. I took the opportunity to do a deeper purging than we had done in years. I didn’t want things to go back into disarray. You know how the home can look pretty tidy, but behind the closed doors lurks hidden cramming and disorganization? In my mind, this was an ideal time to thin any overpacked closets, and to release things we had been clinging to for too many years.
Purging is one of my favorite (and most challenging) habits. I even do a 20-minute purge regularly throughout our weeks. One of the things I appreciate the most about a good purge is the space left when all the donations are given to those who could use them, the trash is out in the cans, and the most valued things are put away neatly.
It can be hard to let go of certain things. Even though I haven’t used them for months or years, I can find myself wrestling when it comes to saying, “goodbye.” Over the years I’ve learned how to part with items even when I don’t want to let them go. I only regret two things I’ve sent off or tossed throughout all the years of practicing purging.
One was the packet of get-well cards my second grade friends handmade for me when I had the chicken pox. Honestly, though, I probably remember and cherish those more now that they are regrettably recycled than I would if they were stashed in some box in my attic.
The other sad loss was a bunch of journals from when I was in elementary and junior high school. As melancholy as my writing often was those days, I would love to have a glimpse at my thoughts and ramblings as a ten to twelve-year-old girl. Beyond those two sentimental sacrifices, I can’t even remember most things I’ve given or thrown away.
While it’s so freeing to purge our physical environment, I have found more benefit from releasing clutter in my heart. Advent is a great time to stop and assess habits – not just how we eat (it’s actually not the best time of year for that with all the extra travel, events, and boxes of See’s candy!). There’s just something about this time of year that makes us all want to step back and figure out what went well and what needs to be let go.
I’ve been pausing to look at what types of thoughts clutter my days. I’m asking myself what habits of my heart keep me from living more intentionally. Over the past year and a half, God has been weaning me of some seriously debilitating ways of thinking. Where I was weighed down, I now feel the sweet openness that comes from releasing things I was holding too tightly.
Releasing my grip in motherhood
It’s really hard to find words to express the most significant things God does in our lives. Growth happens subtly, under the surface, and we can only look back behind us to see how far we have traveled and what He has done to bring us here.
As my oldest turned 17 this year, I felt like a witness to my own stretching. The other day we were walking through TJ Maxx. We picked out four pairs of jeans for him to try out – all size 32×32. We headed toward the dressing rooms, passing through the toy section. My mind immediately recalled years when he would ask me for things laid out in this part of the store. Now we were buying man-sized pants. How did we get here so fast?
I realized in that instant how far God has brought me in my motherhood. I have been learning to let go of that precious son of mine. It’s not always been pretty, but where I have allowed God to pry my hands open, I have witnessed sweetness between us take the place of my micromanagement and his rebellion. I never knew the peace, freedom, and savoring I could experience. It took some purging, grieving, and much faith to let go of the ways I had mothered over the years. Much like the cleaning of a closet, I am reveling in the beauty that follows a good clean-out.
Making room for God’s movement
As I pray over a focus for the coming year, I am treasuring all that God has done in and through me over the past twelve months. I’m considering what meaningful lessons should be tucked away and remembered. I want to go about making room – not just through the organizing of our home. My heart-purge means carving out space for the next things God has for me in the coming year. I know whatever I give up will leave room for Him to continue His deeper work.
How about you? What do you want to treasure from this year, and what are you getting ready to release? I’d love to hear!
Suzy Taylor Oakley says
Such a powerful idea – to let God purge my heart. This gives me so much to ponder over the coming days, as I get ready to start fresh in 2019.
I can’t wait to see what He has in store for me, spiritually, mentally and in all other ways.
Thanks, as usual, for sharing your heart.
I’m so excited to get to see what He has in store as well, Suzy. His work always moves me deeply and makes me celebrate Him all the more. Thank you for sharing how the post touched you. I love hearing your thoughts!
Patty, I’m so encouraged reading this. I was just telling my husband yesterday that I’m so overwhelmed with our “stuff”. We went very simple and minimal with Christmas gifts (in terms of giving), but received so much more gifts aka clutter. I generally purge this time of year, but have found myself purging more due to the amount of stuff we received. I’m letting go of a lot of material things (and it feels so good!), but I am going to spend some time in reflection to do a heart purge as well. I want to make room for Jesus.
Thank you, Patty, for your words.
Thank you, Foua. You always encourage me with your sincere heart and desire to grow. Purging is so freeing! I will be praying over your heart purge too.
The other day I was talking about minimalism with a friend and we were joking about how we can go to extremes in our motherhood. We could end up trying to minimize clutter to the point of giving each child one toy and making them put it up out of sight regularly. Obviously, that’s not where we want to aim either. Some friends of ours put “extra” toys that their kids aren’t using, but that they don’t want to toss in boxes in the attic. They rotate toys down into the living area of the home seasonally, so that the “old” toys become new again. This minimizes what is out and available at any given time, while also providing variety. I love this solution! My boys are sort-of at the tail end of “toys” and now do more artwork, reading, board games, and sports. That has helped minimize the clutter in a way. Still, there are the Legos 😉 … I’ll happily abide with Legos as long as they will.