Thursday, June 7, 2012

the clutter conundrum

I have many thoughts swirling around in my head. I will try to relay them as coherently as possible. Bear with me.

When Brandon and I bought our house in December and packed up our apartment, our whole living/dining area was full of boxes. Boxes upon boxes. It was incredible how many boxes we had, for two reasons: the first being that we are just two people, and the second being that we are what one could call "poor". We are above the poverty line, but we didn't have much when we got married, and we didn't think we had much more by the time we moved (almost two years to the day into our marriage.) So seeing all those boxes full of our stuff was quite interesting- for me, anyway.

On moving day, Brandon's family and my grandparents and uncle came to our apartment and loaded up "the truck" and an SUV with our stuff. And the trunk of a car. And we all headed over to the new house. I stayed at the house unpacking with my mother in law while everyone else went back for more stuff. And then there was another trip. And yet another. After the third or fourth trip (I lost track), everyone started taking things out of the boxes that I had yet to unpack. They needed the boxes- because there was more stuff. I think there were two more trips like this!

Now we are in our new home. We have gained a few hundred square feet, plus a garage. We have two stories instead of one, a larger bedroom closet and we've gained another spare bedroom. And there is stuff everywhere. Now, if you were to walk into my house and take a look around, you wouldn't think "clutter!" The floors are clear (exception: my one spare room, but I'll get to that in a minute.) There aren't really piles of stuff on all the flat surfaces. But if you open up the closet in "The Blue Room" (where the computer and the pets are), you'll see that it is full. Granted, it is a very small closet, because of the way the ceiling is sloped. But it is full nonetheless. The upstairs hall closet (another oddly shaped one) is full. The closet in "The Purple Room" (where my crafting supplies, our books, and other random things are kept) is full, as well. The shelves in our bedroom closet are packed (they could be better designed) and the kitchen cabinets are full. The whole back wall of our one-car garage is lined with plastic totes holding things, our luggage, etc. I know that with better organizational devices (racks, shelves, and the like) it would feel like less stuff. But the amount of stuff remains unchanged.

Since we moved in, I have often thought about how we will consolidate the things in both of our spare bedrooms to make room for a child or two. There is no question about it, some of our stuff will have to go. And I have been slowly working on that (more in my head than anything else.) This weekend I was hit with a new sense of urgency to downsize our life- or at least, the "stuff" in it.

I just returned from a trip (it really can't be called a vacation, because that would imply that everyone had a good time) and on that trip I read Radical by David Platt. The book is about a lot of things. It's Christian non-fiction, for one. If I were to describe the book in one sentence, I would say that it's about the idea that there should be more important things to a Christian than pursuing the "American Dream." And what is the American Dream? Well, I'm pretty sure it involves a lot of stuff. A car for everyone in the family. New TVs whenever a more exciting model comes out. Spending so much on clothes we never wear and food we throw away. Dropping money on $6 coffee drinks that are gone in like 3 seconds (I used to be REALLY bad about that one.) And the list goes on and on. The book was full of anecdotes and little stories, and one of them that really struck me was a retelling of a diary entry, I guess, from John Wesley. Wesley had just got a new apartment wherever he was, and spent some money on pictures to decorate his walls. Then he puts them up in the apartment and feels very guilty later when he notices the maid (or someone like that) is shivering in the winter cold because she doesn't have a warm coat. Wesley is compelled to give her money to buy one, but guess what- he spent his money on pictures. For the wall. There is nothing wrong with having nice things, but sometimes our priorities can be soooooooooo messed up. We get takeout instead of cooking at home, and there are a billion people in the world who do not have enough to eat. We throw birthday parties for one year olds who will never remember the occasion and will lose interest in 90% of the hundreds of dollars of gifts within a day or two, and there are more than 20,000 children all over the world who die DAILY from starvation or preventable disease- disease like diarrhea from unclean water, which we would just knock out with an Imodium from the medicine cabinet (swallowed with a glass of clean water from the tap, naturally.) How much do those cost, anyway? Pennies! I am definitely not saying we shouldn't hang pictures on our walls, or that we shouldn't order a pizza every now and then, or that we shouldn't have birthday parties for little kids. I am saying that we have things pretty nice over here in America. The poorest of our nation are still pretty rich compared to much of the world. And we are turning a blind eye to that. As Christians, we have a duty- a command- to care for others. And we are doing a crappy job.

As I was finishing up the book, my mind was already flitting around, taking mental inventory of my home a few hundred miles away. I was thinking of all the stuff we have- some of which we never ever use, and could either be given away to someone who needs it, or sold to pay down our debt, which would in turn free up more of our income for helping others.  Everyone who reads this knows about my desire to be a mom and our hope to open our home to children who need a mom and a dad. The prospect of international adoption is on hold for now, and while financial reasons didn't really factor into our benching of that idea, the reality is that currently, that method of reaching parenthood is out of our reach financially, anyway. One thing we are strongly considering at this point is adoption from the foster system, which is much more attainable money-wise (and that would not be the reason we would go with that option.) But we'd still need to furnish that spare bedroom, and be prepared to educate our kids (either private school or homeschooling) and take care of them well. And we're not ready for that yet, because of debt. We can't sponsor another child through our beloved Compassion International because to be honest, we could not always guarantee that we'd have that extra $38 a month. I'd love to be able to immediately head to the Babies R Us website and order necessities when A Woman's Choice posts an urgent need on their facebook page. I'd love to be able to buy school supplies for the collection at church. I'd love it if I could buy all the marked-down kids and teens books I find at Half Price Books and send them to Maryhurst (their little library is just so sad.) And a billion other things. We can't do nearly as much in following our Savior's commands to care for those who are in need as we want to, and it's because of debt. And lame debt at that. We don't have credit cards or anything. We don't spend our money stupidly. It's this crazy student loan debt that is bogging us down. And for what? Brandon can't get a job in his  field and I didn't even get my degree (and won't for the forseeable future). But I digress.

I think I was prompted to start this post (over an hour ago...) because this evening, on a whim, I decided to straighten the drawers of my husband's dresser. I do the laundry in our house (he washes the towels, though) and fold it and put it away. Brandon's dresser has five drawers. I only ever open three of them, because that's where all his clothes go. As I was refolding and organizing this evening, I came up with entire piles of things I didn't even know he owned. We've been together for six years. There is a whole drawer (#4) of shirts that I have literally never seen before. Never! And I didn't even get to the fifth drawer. A few things could be sold at the consignment shop, but most of it would be a great donation to Goodwill. Clean clothes in immaculate shape for someone who has fallen on hard times and maybe can't afford to shop anywhere else. I came up with a pretty decent stack of things from a drawer that he actually uses: old shirts from church events, freshman orientation at college, gifts people bought him that he removed the tags from but never wore, for whatever reason. I sorted things out into a few different piles: "things I've seen you wear once or twice but I don't think you really care about", "things I have seen in this drawer but never on you", "things I didn't know existed and you would never in a million billion years wear." When I called him over to come look at my handiwork, he got irritated with me and told me to put everything back. "I already went through my clothes", he said. Yes, this is truth. He got rid of an undershirt that looked like it had been dragged repeatedly over a cheese grater, and three pairs of (size small!) basketball shorts that had been stretched out and were now too baggy for him (it's disgusting, really.) Big deal. I certainly don't want him to feel pressured to give up things he cares about or that might be of use to him. And I am not trying to compare the amount of things he's willing to part with to what I am planning to get rid of. But I am frustrated because in some ways, we have much to give. When we get to heaven, do you think God will ever tell anyone "you gave too much to those in need"? I think it's about as likely as Him saying "I'm really glad you kept all those old shirts to yourself."

I have had a lot on my mind recently, and I'm not entirely sure that this post made much sense (especially considering I wrote it over the course of an hour or so, with many breaks.) But I felt the need to share some of the things that have been brought to my attention lately. And if you haven't already read Radical, I highly recommend that you do. I will definitely continue on my quest to purge our house of some of this "stuff", and I will let you know how that goes. I'm looking forward to taking action against clutter because I want to do good, and not just because someone is fussing at me to do so. : )