The Freedom of Letting Go

The Freedom of Letting Go
“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.” -St. Basil

I know I am not alone when I cringe at the way our house is about to be bombarded with toys, clothes, and other miscellany in just a couple of weeks.  Although we are beyond grateful for the generosity of our friends and family members, especially as a single income family, when you have five kids, that means five (plus) presents from aunts, uncles, grandparents, and godparents.  Thankfully, our family members are very cognizant and thoughtful in their gift-giving, and nobody has received a drum set yet.  We are frequently asked what our kids need, and for the most part, they receive really neat, useful, educational, wonderful presents that people have clearly put a lot of thought into before purchasing.  But in case you’re overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” you’re surrounded by, or you have a lot of gift-giving love language family members, I thought I would share our experience of doing a mega-purge of our house over the last year.  
When we got married, I was a bit of a sentimental packrat.  I don’t think I would have qualified to be on any tv shows, but it was hard for me to get rid of things because of who gave it to me, or the happy memories a particular thing evoked. I’ve always been fairly good at giving things away, but I also love a good garage sale, clearance items, and a great deal, so while items are frequently being donated, there are also plenty marching in to take their place.  
And let’s be honest, when you are open to having a big family, the “we may need this again” mentality runs deep.  Enter four (now five) children, a nesting, pregnant mother who one day realized in a new way the amount of “stuff” we had accumulated,  a New Year’s resolution, and a Japanese organization guru named Marie Kondo.  
I flipped the calendar to 2015 and announced to my husband, “I’m going to get rid of 2,015 pounds of possessions in 2015.”  To which he looked at me incredulously and remarked, “A ton.  You’re going to get rid of a literal ton of items?  That’s like…a car.”  I laughed and decided to start with 201.5 pounds.   My saintly mother volunteered to come help with my preliminary round while my equally saintly friend took my kids for the morning.  (Which was basically like Christmas for the aforementioned pregnant, nesting lady.)  We purged over 100 pounds of donations that first round.  I decided that I would only keep track of poundage donated, not thrown away or recycled (hello, middle school notes…)  
For those of you who have not read or heard of Kondo’s wildly popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, her basic premise is that if something doesn’t bring you joy, it has no business being in your house.  That’s it.  The simple criteria of joy is used to discard items, not long long it’s been since you last wore it, not who gave it to you, not how new it is, not that you may need it “someday,” and not how much it cost.  Just joy.  Shortly after I began “The Great Purge of 2015,” someone told me about Kondo’s book.  Delighted with the idea of more inspiration, I began reading the book, which is a very quick read, and there were so many things that deeply resonated with me.  My aim here is not to do a book review, but rather to share how this method changed our lives.  There had already been a storm brewing in my heart over the sheer amount of excess we had in our house.  I had read another wonderful book, “7,” by Jen Hatmaker, and that too provided a lot of inspiration.
Even with such motivation, I was rather frustrated in the beginning because it was so hard to even just begin we had so much stuff, so rather than doing the recommended gathering up all of my kids’ clothing in one room to purge, which would have been completely overwhelming, I did multiple preliminary rounds, if you will, just to be able to get to a point where I felt like I could actually apply her method.  As much as I took away from the book, there were many points that I found completely absurd, like thanking your socks for a job well done at the end of the day.  I also have to remind myself that she has no kids, so some of it is simply not going to transfer over to a large family.  But I can truly say that the impact it has made on both my family and myself has been worth every trip to Goodwill.  
I was surprised at how much the simple act of purging taught me about myself.  Really, there were three main things that each trip to the Goodwill drove home a little harder.  First, I was surprised to find that I am a little more attached to our possessions than I would care to admit.  I’ve always prided myself with not being materialistic and, while being a good steward of all we’ve been given also being able to give away things we don’t need that someone else could use.  But there were many times during the beginning of the purge when I would think, “But what if we need this?”  The answer to this always clearly became, “Then it will be provided for you.”  And this is so true.  I could tell incredible stories of the ways God has continued to provide for our family.  With every donated item, I grew a little more confident in saying, “If we have another little girl someday, and if she needs a little white sweater, God or our dozens of friends will find a way to get one to us.”  There were just so many ifs that once I got past that hurdle, it was easier to toss items into the donate bin.  
Second, I realized something I had always instinctively known, but in a much clearer way — all of these possessions were keeping me from doing my true vocation well — being a wife and mom.  As we continued to get rid of box after box full of donations, I found that I was able to spend more and more time focusing on my family rather than on managing, organizing, and cleaning things. Despite knowing that these amazing people are one of the most important aspects of my life, getting rid of so many things (distractions!) has allowed me to begin treating them as though they are.  Perhaps the most eye opening and exciting revelation of all was when my kids began to notice it as well.  
And lastly, the change in my demeanor has been incredible.  I have struggled with Post Partum Depression after each birth, and this process of purging was like a natural drug.  I could feel myself settling and becoming more calm as a mother.  My kids love it because we are all spending more time playing and pursuing our hobbies rather than managing our possessions.  If I am having a full or “off” day and the kids strew everything everywhere, we can pull the whole house back together in less than an hour.  (Half of that if Drill Sergeant Daddy is helping/directing!)  Half a ton in, we are by no means done.  I still need to tackle a few categories, including books.  Kondo speaks of a “knowing” you will have when you’ve reached the point of the correct amount of possessions you ought to have.  I can tell that we are getting closer and closer with each empty shelf and closet, but we are still not there.  Maybe in 2016.
photo credit: Relocation via photopin (license)

Amanda Wagner

Amanda Wagner

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