The Stuff We Keep and the Stuff We Give Away

Today marks the beginning of a season of self-examination and repentance for billions of believers worldwide. Some give up meat or coffee or social media in order to deny themselves, recenter their minds and hearts on Christ, and prompt them to pray.

I’ve given up various things over the years: sleeping in, Facebook, cream and sugar in my coffee. I’ve also added various things: one year I read the four Gospels, another year I made a conscious effort to do something for others every day, whether that was doing the dishes and laundry for my family or writing a note to a friend who needed encouragement.

This year I’m doing both. I will be reading the entire New Testament in the mornings. In the evenings I will be filling 40 grocery bags with stuff to give away, recycle, or trash. I will be attempting to do this sacrificially, not just getting rid of junk we don’t need cluttering up the basement or under the bed, but truly examining each room, each closet, each cupboard and removing things that are simply unnecessary to life–the stuff that takes up the time, thought, and space that could be better put to use in service to other people and to God.

One of the reasons I made this decision was due to a couple I met on Sunday. This man and woman were looking for a new start away from some bad influences from their past. They wanted help from our church to get one way tickets to another city where there is a homeless shelter that accepts married couples (most are men or women only). My husband and I took them out to lunch and heard more of their story. He had been in prison for 20 years during which he turned his life over to Christ, got clean, and got an education. She became his pen pal. They got married. He was released. Things didn’t go smoothly and their living situation became untenable. So they needed a new start.

After lunch, we took them to the bus station, bought their Greyhound tickets with church money set aside for such ministry, and watched as they packed all of their earthly possessions (two rolling suitcases and two shoulder bags full of clothes and toiletries) into a bus and left for a fresh start at life. Two suitcases and two carry-on bags. That’s it. We needed two moving trucks seven years ago when we moved to Lansing and have been accumulating ever since.

Not for the first time, I felt ashamed of all the stuff I have in the house that I never use and don’t need. How much money have I spent on things I don’t need? How much better could I use my time than having to keep all that stuff clean and organized?

So while I fill my 40 bags during the 40 days of Lent, I will remember this couple and pray for their future. I will pray for contentment with what I have and that the desire for more would be removed from my heart. I will pray for the people who will eventually get my stuff, that they would put it to good use and not just shove it in a drawer or cupboard like I did.

(Confession time: I actually couldn’t keep myself from starting a day early so I already have FIVE BAGS from ONE ROOM.)

I may also reread this excellent and very convicting (and freeing) book:

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What in your life needs to be weeded out? Are you giving your time and energy to worthy pursuits? Or are you filling up your house with stuff you don’t need (and sometimes don’t even really want)? How would your life be different if you let go of a goodly portion of your earthly possessions?

It’s a tantalizing question.

8 thoughts on “The Stuff We Keep and the Stuff We Give Away

  1. I usually do my purges once a year, but I have a very small house, so things have to be assessed and reassessed regularly. I find mental clutter has been worse these days than the physical.

  2. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess [Paperback]
    Jen Hatmaker (Author)
    This book is also really good. If you like, I could lend it to your Kindle. (The author is actually a pastor’s wife also).

  3. I live in a BIG house because it’s a Bed & Breakfast. So stuff can accumulate. I think it actually breeds in dark places. Our rule, though, is if something comes in the front door, something else (preferably of equal size or use) MUST go out the back door.

  4. Thanks, Erin, for causing me to consider what my worthy pursuits should be during Lent. Here’s what I came up with: I won’t pick up the newspaper from the driveway until I leave for work. Instead of spending the first hour of my day reading the newspaper and solving the crossword puzzle, I’ll spend it writing. Understanding the world is good, but exploring my words when my mind is at its freshest is a better pursuit. You have no idea how sacrificial it will be to hold off reading the paper. Happy purging!

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