Friday, July 03, 2009

Throw it Away, Throw it Away

(photo by

I've been organizing- if you can call it that- my email in-box by trying to unsubscribe to the many emails that are coming in that I don't want. I call this pruning, or streamlining. I got an email from which has a tag line, "Clean. Neat. Easy." and that one I decide to keep subscribing too.

It makes me feel good, momentarily, to get rid of junk and unneeded things. But this temporary feeling is just that- temporary. Soon I feel overwhelmed by clutter- both in my inbox and in my house.

I know where I get this from- this need to prune and purify my surroundings. I grew up in a small house overflowing with people: five kids, several cats, a cousin living with us, and two parents. When we moved to a larger home, when I was in second grade, it felt like we were moving into a mansion. I took deep breaths of privacy and peace. But these bits of privacy and peace were always temporary as well, because I shared a room with a sister, and because no matter how big a house is, it does not mean all will be at peace.

One habit my father developed, that I now realize was in reaction to this chaotic brood of his, was to mandate a weekly streamlining of our lives. This happened almost every Saturday, or when things started to feel crazy in our home: my Dad would make us go to our rooms and throw away 20 items,...or 100 items if he was really stressed that week! My sisters and I learned how to count a piece of thread as an item, or a rubber band, or a button, so that we could retain as many of our belongings as we could. We really didn't have a lot of stuff. We didn't own much junk. We shared our clothing. So what could we possibly need to throw away?

This need to suddenly cleanse and purify our supposedly cluttered surroundings has never gone away. I'll visit my Mom and Dad and it will usually come up. I'll be sitting in my Mom's room and smiling at here as she's resting in bed. She's so frail, now. She smiles a lot, but she sleeps a lot too. Her life long battle with depression has worn her out. She still looks heavenward, but I can see that she has an increasing connection with the Lord and a decreasing connection with us, here on earth. It's obvious that we are not going to have her forever.

And in the midst of thinking that, while my Dad is sitting there in the room with us, he'll suddenly say "Your mother's room needs cleaning. Her closet needs someone to go through it and throw away the junk. Will you do that?"

I'll look around the room. There might be a few articles of clothing on the rocking chair, and a few toiletries arranged on the dresser. Her closet has some clothing in it, all hung nicely on hangers. Where's the junk, I think? What do I need to throw away?

But I already know the answer to that. I can remember painful times, sad times ( throw them away, throw them away) and I can remember times where stress reigned in our home and not peace- in spite of the fact that there was never a family more committed to each other, more intent on being a family (throw that away, throw that away). I know why my Dad goes on these de-cluttering binges. I know why I get a momentary high after I've cleaned my house, wiped the countertops clean of crumbs and dust and the things that speak of dirt and decay.

I want peace and order in my life. I want a mind that is clean and clear. I want a heart that is free from bitterness and regret. But you don't get that from clearing your home of debris and junk. You don't even get that by going once or twice to counseling or a therapist or a priest. It takes endless forgiving and releasing, and forgiving and keeping that which is good and letting the rest go.

There's nothing wrong with a clean, organized, beautiful home. It's just that the only way it can stay perfectly clean perfectly organized and decluttered, is for people to live in it perfectly. Neatly. Robotically.

Our homes reveal our pain and our promise for hope. Our homes reveal the strain and stresses of the challenge of living. Our cluttered desks reveal that we get more information and details from bill collectors than we often do from those we love.

But this is life. And life is messy and clean, chaotic and peaceful.
It all depends on where and how and who and when...and then it starts all over again. Throw it away, throw it away- the junk, the pain, the bitterness. But I can't throw away the evidence that I am alive and imperfect and hopeful, all at the same time.

I want gleaming counters and clean bathrooms. But I've decided messy kitchens are good too. And closets stuffed with gifts and mismatched clothing and odds and ends are not going to make me fall apart. I'll go for clean and order, whenever I can, but I'll also go for the grace to be able to cope with clutter and chaos- because it does happen every now and then. And I'm done with trying to make it not be so.


Beth said...

Whoa...were just inside my head or what? Thank you thank you for putting this into words... I have been struggling as of late...Thank you!

LAUREN at Faith Fuel said...

I'm not inside your head, but I am, apparently, living a life filled with the same challenges and issues that many people face. I just like to say it like it is.

So glad you stopped by, Beth.

shanchere said...

I love the raw realness of your post. As I grow older, I find myself longing to unclutter and to simplify. I long for the perfection of my environment, because it makes me feel better about myself. However, the problem with perfection is that it focuses on what is wrong. It causes me to major in minors. So when I have those perfectionistic fits; I am reminded to strive for excellence instead. Excellence allows me to focus on the positive, to stand back and look at the whole scene and say, "It is good."

MOMSWEB said...

I'm glad I read this post AFTER I cleaned out a cluttered filing cabinet today. Yipppeeee! One down and one to go! GREAT post!

Anonymous said...

Her recent post mirrors your own. Think you'll relish her candor as well!

Rev Deb said...

hi Lauren
Thank you for sharing your memories and I am truly sorry about your mom. My mother always gave the white glove test. I love a clean house but I do not allow it to take away from the things that are important.. Oh and very creative thinking you and your sister came up with... I am happy that you have found peace with it and are using your experiences to help others.
I will be praying for your mom and your family.
May God's peace abound in fullest measure-
many blessings
Rev Deb