I’ve got a special relationship with stuff, but a professional organizer who visited our church this week challenged my attachment, not only to my belongings but to things I inherited from my parents. Kathy Armstrong lets go of things. I latch onto them with unmatched ferocity.
I didn’t recognize the extent of my attachment until after my parents died. I discarded a lot of their things, things that didn’t trigger much of an emotional tug. Everything else, which was a lot of stuff, lived in limbo. I could because the house, 10 minutes away, was paid for.
Over the years it became apparent to me that I wasn’t that different from my parents. My mother, a child of the Depression Era, kept things because they might be useful someday. Ends of 2 x 4s come to mind. I recently cleaned out the oldest shed on the property. I threw away the wood.
But I was more like my father, 10 years Mom’s junior, who kept things for sentimental reasons. I found several tops of carryout food containers in a drawer after he died. I used to draw on them when we’d eat out – write things like “Super Dad’s food” on them. Who could throw that away?
I got rid of many things but I also will keep many things. My husband, who is more like Kathy than me, designated a place in one of our sheds for my parents’ things.
In my “Daddy tub,” I put bowling trophies, and his high school keepsakes. In my “Mommy tub,” I put a Christmas list. She’d given me every toy on it. I also put one of her complex crossword puzzle books. It reminds me exactly how smart she was. I only do search-a-word puzzles.
Kathy praised me for creating an inventory of each plastic bin, but I am sure she’d smile sweetly and ask me if I really needed to keep the Chinese red bedspread my parents used only a few times. Well, maybe she’d understand if I told her it was one of the few nice things our poor family had. Trimmed in tassels, it looked rich, and remains deliciously beautiful to me.
Kathy’s audience is more likely to be comprised of harried moms who want to restore order to their homes. Not grieving daughters. She suggested, though, that her three-question test on whether to keep an object still applies. To keep, you must answer yes to each of these questions:
Does it make me happy? (Or does it create stress?)
Does it help me? (As in, does it work, and is it useful?)
Does it have a home? (A designated place, and not the middle of the living room.)
I scored two out of three. I wondered if all this stuff – including my own keepsakes at our home – helps me. Well, I don’t exactly use the sentimental things. Except – LOOPHOLE – to recall certain feelings, events and developments in my life. As a writer, I use these things to examine life and provide accurate information. There you go. Ding, ding, ding. All my stuff is justified!
Kathy challenged me on another point that I cannot so lightly dismiss, however.
She referenced a passage in the Bible, in Luke 12, in which a man says to Jesus “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied by cautioning listeners about greed.
Kathy pointed out that isn’t the issue with my inherited stuff, however, that at its heart, Jesus’ caution is about finding security in something other than God.
My ears perked up because I knew that security was at the heart of my grief journey. Perhaps it is at the heart of my whole life.
Reaching for Abundance
We grab at possessions, money, relationships, position. We try to find a place of safety.
Instead of reaching for an abundance of things, Kathy wants her audience to reach out for abundant life. She likes to quote John 10:10. There, Jesus says:
“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
I don’t think I will ever be entirely detached from the things that remind me of happy people and places. However, as I clean out my parents’ home, I will endeavor to remember God gives us things for our support and enjoyment. I should never elevate the gift to the level of the giver. Nor put the temporal in place of the eternal. God offers so much more than an abundance of things.