As I mentioned yesterday, I’m in the midst of a massive--and delayed--spring cleaning. Why I didn’t take advantage of the cool, wet weather we’ve had and do this sooner would be a puzzlement, except that cool wet weather brings on rainy-day migraines. Now that the sun has finally reappeared over Texas, I’m actually getting a few things done around here.
When it comes to chores like spring cleaning and decluttering, I find that it’s not so bad to keep going, but starting is always difficult. I can see the clutter in closets and on bookshelves and so on, but somehow it’s easy to ignore until it reaches a point where it MUST be dealt with.
Some of this is due to family life in general. For instance, in cleaning out some bookshelves today I realized how many “school-ish” books I have accumulated at used bookstores and book fairs and so on, thinking that surely this or that book would come in handy. And some of them did, for a bit, though others were never even touched or were tried only to be discarded. But I kept them anyway, because after all we are homeschoolers and who knows when that book on Einstein or grammar or Spanish verbs will suddenly become crucial to someone’s education?
I’m facing a new reality though: two of my girls are in college, and the third has one year left at home. Just one. Which is enough for me to hang on to the Einstein book (hey, she’ll be doing physics next year, so who knows?) but not the various Spanish dictionaries because she decided her modern language would be Japanese.
And there are other ways that family life in general can lead to clutter. For instance, if a gift-wrap-impaired redhead decides that gift bags are too expensive and starts saving a few decent ones to reuse later, it takes no time at all before the Accumulation Principle strikes, and you find a whole pile of unused and probably-will-never-be-used gift bags shoved in the back of a closet, most of them now too wrinkled and crushed to be used because said redhead forgot they were there and piled comforters on top of them.
All of this makes those Radically Simple Living with No Clutter Anywhere books and blogs and magazines start to look really, really appealing. Why, one starts to think, do I own more than the exact number of spoons my family needs at one meal anyway? Why do we need to own any books at all, given libraries and Kindles (tm)? Why own DVDs? Why keep decorative items at all?
Luckily, it takes very little perusal of those books and blogs and magazines before I remember the reasons that Really Simple Living with No Clutter Anywhere doesn’t really appeal to me. It boils down to the truth that there are only two ways to do the RSLwNCA lifestyle: a) by spending LOTS of money on “simple” alternatives to, you know, furniture and dishes and so on, or b) by convincing yourself it is perfectly sane to own exactly three outfits (one of which is pajamas) and wash everything daily, or to schedule meals individually so there is time to wash the one fork between each person’s use of it, or to have a nervous breakdown if someone in the family buys an extra toothbrush or something.
The truth is that Really Cluttered Living with Lots of Chaos Everywhere isn’t a good way to live, either. But I think that the reason so many of us end up swinging between these two extremes is similar to the extremes we may find in other areas of our lives. For instance, some Catholics want the Church to take a totally laid-back, hands-off, universal salvation approach to faith which has no rules at all so long as we love God; others want the Church to provide detailed lists of popular culture offerings which are a mortal sin not only to see or read, but which also constitute a mortal sin if you discuss them on Facebook (under the usual conditions, of course). Or, for another example, some Catholics insist that a proper understanding of the Theology of the Body means that it’s not immodest for people to be nudists, while others insist that the Church has rules for all times that say women must wear a blouse no lower than two fingers below the collarbone and a skirt no higher than two inches below the knee.
Why are we like this? Why do we want everything or nothing?
I think it’s because more of us are like the scared servant in the Parable of the Talents. We’d like to bury our gift of discernment in the ground, rather than having to use it, because if we use it we might make the wrong choice. What if my daughter suddenly develops a love for the Spanish language in her senior year? What if I stumble across a crafting blog that proclaims, “Yes, you too can make this impossibly easy backyard pavilion out of nothing but used gift bags?” What if we realize that some article of clothing we really like is more revealing than we thought it was? What if a TV show we’re really enjoying starts promoting immorality in a way we can’t simply ignore, because it’s part of the agenda the show’s creators want to push?
The gift of discernment doesn’t guarantee us that every decision we will make, however large or small, will necessarily be the right or best one. We may even make a decision that is good at the time, but perhaps not so good later. But we can only do our best; we can’t be paralyzed, like the servant in the Parable of the Talents, into not deciding at all.
In the end, both the Radically Simple Living with No Clutter Anywhere life and the Radically Cluttered Living with Chaos Everywhere life are really illusions. Even those lifestyles will force you to make choices sooner or later. There is no shortcut in any area of our lives that will exempt us from using free will, that great gift of God which makes us in His image.