When I am stressed I fixate on the physical clutter in my life. My go-to way of dealing with piles of paper and whatnot I have collected over the years is to find an empty-ish drawer, cabinet, or room and tuck the stuff out of sight. I still know it’s there, but I don’t have to look at it as I go about my day. Lately, stress has come in the form of hosting people in our home. Not only do I have a heightened awareness of my junk in these stressful moments of preparation, I also feel an extra pressure to not let anyone else see my clutter. But tucking things out of sight, and straightening what is left out in the open, isn’t really dealing with it. I’ve found that clutter is like a weed. Unless you get it out by the root, it’s going to come back.
Every once in a while, I get a spark of motivation and focus in on a cabinet, drawer, or room that holds my ever-growing piles of clutter. Over the past month I’ve been increasingly bothered by my drawers and cabinet in our bathroom. Because I didn’t want to deal with throwing things away during the stressful time of moving from Waco, planning a wedding, and then moving to Virginia I simply boxed it up and brought it with me.
Last Wednesday I decided the time had come. I like to be extra productive when I’m working around the house and for me that means listening to podcasts. I cued one up as I set to work on my drawers and cabinets, but found myself frazzled and overwhelmed. It was then that I realized that I needed to be present to the task at hand. I needed to really hold and see the things that had to go. I needed to let myself remember at what point in my life I bought or was given these particular things. So, I turned the podcast off and went to work in silence.
I’m not much for makeup in practice, but I love it in theory. It’s a good day if I get on some mascara, but I’ve always been enticed by makeup and the person I might be if I wore more of it. My last year in Waco I really wanted to find my perfect, signature shade of red lipstick. One of my best friends and I spent a lot of time in Ulta during that season and I drifted to the lipstick aisle whenever I was in CVS. I smiled as I held a particularly bright red lip stain in my bathroom here in Charlottesville, remembering the day I bought it.
I was dog sitting in Waco and must have been between papers and tests for school. Maybe it was summer. Or maybe it was a really stressful time of year and I was simply putting off what I needed to do. I called my make-up loving friend and we went to Ulta. I picked out an eyeshadow pallet and the shocking (for me) red stain. We went back to the house I was watching and waited for our other friend to finish some meetings and come over. When she finally got there the three of us poured out our makeup on the bathroom sink and we spent a couple hours playing like I did so many times at sleepovers years ago in junior high school.
What I am now embracing in this decluttering process is the reality of the woman I am. I am someone who longs for a capsule wardrobe and no more make-up than I would take for a weekend get-away. It’s taken me a lifetime (29 whole years!) to not only figure that out, but also accept that it’s okay to live my life that way and that even so every once in a while, I might still want to play with makeup with my friends. In order to really be this woman I’ve realized I am, it’s time to let the lip stain go.
After an hour or two I finished cleaning out my spaces in the bathroom. I was shocked at how much I culled out: a stuffed bag of recycling and an even bigger stuffed bag of trash, plus a couple of things that I’ll donate sometime down the road. I love walking into my bathroom now. Nick’s side of things is unchanged, but it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. My mind flashes to that verse in Matthew about dealing with the plank in your own eye before turning to the speck in your neighbor’s eye…when my stuff is out of order I am much quicker to turn judgmentally on someone else and set to work fixing up their space instead of my own.
Since last Wednesday I’ve been thinking about this process of decluttering and why it is so hard to really rip things out by their roots and get rid of them. What I found is that to do it well is uncomfortable. I can’t distract myself while I try to get it done. I can’t skip past the part where I reminisce and miss where and who I was at a different time in my life. I have to be okay with the fact that no one other than my husband will ever see the hard work and time I spent really cleaning out this space. It’s much easier and more immediately satisfying to throw a little time at the quick fix of shoving things out of the areas that the majority of people in my life see. Places like my living room, dining room, and kitchen. No one but me, and those closest to me, ever see under my bathroom sink. But what’s under there – or not under there – matters. It matters because at least for me it is a metaphor/manifestation of what is going on within my actual self.
Grace is a theme running through my life these days and I found it here, too. As I set to work on the hidden spaces in my house and in my life I know God is inviting me to be free of the harsh judgment and strong-arming I like to treat myself with. Since last Wednesday I haven’t cleaned out any other part of the house. A piece of me just wants to be done with it all; I want all of the closets organized; I want all of the stuff trashed or donated that is no longer serving me. But, if I put my head down and muscle my way through it I know I’ll miss out on some bigger formation. It’s not just about a clean cabinet, it’s more about walking in grace with God and becoming more like Christ along the way. When I stop and take notice I find that this sort of formation is happening in the most mundane pieces of my life, in places like my bathroom cabinets. I’m thankful for the time I’m able to take in this season to slow down and notice as God and I work through this together.