I’m a pack rat. I keep stuff. Not everywhere. Mostly, in my office and art studio. I’ve read every book you can imagine on organization. They ease the pain of my clutter disorder but they rarely seem to touch the root that causes the disease. You know, the one that anchors me to the habit of keeping stuff. There must be a root at the base of it because I’m grounded into a habit that won’t seem to let me go any further than a tree moves from its original position. Sure, it sways and it bends and it loses some leaves, but it doesn’t move off its root!.
I work on the symptoms for a while, but without a clear understanding of the cause, I eventually find myself buried once again in my palace of stuff. Receipts. Books that I had to have but can’t read until I have time. Notes from old classes. Pictures Cameron drew in 1st grade. Bills I haven’t opened. Reminders to do things that I buried in a pile and then forgot. Parts of a book I want to write one day. Photo discs with people and places I can’t quite place in time or perspective. Prints of a zillion emails with sentiment from friends, family and strangers. Birthday cards from the dentist. Journals with only 5 pages filled, no date and no real context. Etc, etc, etc [fill in things that are just too embarrassing to mention here].
A few years ago before going on a mission trip, I felt the need to purge my cluttered life. I took everything out of my office as if I were moving and only put back what I thought I really needed. I think God was preparing me for the shame I would feel as I walked beside people with nothing. Want to be humbled? Talk about your “stuff” problem with a man who owns only one pair of pants and has nothing to organize because, well, he has nothing… God surely knew what He was doing when I got picked for that trip! There are some things you simply cannot learn in a book.
Before my trip, I remember throwing away bags of stuff. I gave away boxes more. I remember flipping off the lights before heading to the airport feeling so proud of myself! My office was appropriately bare for a “missionary.” Note to self, pride is not the best emotion as you depart for a mission trip. Or perhaps, it’s the perfect one. Mostly, I remember returning, flipping on the lights and feeling horrified at the massive amount of stuff I felt compelled to save. Oh yes, the book of experience should be a permanent best seller.
My husband left forCuba on Saturday. Perhaps they were sympathy pains, but a few weeks before he left, I felt the same urge to purge. I could barely move in my office again because I had accumulated so much stuff. It took me two plus weeks to go through every piece of paper, every book, every file, EVERYTHING and put back only what I really needed. I’m famous for doing these projects and making it to the finish line and leaving 10% undone. That 10% becomes the root for the next clutter crises and on and on the cycle goes, where it stops, nobody knows…
And then, Tuesday came. My husband had been gone for three days and I was sitting at my desk imagining him walking beside the man with one pair of pants trying to explain why his wife keeps stuff. Or what it is like to live in the middle of a lot of stuff. As I dug through the last 10% like a toddler who was mad about cleaning her room, I started to discover some real jewels that had been buried in the piles that never quite made it to sorting day. The pile was the last 10% from the last 6 years of clean outs. It was filled with things that really didn’t fit neatly in any organizational category. The other 90% fit in some logical class or genre. Journals, books, files, office supplies, letters, magazines, memories from my son, husband, mom, sisters, friends… But the “dregs” – or the last 10% — looked like a mishmosh of paperclips, sticky notes, loose pieces of paper, business cards, receipts, gum wrappers, etc…
I decided to sift through this last bit like one would sift for gold. I decided to ask myself this question as I did it.– what treasure did I think I had when I chose to save this item? Why was it so important to keep this? An email from my friend Laura in 2007. No, that’s not a typo, smarty pants! It was the first email she ever sent me. I printed it because something inside me said: “you are going to want to remember this one day.” She has become like a sister to me and now I can’t imagine my life without her. It was a piece of gold to me, not stuff or trash or clutter. And something in me knew it 5 years ago when she sent it. A copy of a chapter from a book from my friend Stephanie with a note, “I wish I could write like this.” I read that chapter when she sent it and I couldn’t throw it away because it was a little piece of Stephanie’s heart. It mattered to her and she wanted it to matter to me. As long as I had it, I had a little piece of Stephanie at my fingertips. A few months ago while on a college tour we heard a guest speaker at Wheaton College. Care to guess who it was? The author of that chapter! As soon as she started to talk, I knew it was her. I knew it because it felt like a little piece of Stephanie’s heart was standing right there on that stage. A note my son wrote me the day he made the finals in speech. A list my husband made of things he loves. Cards, letters, notes, prayers…. Pure gold.
When I came to the end of the pile [YES, I FINISHED!!!!], I started to see my roots a little differently. They are tender and deep and they are moving deeper and deeper into the soil of this life seeking meaning and relationship in everything. As I examine what I keep and why, I feel a little like a miner searching for the smallest fleck of gold in my pan. When I find one, no matter how small, I pick I up and I praise God that there is hope and connection and meaning in this forest we call life.
I know I can’t keep every nugget, but my brand of clutter is partially a testimony to how many beautiful deposits have been made in my life and how much I value relationship, meaning and truth.
My freedom will come when I realize that as long as I draw breath, I will be finding gold because the creator has filled the earth with His treasure. Every note, every connection, every relationship is another reminder that God died for relationship, for reconciliation and for connection. I don’t have to hold every nugget to maintain that. There will always be more for me to uncover and enjoy!
Copyright 2012 Kat Silverglate