Why We’ve Given Up Clutter for Lent

Now I know it doesn’t sound all that spiritual to give up clutter for Lent. But stick with me as I explain our rationale, and I will be blogging about this off and on in the days to come. For starters, what you are seeing here are a true-to-life photos of my office. I share this with much fear and trembling (“What will people think of me? Maybe I will never get another job again after people see what a mess my life really is!”) And while this is probably the worst of our clutter spots, I’m embarrassed to admit that almost every single room and hallway in our house had been untidy, at best.

So, instead of giving up sweets, chocolate, meat, media, or any of the other Lenten sacrifices that I’ve considered or done in the past, I approached my husband with the idea that we give up clutter for Lent. His first response was to laugh–not because he thought the idea was a bad one, necessarily, but because he doubted that I could actually stick with it. But now four days into Lent, with marked improvements emerging in different parts of our house already, he is all in, and our kids are, too.

The Bible does not appear to have much to say on the topic of neatness (although plenty to say in the Old Testament particularly about beingunclean!) I admit that I haven’t yet done an extensive examination of Scripture on this topic, except to confirm that the famous saying “cleanliness is next to Godliness” appears nowhere in the Bible. But what had happened in our house was that over time, the discipline of trying to keep our house in order just became too much for me, to the point that it was just easier to be apathetic about it than to put it in order. And as neither my husband nor I are predisposed to neatness, the combination of our natural tendencies and the second law of thermodynamics–that the universe is always moving towards maximum disorder–conspired to work against us.

This is not to say that our house was always slovenly or that we never cleaned up. But it became habitual for everyone to drop things on the floor and leave them there, or fail to put things back in their proper place, or create a mess then forget about it. Something had to be done. Exasperated, my husband looked around one day and said, “It would be nice to have at least one area of our house reflect some peace and order!”

Something about the way he said it startled me, as I realized that the lack of order in our house had gone beyond just normal, everyday clutter, to the point that it was weighing his spirits down. I had just chosen to turn a blind eye to it all, but I realized that in some ways, what I had done was to develop a slothful attitude towards maintaining order in our house–and slothfulness, as we all know, is right there on the list of the seven worst sins. Worst of all, my kids were just all following my lead. Something had to be done.

So our decision to emphasize a reduction of clutter is actually a decision to battle a slothful spirit in our house, to be disciplined about how we treat the things in our house, to be considerate to one another, and to help create an atmosphere that reflects peace and not chaos. And the missional tie-in to this decision is this: so many times, I have hesitated to invite people over to our house because the effort involved to make our house presentable just seemed too overwhelming. Not because I needed to present ordered perfection, but because it seemed completely inhospitable to invite people to a pig sty for dinner!

In subsequent posts, I’ll share how things have been going, as well as bringing in some spiritual lessons I’ve learned by facing my own clutter demons. But I have to say that so far, this has been one of our best Lenten decisions yet! What do you think about this as a Lenten choice? Have you ever tried it in your family, and if so, what were the results?

(P.S. I have not forgotten the post about missional parenting as an antidote to over parenting….still mulling over it but will hopefully post it some time in the next couple of weeks!)

10 Comments on “Why We’ve Given Up Clutter for Lent

  1. I’ll admit the article title had me intrigued and made me wonder where you were going with this. But I think your tie in with sloth and clutter is spot on. While I don’t have a spouse and kids running around the house to “aid” in creating messes and general chaos, I go through phases where stuff is just all over the place. For a while it’s fine, but then one day it just hits me and it really bothers me!

    Keeping up with life is certainly a struggle at times. Yet like many things, just aiming to keep some sense of order is a discipline that is best achieved through daily practice in small doses. If I could only remember that keeping things in order is a much more manageable task in 15 minutes a day instead of a 3 hour chunk every month or two.

    These times also encourage me to consider whatever volume of “stuff” I have and if I should declutter in the sense of getting rid of things. I look forward to reading about any adventures you and the family may have in that area as well.”

  2. Funny, your desk looks a lot like mine. And my kitchen counter, and my dining room table…Let’s just say I completely relate to what you wrote! I think it is a very creative choice for Lent. Totally rooting for the Lee family, and i too look forward to reading about the progress!

  3. A clutter-free home is definitely a worthy pursuit. It will be challenging to change habits in such a short amount of time. But that being said, having a finite amount of time to get your house in shape works in your favor because it forces you to start taking action NOW (as opposed to saying “I’ll get to it this weekend. OK, next weekend. Next month, for sure.”).

    What a great opportunity to hit the “Reset” button on your lives! Good luck! I look forward to reading about your progress.”

  4. Helen,

    This is an admirable, brave journey.

    Good for you and good for your family for taking spiritual discipline on a practical ride.

    Be strong and courageous!

    -Nonnahs

  5. Just getting caught up on your blog. My desk also looks much like yours and I appreciate your post — particularly for the thought and heart behind the choice. Your words are inspirational as always. :)

  6. I heartily commend you for posting this pic, Helen. I myself am a horrible messophile, and have kept my messes as far behind closed doors as possible (though friends and past roommates know the depths of my horrors…cue scary music). However, I do believe that very slowly over the years, I have been positively influenced by my husband Will (a minimalist) and the concept of Richard Foster’s “Freedom of Simplicity” (a book I never read, but whose title still impacted me!). I think there is something really powerful to the idea of having less as being a discipline – as applied to money, material things, and even just letting go of papers I’m hanging onto out of fear I’ll “need it one day.” The rooms that are tidy truly allow me to breathe easier and yet, for me, fear somehow keeps the clutter coming back. Thanks for the encouragement…I know I’m reading this post several months after you posted it, but I happen to be trying to embark on something similar too!

  7. We often think it is easy to get rid of clutter by ourselves. Most of the time due to lack of time and patience we keep avoiding it. Taking service of a cleaning company can make our task simpler and well organized. We can get rid of all the worries. 

  8. Ah Greg, you have hit the nail on the head—absolutely, it’s so much easier to achieve the discipline of daily clutter management rather than dealing with the monstrosity that results when you DON’T do this (exhibit A, my office as depicted above!) And as much as I know that truth in my head, it’s often hard to live it out! But this exercise of intentional clutter-policing has definitely helped us to reclaim this truth for ourselves, at least on a small level. Your second point about volume of stuff is also well taken. Hope to address that one in a future post. =)

  9. My desk looks like yours???? I find that so hard to believe! But thank you for helping me to feel as though I’m not alone in my messiness! =) Thanks for visiting and I hope you enjoy the future posts…which I really need to start writing…once I clear my cluttered desk. =)

  10. Yes, definitely the finite time element is a great motivator. I will explain why in the next post. =) But I was certainly one to procrastinate when it came to reducing clutter. And it’s been good to have a reason NOT to do so, for once! Thanks so much for visiting!

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