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Lent is over but my 2019 Room by Room pruning is not. I’m taking a breather to reflect on what I’ve learned over the past 6 weeks. The photo at right shows much of what I decided to give away but not all of it since some items have already been disbursed, recycled, or trashed. Following are 10 things I’ve learned along the way:

    • On a Human level it feels good to give extra things away and clear clutter. I can find things more easily, the house has a cleaner look, and I feel virtuous.
    • On a Family level I figure I’m saving our children the drudgery of sorting through closets, papers, and myriad miscellaneous stuff after our death. But wait…
    • On an Emotional level I came to realize that as time consuming as some of the sorting was, it was also therapeutic to ponder one’s life while still in it.
    • On a Social Justice level it seems only right to pass on things we no longer need.
    • On a Spiritual level I am sometimes haunted by the writing of St. Basil the Great: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor.
Despite my well-crafted schedule I came to the end of Lent and still hadn’t gotten to the basement and garage. Sometimes life and people get in the way. I had to remind myself that people are more important than things and schedules. Lent is a helpful motivating concept but being fully present to those who cross my path is a higher value. This is a life long journey.
My plan to spend at least ½ hour a day made sense because it sounded doable, BUT, most pruning took longer. Once I was in the midst of a project it was hard to stop. Some days I skipped and some days I hunkered down for a couple hours.
As I moved from one room to the next, I started to reconsider past items I had decided to save. Originally, I was rather restrained about what to let go of. After all, I might want that dress, that costume, that dish some day. As I continued, I found myself challenging those decisions more vigorously. Sometimes I went back to “finished rooms” and felt ready to let go of more.
5. HOW MANY EXTRAS?     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +     +
Being a cautious person by nature, a number of decisions came down to “Maybe I should keep this just in case.” I kept returning to St. Basil’s counsel which is sometimes translated as your extra coat is stolen from the poor. I have more than one coat but I’m not a thief. Still this thought helped me more freely cull my extras. (Read Peter Sawtell of Eco-Justice Ministries’ recent challenging article on How Much Is Enough?)
Since it’s often difficult to find a good balance between being prudent and being generous, I found these helpful:
  • The 20/20 Rule applies to just in case items. If it can be replaced in under 20 minutes and costs under $20, let it go.
  • The Half Goal: Sometimes I had multiple items like storage containers or catalogs. I wanted to keep some but didn’t need all of them. To help me decide, I pushed myself to let go of half.
  • 4/5 Year Sweep: I started this blog in 2010. Although I continue to give things away throughout each year, this is my 3rd full house sweep. I really don’t add many new items so I’m not quite sure how I still have plenty to give away. I think the lesson is that periodically it’s good to do a household review – just as it’s also good to periodically do a life review
  • Spouse or child: Of course I can’t force another to cooperate with giving stuff away or to live a simple lifestyle. I can invite, model, and make it appealing but family harmony is more important than a tidy house. This year my husband made it clear that his office was off limits and he had veto power over kitchen decisions since he does most of the cooking. I would have been more ruthless in the kitchen, but I honored his wishes.
  • Adult children: I decided that when they are all home next Christmas I will invite them to spend 1 common hour reviewing the boxes/trunks that each has stored here. I will be within earshot so we can reminisce, but their decisions will be final. It will be their Christmas gift to me. I don’t want anything else.
Probably the hardest decisions were memories and mementos The easiest were my trophies or my clothes because it was only my decision.
Letting go of physical stuff continues to remind me that the trappings, honors, signs of success are not what is most important. Being present to others by letting go of my self-importance is what’s important. This inner pruning is not finished but ongoing.
Looking for things to give away prompted cleaning, organizing, and finding lost items. This Lent I found our bagel slicer. I also found a beloved pendant when searching through too much jewelry. When looking for my husband’s lost biking glove, I found it and 2 more gloves.

  • Basement and Garage pruning
  • Where to take it all – Deciding where to take stuff will be at least as hard as deciding what to give away. I’m allowing myself 1 month.