Is there a way to tame the clutter monster and grow closer to God at the same time? There is! Just follow the ancient Church practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Editor’s Note: Mary Elizabeth Sperry is an author of five books; her most recent is titled “Making Room for God: Decluttering and the Spiritual Life.” She serves as associate director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops permissions and NAB utilization. To find out more about Sperry, see the author’s bio below.
by Mary Elizabeth Sperry
Let’s face it. Clutter is a near-inevitable side effect of being a parent. (It comes with the sleepless nights, busy days, and sticky everything.) Kids have a lot of stuff — and it expands to fill the space available. The kitchen island is covered in school papers. Craft projects have taken over the dining table. Every entryway is filled with backpacks and enough sporting equipment to field a team. And we won’t even start on the car!
You know you need to deal with the clutter, to take control and restore order. But is there a way to tame the clutter monster and grow closer to God at the same time? There is! Just follow the ancient Church practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Rely on our Catholic Community
The Church’s central prayer, the Eucharistic liturgy, is grounded in community and memory. Gathered as the body of Christ, we remember Jesus’ saving death and resurrection and we share in his body and blood. Relying on community can help you get rid of the clutter in your house and keep it from coming back:
- Consider working with other families to share items used only occasionally.
- Borrow sporting goods from a friend or neighbor before making a purchase. If your child’s interest in the sport doesn’t last, the hockey gear is returned or passed on.
- Share generously with others the items your children have outgrown.
Select and Cherish Memories
When it comes to memory, you may be tempted to hold on to every card, photo and art project. But when you hold on to too much, you aren’t cherishing the memory. If you don’t know you have it and you can’t find it, exactly what are you remembering? You can respect the memory and avoid clutter by curating the things you keep:
- Before you store any memorabilia, ask yourself what memory it holds. If you can’t answer that question, it’s time to let the item go.
- Keep only the best examples of each thing — cards with hand-written notes, photos that are in focus where folks look their best, the best (or funniest) pieces of art.
- Every so often (at least every two years), go through what you’ve kept. You may be surprised by what’s no longer memorable.
Do More with Less
In the Church’s practice, fasting teaches us to do with less. Fasting reminds us that we should not rely on possessions. Instead, it helps us to recognize our ultimate dependence on God and it unites us with the poor — those whose lack of food or other material things is not voluntary. Periodic fasting can also help to reduce the clutter in your house:
- Institute a strict limit for gifts for holidays and birthdays. (Be the hero in your parent group by being the first to eliminate goody bags!). Instead of things, focus on experiences.
- If kids seem to be giving up a hobby, put the supplies away for a period of time (say one to three months). If they don’t notice the loss, it’s time to give them away.
- Fast from acquiring more than you need. Do not shop as entertainment and always use a list to keep impulse purchases in check.
Nurture Generosity with Almsgiving
Finally, almsgiving nurtures kids’ natural generosity. It encourages them to share more freely and to think of others’ needs before their own. That giving spirit can help to keep a limit on clutter as well:
- Foster giving within the family with shared toys, books, and hand-me downs.
- Make donating unused clothes, books, and other possessions a family affair by inviting everyone to research places to donate and to pack things for donation. The whole family can even drop things off.
- Model generosity to your kids by giving away the possessions you no longer use and by being transparent about your charitable giving.
The goal of our lives here on earth isn’t to have a house ready for a magazine photo spread, but to order our lives more closely to God’s will, so that we can live with him forever in heaven. Using the tools of prayer, fasting and almsgiving can help to achieve both goals by helping us recognize our dependence on God and love our neighbors, especially those most in need.
Mary Elizabeth Sperry has worked for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since 1994, and serves as associate director for USCCB permissions and NAB utilization. The author of five books, Sperry’s articles have appeared in publications including Give Us This Day, Liguorian, Emmanuel, and Today’s Parish Minister. She speaks about the Bible and a variety of spiritual topics in dioceses and parishes throughout the United States and has been interviewed on National Public Radio, EWTN Radio, CBS Radio, Relevant Radio, and SiriusXM. Sperry earned a master’s degree in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has bachelor’s degrees in international politics, Russian and economics.