Decluttering the soul

Faith & Inspiration | Amy Henry

Decluttering the soul

Anyone who has ever watched the show Hoarders knows that hoarders often lie to themselves.

In my house-cleaning job, I see it all the time. A client’s home can be so packed with boxes that no one can walk down a hallway without turning sideways and still the client will insist she doesn’t have a problem. “I’m a saver,” one of my customers once said.

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Hoarders seem oblivious to the distress and discomfort they cause their families, friends, and even themselves, but the obvious solution—decluttering—is the one solution they cannot—or will not—entertain. They will rearrange their junk, shuffle through their piles, and talk about once and for all “dealing with that back room,” but no real change ever occurs.

Without major decluttering, there is simply no possibility of order, and so, no matter how horrible it is, the convoluted, messy, chaotic life of a hoarder becomes, for them, normal.

But hoarders aren’t the only ones who lie to themselves.

It’s easy to diagnose someone else’s pride/passivity/anger, but it’s difficult to diagnose our own. We, like the hoarders we watch on television, make ignoring reality a full-time job, albeit one that is far less entertaining. No matter how blatant our sin, or how obvious it is to others, it’s hard to admit the truth to ourselves.

This year, Lent coincides with getting our house ready to sell, and that means, yes, a good deal of decluttering. Even though I’m a big believer in streamlining my belongings, books are my one exception. As I was going through my shelves the other day, my kids started laughing at how I would justify keeping each book. One I might need for a class I might teach some day. One for the son who isn’t quite at that reading level yet. A huge pile for my future grandchildren. Even ridiculous choices (keeping an old copy of Mr. Wizard’s Science Experiments) are easy to justify (it belonged to my husband when he was a child).

I think decluttering during the Lenten season is apropos. It reminds us that more is at stake than living in a filthy house or making our families crazy with our stuff. Peter Leithart writes, “Lent strips off layers of self-deception and self-defense that screen us from the Risen Christ.” Hoarders aren’t the only ones with those particular problems.

If we use Lent as a time to reexamine ourselves and to tell ourselves the truth about who and what we are, the picture will not be pretty. But decluttering of the soul, aka repentance, is, as Alexander Schmemann said, “… a return to the genuine order of things, the restoration of the right vision.” 

Perhaps, as with any messy job, that’s where we start.

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