In North America, we’ve got a lot of stuff, and a lot of stuff that we don’t need. I’ve been talking with a few friends about clutter and de-junking the house. How do we decide what to purge? After we’ve thrown out the garbage, how do we decide what to keep and what to give to Goodwill? How do we use the material blessings which the Lord has given us without beginning to “store up treasure on earth”?
There are loads of books out there on how do de-clutter, organize, and purge, but few of them offer a biblical perspective. The motives that we often hear for de-cluttering are to create a calm personal space, to make room for the new, to aid the flow of positive energy, etc. If you haven’t used it for a year, you’re supposed to throw it out, according to the organizational gurus. But there are biblical reasons and motives for getting rid of stuff you don’t use – and even some stuff that you do.
First, getting rid of excess stuff frees you to other things. Stuff requires that we keep track of it and care for it. Getting rid of extra stuff means that we have less material things to think about and care for, and more time and energy to serve. Instead of storing and cleaning an extensive collection of _________ (china plates, baby clothes, old textbooks, etc.), we have that time to serve. Stuff is often a distraction from the things of God and the service of God. While we do have to live with some things (some clothing, for instance, or pots and pans) and spend time caring for them, stuff that is taking extra time and energy from the things of the Lord needs to go.
Second, getting rid of extra stuff makes your home a tool of service. A home that is cluttered (often a symptom of disorganization) is not a place which is restful to its occupants, available for hospitality, or a witness to a world that is watching to see how other-worldly people live on earth. A de-cluttered home is partly an expression and witness that we are willing and able to serve.
Third, getting rid of stuff can bless others. Things that you do not use, that you only use occasionally, or even things that you do use but could do without, could bless someone who actually needs them. Those items can go, too. I had been storing bins and bins of kid’s clothes in case I ever need them. Maybe I will need them again, but in the meantime, I know other children who could put them to good and immediate use. It’s good to ask if someone else would be more fruitful with an item in question, or if they need it: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:14-16).
Things like your wedding dress or another personal, irreplaceable item can stay – pictures of your great-grandmother are probably not going to be a blessing to someone else, anyway. And there is a place for owning some things just because they are beautiful and bring us daily joy. But even then, we need to examine our motives. Why do we cling to a particular thing that is going to burn in the end anyway? Sometimes we keep something because it will bring our children or grandchildren joy (perhaps some financial gain) years from now. Sometimes we want to be able to see a certain item (like our grandfather’s cane, or our first pair of shoes) that brings back memories connected to landmark events in our past.
But often, I find myself clinging to stuff with no other reason than materialism. I love stuff, so it’s hard to throw it out. Scripture has some serious warning for me: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). Throwing out stuff helps me to wean myself from this world and focus on spiritual realities. One line from Luther’s hymn has been particularly helpful to me as I seek to pare down my earthly possessions: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”
This doesn’t mean that we have to live in stark, monastic settings. But it does mean that we need to view our possessions in light of eternity, using them for God’s glory and love for others. All the stuff I have is just stuff – a stewardship of temporal blessings. Is it weighing down my soul and fruitfulness? Am I using it for eternal good? “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-20).