Clutter--one little word that encompasses so much MESS! How quickly it can creep in, overtaking homes and hearts. It can feel like an uphill battle filled with great effort yet little returns--one step forward, two steps back. Writing from the perspective of a stay-at-home mom this battle is especially keen. How much energy is spent during a given day simply trying to maintain some semblance of order in the crazy and beautiful chaos of family life, when efforts are so quickly unraveled and the cycle begins afresh with each new sunrise? Toys picked up off the floor are quickly strewn about again, books placed neatly (or not-so-neatly) on the book shelf are dismantled in lightening-quick speed by tiny hands, laundry piles are in constant motion, empty sinks are quickly filled again, empty trashcans are soon overflowing, and the list goes on and on...
We purchased our home well over six years ago, shortly after Benjamin celebrated his first birthday. Up to this point we had only been renters, and we were thrilled to take the big step of becoming home owners. After living in fairly small spaces, our three-bedroom home just shy of 1200 square feet felt like a palace! I had more cupboard and closet space than ever before, and with only one child at the time, we utilized the third bedroom as a home office. I could not imagine filling the space we now had--HAA!
Two more children and six years of accumulation later I feel we are close to busting out the seams! Our desk and bookshelves have been housed in the garage since we welcomed Joelle into the world, and it keeps filling up as the grand "catch-all" of our home. (Forget about parking a vehicle in the there!) Closets are stuffed and overflowing, furniture arrangements have had to become more creative, and I feel like I'm in a constant juggling act to maintain it all.
As I said, clutter creeps in over time, and I believe that mothers especially are prone to internalizing the external. The clutter of the home can so quickly become clutter of the soul, igniting feelings of stress, frustration, inadequacy, and a general sense of being overwhelmed. In our hearts we desire to love and serve our families well, to enjoy and cherish the childhood years, and to cultivate and maintain a life-giving home environment. However, the monotony of the mundane and the tyranny of the urgent--if allowed--can rob us of our joy.
This has been my struggle as I have embraced this beautiful, difficult, rewarding, and exhausting call of motherhood. One moment I can be drinking in the giggles and cuddles with my little ones, and the next moment I can be tense and frustrated by the messes I see piling up around me. As I calculate the never-ending to-do list, the conviction and desire to spend quality time with my kids, and the constant demands and interruptions of little ones when I just want to complete one household task start to finish, the exasperated cry can quickly well up within me, "I can't keep up with it all!!!"
This is the clutter of the heart that turns my focus from what is truly important to that which is fleeting. The seemingly unending tasks of maintaining a home are truly only temporary, while the little souls of my children are eternal.
Isaiah 40:11 holds a wonderful promise for mothers,
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
As we entered this new year, I told the Lord that I want to focus on knowing Him more as my Shepherd. I want to go deeper in my understanding and experience of being led and nurtured by Him. We become what we behold, and as I behold Jesus as my Shepherd I will be better able to shepherd the little lambs He's entrusted to me.
Earlier this week I was nursing Josiah to sleep for a nap and scrolling through my Facebook feed when I came across two separate articles shared by a few of my friends. In a nutshell, one was about de-cluttering the heart, not allowing our to-do lists and projects to crowd out our devotion to the Lord or our enjoyment of our families. The other was about de-cluttering the home, purging out our abundant accumulation of stuff so that we have more time and freedom to enjoy what's truly important. I have read advice of this nature before, but this time it felt as though my Good Shepherd was leading me onto a life-giving path.
I will begin with the latter. This week I have had a renewed resolve and motivation to DE-CLUTTER our home. I started with something easy--the kitchen cabinet shelf that hosts our wide array of children's cups. I mean, how many plastic cups do you actually need! It took me less than five minutes to sort out what to keep and what to send to the recycle bin, but what a wonderful feeling to open the cupboard and see neatly stacked cups instead of stray lids and bases threatening to spill out onto the counter!
The next day I began the great toy purge. The recent celebration of Christmas made me more keenly aware of the congestion of toys that has built up in our home. The top shelf that spans Benjamin's closet is completely dedicated to toy storage. Joelle and Josiah have a small toy box in their room, and our large toy box is in the living room. How quickly the entire house can become strewn with toys and miscellaneous pieces that no one is playing with!
I have been reluctant in the past to part with much of their toy collection, always justifying reasons for holding onto things. Benjamin does not typically like anything new, and for years he has been interested in the same toys: a See-n-Say, light-up baby toys that play music, and stuffed animals that he can twirl. We have tried again and again to introduce new objects and aspects to his play, often to no avail. I've bought toys over the years, excited to think that it may launch him into a new level of developmental play, only to be disappointed when it is cast aside again and again and again. I have held onto things with the hope of "one day." Recently I have become more accepting that this is where my son is right now, and that's okay. He is not interested in pushing a toy car, or building with blocks, or engaging in imaginative play. Maybe these things will come in time, and maybe they won't. I am learning to let go of my expectation of what his play should look like at any given age and simply let Benjamin be Benjamin.
Benjamin does not enjoy new things while Joelle is delighted in new things. I delight in seeing her delight, but as a result I have been guilty of indulging her too much. The initial excitement soon wears off, and I'm realizing that the more options she has, the less likely she is to play with any of them.
I have also held onto to toys for Josiah, thinking of both his current age and his future play. However, he is often just as content if not more so to play with a simple household object while the vast spread of toys sit untouched.
All that to say I did a big toy sweep this week. Benjamin's closet shelf is organized and no longer overflowing and toy boxes actually have extra space in them. I have also limited the amount of toys I allow to be out at a given time. The purged toys are currently sitting in the garage awaiting the city-wide children's consignment sale next month. So far there have been no questions or objections concerning "missing" toys, and I have noticed that the kids, Joelle especially, have been more engaged in playing with the toys that are available. I feel lighter as well, like a weight has been lifted off. Let the de-cluttering continue!
A few weeks ago we took the kids for a drive through a local light show. We turned on the radio to tune into the accompanying Christmas music, but before we could change stations, I was captivated by what I was hearing. By "chance" we had tuned into an interview with an author I was not familiar with by the name of Gloria Furman as she talked about her new book Missional Motherhood. I found myself hanging on the words of this fellow Christian mother, only a few years my senior and she talked about Jesus and the beautiful, messy, significant world of motherhood.
When we returned home I quickly looked her up, and discovered that she has authored multiple books. I had yet to spend my Amazon gift card received at Christmas, and I was sure to add her new book as well as one of her previous works entitled Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms to my order. A few days ago I began reading the latter, and her wise words have been helping me in the process of de-cluttering of my heart. Here are a few gold nuggets I have read:
"When your eyes are fixed on the horizon of eternity, it affects your vision of motherhood. We need to have eyes to see a view of God that is so big and so glorious that it transforms our perspective of motherhood. In the context of eternity, where Christ is doing his work of reigning over the cosmos, we need to see our mundane moments for what they really are--worship."
"Our joy cannot be wrapped up in motherhood but only in God."
"Preaching the gospel to myself each day is the best way to remind myself that my life in Christ is the prevailing, permanent reality in my life."
"The gift of motherhood points mothers to treasure Jesus Christ as he transforms our heart from the inside out."
TREASURE JESUS, treasure family, treasure life, let go of clutter both internal and external. Worship in the mundane, rejoice in the glorious, messy, ever-changing, and eternally rewarding call of motherhood. Behold my Good Shepherd as He gently leads me to green pastures and still waters--may these be the hallmark of this new year. Here's to living clutter free!