November 12th, 2019
This article is featured in the Intentional Spirituality (Nov/Dec/Jan 2019-20) issue of Circuit Rider

Clothes and shoes flew across the room, landing in an ever-growing heap. I watched, transfixed, as the Mersier family pulled every piece of their clothing out of closets, drawers, and storage boxes. The children made heaps on their beds, building a fabric pile that towered over them. The parents’ clothing covered every surface of the living room. This little family of four had hit a breaking point. Mom was exhausted, relationships were fraying, stress unbearable. The solution? Simplification guru Marie Kondo told them it lay in riding themselves of excess stuff, starting with clothes. She oversaw the whole process on her hit show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. If you haven’t read her book or seen her Netflix series, suffice to say, Marie Kondo is becoming very wealthy telling Americans we have way too much stuff, and it’s ruining our lives.

Simplification is not a new idea. Thousands of years ago, Jesus told us pretty much the same thing, with this important addition: Getting rid of stuff doesn’t just reduce our stress, it liberates our souls. “Watch out!” Jesus warns. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).

Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. Possessions can be okay, but their abundance is the opposite of lifedespite what society tells you. Most of us get uncomfortable when Jesus starts talking about possessions. We realize he’s calling us on the carpet, asking us to take an honest look at how much stuff we have. We likely know what he’ll say to us—we have too much. But we’re afraid: afraid this teaching will hurt, that the cost of such discipleship will be too high, that it will be more than we can handle. Don’t be afraid. Jesus has no desire to shame or hurt you. He wants to set you free. Getting rid of our excess possessions is one of the best ways.

I had a hard time realizing how deeply I needed Jesus’ words to critique my lifestyle. I thought I was following God’s teaching, but I had actually justified and ignored a lot of my own materialism. A pastor from Kenya helped open my eyes.

Peter M’Tmuwari and his family were our neighbors in seminary. Peter and I often walked home together after class, talking about the day’s lessons. I’ll never forget the day the topic was possessions. I was at a point in my life where I felt pretty confident on the subject. My husband and I lived in a 300 square foot micro-apartment. I was driving a car that recently caught fire. I told Peter that at least I wasn’t struggling with an “abundance of possessions” anymore. They didn’t fit!

Peter was quiet for a moment, then looked at me, his eyes kind. “No, Laura. You do have this problem. Just let your eyes see it. You Americans have so much stuff that when you run out of room in your homes, you buy another house to hold the extra. It is one of the greatest struggles of faith for American Christians. Jesus wants to help you with this.”

I was silent. Houses for extra stuff? Nobody bought an extra house for their things. I gently told Peter I knew no one like that.

Peter was unfazed, but looked for the right word in English, “You know,” he said, “you Americans pay to use an extra house for the stuff that won’t fit in your first house… A house for your excess? We passed on our walk.”

A storage unit. Touché. Every apartment complex at seminary had a storage area where residents kept extra possessions. Ours was full— and very cleverly packed, I must say.

Peter M’Tmuari was right. I needed a second house to hold the stuff that didn’t fit in my first one. I had too much. Twenty years later, I still remember that talk, and the lesson. I have never again rented a storage unit.

But… I have an attic full of junk. That’s okay, right? It’s seasonal decorations. And seasonal clothes. And some toys for when my toddler is older. And… well, yes, there’s some other stuff. What about my garage? Where we can park only one car? That doesn’t count, does it? And my closet, where clothes are packed in tight? Most of them were amazing deals, so it doesn’t count as excess, does it?

Like almost every American, I have a problem with possessions. Jesus longs for his teaching to sink into my heart, and yours: Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. One of the most deeply needed spiritual disciplines in America today is simplicity.

But where do we begin? Must we all sell everything immediately? Buy tiny homes? I get some practical help from John the Baptist. When the crowds asked him how to get ready to meet the Savior, John says, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none…(Luke 3:11). Most of us squirm uncomfortably when we hear that verse because we deeply hope Jesus will let us keep more than one set of clothes. Perhaps we should think about it like this: Nobody wears two shirts at the same time, layering one on top of the other. If you are already wearing a shirt, you don’t need to button a second one on top of it. The second is unneeded. John is asking us to identify what we don’t need, and then get it into the hands of people who actually do.

Start with a quick inventory. Most of us have at least one problem area—a closet, garage, attic, storage unit. A place where we store stuff we don’t use. Start there. If you haven’t worn it or used it in a year, it’s excess. If you’re saving it for when you lose 10lbs, it’s excess. If you have boxes in storage, but you wouldn’t know what was inside unless you opened them, it’s excess. You need to give those things to someone else, someone who won’t store them but use them.

As followers of Jesus, we long to make a difference in this world, to advance God’s kingdom. You have some life-altering tools gathering dust in your attics, closets, and storage units! Stop holding onto those “extra shirts!” Put them into the hands of people who need them right now.

I’d encourage you, as much as possible, to not just give the excess to your favorite charities for them to distribute but find ways to connect directly with those who need them. Social media makes this so easy. You can post things on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or swap groups.

As I’ve let this teaching sink into my heart, I tackled my own problem area: the attic. I pulled a dining room table and seven chairs, two beds, a dresser and countless bags of shoes and clothes from my attic. Then I posted the items online. I’ve found this delightful truth: As I connect with families, kids, people who need what I have, I’m delighted by being able to bless strangers (and sometimes neighbors) with the stuff I’m not using. The personal connections were so thrilling that they inspired me to give away even more, even sentimental stuff. If I can hand my daughters’ beloved ride-on giraffe to a little one who will play with it, it makes it easier for me to part with.

Giving your possessions directly to someone who needs them is life-giving work. Folks from my church have picked up the challenge. We’ve parted with lawn mowers, appliances, dishes, clothes, shoes, toys, furniture, even Jeep parts! We’ve been inspired to keep only what we’re using and get the rest of it into the hands of people who need it. Imagine—we are meeting the needs of those in crisis in the community without spending a cent! In a few weeks, we’re having a huge “free sale” at our crisis ministry. They have given us a list of things their clients need for the winter and we’re going to supply it all from our closets, attics and storage areas. On that day, anyone in need can come to this “store” and find what they are lacking, for free.

Simplicity is a life-changing spiritual discipline; it’s also one of the most satisfying. You already have what people desperately need gathering dust in your closet, attic, garage or storage area. Don’t hold onto it. Let go of the excess so others can be blessed.

Do you want to change the world? Get rid of the excess.
Do you want more freedom? Get rid of the excess.
Do you want to grow in your faith? Get rid of the excess.

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