Pushing Back Against the Stress of Life
After listening, he chuckled and summarized as follows, “So, new baby, new church, new city, new house, new job… any other stressors you want to throw in there?”
Shortly after we moved, with boxes and children and toys and dishes everywhere, life just felt like too much. I wondered (worried) if we had too many kids too quickly.
And in a very real way, life was too much.
A big part of that was too much stuff. See Minimalist Me.
The solution? Lose the stuff; keep the kids. (Leave the gun, take the cannoli. Yes, I love those movies, too.)
It’s not too many kids too quickly. I love our kids, their ages, and the way we all love and learn together. But four kids means we have to live differently than family of one or two kiddos.
Three months ago, we had a messy, sloppy garage half full of half full boxes and we could not park our car in it. Two weeks ago, Tim and I cleaned out the entire garage (along with our disgusting minivan, even shampooing the carpets) and purged relentlessly. In the end, we were able to store everything we needed in the garage, pull one car in, and still have room for more storage.
When we moved all the boy’s stuff into their new, shared, tiny room, it was not good. Any time they got anything out, the room was instantly messy and it was exhausting for them and for us to put it all away in the one small closet. So, we purged. We pulled everything out of their room, evaluated what was actually played with and got rid of EVERYTHING else. Brutal, relentless purging. We pared all their many, many toys down to 8 tubs. Mostly small and medium tubs and one large one for their train set. Eight tubs, people. The end result of the purge was wonderful. The room was light and airy and usable. We removed everything except the beds, the bookshelf, and the cubbies. (That means we got rid of one toy tool bench, one small table and chair set, and one plastic three-drawer storage.)
Immediately, the boys asked permission to play with their favorite toy, Zoob Bugs. (Which I recommend very highly, by the way.)
For me, this is what minimalism does: it removes the stress of stuff to make space for excitement and creativity again. Careful attention to the void spaces means you make room for emptiness. We specifically left two shelves empty in the boys’ room. We’re making space for the unknown, for possibility and imagination and future fun.
I’m getting so much better at letting go of stuff. I used to feel guilty over who gave it, how much it cost, or what other people would think. Now I realize that is living under a silent tyranny. No one else lives in my house and my life but me, therefore no one else gets to tell me what I should keep. I will keep only what is useful and beneficial to my family because anything more than that is just stress-inducing clutter.
It’s the same way with our schedule, too. When we fill every square on the calendar, we don’t leave time to just be. Be at home, be together, be bored until you come up with a fantastic new game that will fill so many more happy hours in the days to come than that one day at an amusement park that left the kids tired, cranky, and asking what we’re gonna do next. (Abby and Ben have developed a spy game, a ninja game, and a pirate game, all three of which get played in the backyard with little to no toys needed.) No one else lives in my life, so no one else gets to tell me what should be on my schedule. The things I love: practicing gratitude, putting marbles in the jar, painting, drawing, baking, reading will not happen if we are always on the go. These joy-building practices require space and time to happen. I want them to happen.
When we purge the clutter out of our lives, we have more time to spend doing the things we really want to do. You see, letting go of stuff is actually grabbing on to the joy of family. The joy of reading books to our kids before bed in their spotless rooms. (We haven’t been reading books very much lately because we’ve been too worn out by overly busy schedules and a messy house.) The joy of wrestling hard on a clean, carpeted floor with belly laughs abounding. The joy of dreaming up new projects because we aren’t entangled by the everyday upkeep of extra stuff. The joy of actually doing family worship instead of just intending to get around to it.
Spiritually, we’re making space, too. So many of us want to grow spiritually, but we have let busyness clutter Christ right out of our lives. That’s not how we want it to be; it just is. Choosing to make space for grace and for God is an aggressive position. It involves major push back against everything everyone wants us to do.
For us, less is more. We choose to have less things and take better care of what we have. Even our smaller house is a joy to us. We’re not spread out, filling up every storage space with stuff we don’t need. We’re close knit, in proximity and in heart. This is family.
And that includes the things you can’t buy:
less toys = more play
less toys, more exercise = better care of our bodies
less movies, more reading = better care of our brains
less busyness on our schedule, more family time = better care of our emotions
In this sprawling season of summer, we are adding by subtracting. We’re letting go of stuff and grabbing on to the joy of family.