For a long time I’ve imagined our family living in a smaller home in the area of town we longed to be in. We’ve always wanted to be out of the suburbs and closer to the heart of the city but never could imagine how that was possible. We’ve had the desire to pick up and travel with our little family. We dream of being able to purchase that discounted $300 round trip ticket to Paris for our family of four that I see every new season because we could afford the tickets, because we could afford to take the time away from work, and because we would be able to pick up and leave in a moment’s notice. I also feel like once our kiddos start kindergarten that we are going to be a homeschooling family and the freedom of taking trips to places we learn about will be a resource. I’ve had no idea how it’s going to work and look, but that’s where we’re feeling led.
I have a lot of feels. A lot of dreams I’ve imagined the way my life and our family would look. Some of them are dreams I’ve held on to but should have let go. Others are dreams that are there because it’s more of a nudge, a gut-feeling, a vision for something greater…
Over a year ago I sat in the living room of my friend’s condo having a conversation and telling her a little bit about those secret hopes and dreams. I was asking her about their lifestyle and family dynamics because I admired what they had built – simplicity, unity, risk, and bravery. She gave me one small piece of life advice that has etched itself in my mind over the course of the year.
“Figure out what you value and build your life around that.”
I’ve mediated on it. I’ve prayed about it. I ask myself this question every time a new dream or vision or decision comes up for our family.
Figuring out what you value sounds obvious, doesn’t it? And easy. My value system has been built around a love for Jesus, a devotion to family, developing deep friendships, and loving others. That sounds like a fool-proof plan. And it is. The overall values that guide my life are based off these BIG values.
But something has felt off in our lives. Like there was something big – the good kind of big – ahead of us but we were just missing it. I’d ask myself this ‘value’ question and couldn’t understand how we weren’t arriving to something that changed what was happening in our lives like we felt it should change. We knew what we wanted, but had no idea how to get there. We had the “big” values down – love God, love people – but were missing it when it came to the “smaller” decisions we have to make in the daily.
I’m a decently organized person. I have my sloppy moments, but in general I have kept tight control of the clutter in my life. It comes from being surrounded by actual Stuff my entire life that I had no control over. Once I had a place of my own, I was determined to keep control of what came in and what went out.
Years passed, we bought our first home, and over the years more things came in than went out and all I could do was organize my clutter. I thought filling a home was a sort of status as an adult. Then last year I had a terrible medical issue and I felt like I lost all control because I could barely function. I couldn’t keep up with the laundry. Toys were everywhere. Our closet floor was constantly covered in clothes. The kids would put on clothes that didn’t fit them any more because I hadn’t purged them. Dishes were constantly piled up. Toilets and tubs had rings around them…
The ‘things’ of our house had taken over our home and that was taking a toll on my emotional health because my physical health was failing and I could barely take care of our home. I was depressed and sick and all I could think about was how I longed for simpler, smaller, and more free.
Once I had surgery in December and my body started rebounding, I had room to meditate on the question again. “What did I value?” As I was surrounded by Stuff, I realized that I was surrounded by Stuff that I didn’t really care about. And that Stuff made me feel like I was drowning.
I started thinking about getting rid of a lot of our things. But that felt weird to just up and purge. No one died. We weren’t moving. I kept thinking “How could getting rid of a lot of our stuff really do anything for our greater good? It’s just getting rid of the stuff. I’m not a hoarder so purging is not working on the mental or heart issue.”
I was sharing these struggles with a friend and she recommended the documentary, Minimalism. As I watched it, every bit of it spoke to me. It articulated all the things I felt inside and I knew I needed to do, but just hadn’t yet because I was afraid to let go. But on top of the concept of Minimalism, I also know Jesus and the Holy Spirit spoke to me. As soon as I finished watching it I felt Him say, “Purge.” So I was obedient. There was such clarity and immediacy, I felt the overwhelming need to purge. It weighed heavy on me. I couldn’t clean out fast enough. I longed for a simpler life surrounded by less – way less. I began to see dozens of things I never noticed before in every room that I didn’t need or that I hadn’t used in forever. Things that I once didn’t want to let go of out of guilt or obligation. My closet was overflowing with clothes I hadn’t worn in years. The office was swarmed with supplies I would probably never even touch. Unfinished projects had good intentions. The kids were so overwhelmed by toys that they played with none. I thought I valued simplicity but my life was showing that I valued the opposite.
I didn’t know how and I didn’t know why I was doing this. For an eventual move? To pay off debt? I didn’t know but I felt led to start purging, so I did.
First, the kitchen. Then my clothes, shoes, and jewelry. Then toys. Then back to the kitchen for a second round, then a third. Then the kids’ clothes. I was ruthless with every item I touched. If it didn’t serve a purpose or didn’t bring us joy, it was out the door.
And as I was purging, I was sharing with Aaron the convictions I felt about letting go of belongings and the Holy Spirit began to speak to him. He took his own initiative and began purging his things. Before you know it, we were bringing our kids into the process to teach them about how blessed we are to have all these things and how we are now able to bless others. It took some work but eventually they would offer to put toys and clothes in the give-away piles, praying for each item they were giving away.
We filled 15 bags of clothes to donate to our church’s faith center. We sold several big items. We’ve made 5 Goodwill trips and have donated various items to other charities around the city that would benefit from the donations.
And we miss NONE of it.
I could feel really guilty about getting rid of these things. First of all, as I stared at the piles of wasted things all I could see were dollar signs. And there was a major level of guilt for any debt I may have caused in our family because of my need for things. I cried as I apologized to Aaron for the debt that I brought into our family that he was working so hard to pay off.
But because Jesus is so kind to us and there is no condemnation – As we dropped off those 15 bags of clothes to a ministry that serves genuine people in need, they were so so deeply grateful. And I felt grace wash over me as I realized people were really being blessed by this. The clothes I purchased frivolously will clothe someone who really needs them. My spending money on needless toiletries and cosmetics can now serve a family stuck in a hospital for an unknown amount of time. The toys my kids played with once can entertain a sick child in the hospital that doesn’t have any toys. And that, friends, is how Jesus can take our mistakes and turn them into something beautiful.
Now, when I think of the question my friend asked, “What do you value?”…
As I stepped over those 15 bags, coordinated 5 Goodwill runs with kids, coordinated pickups and drop offs, the obedience of purging our things has taught me…
Of things we already own that we use. Of the money we earn and are given. Of the time we’re given. Of the relationships we have.
It sounds crazy but by purging our Stuff, we’ve been taught valuable, deep lessons about all of these things.
We’ve asked for a way to pay off our debts – He’s giving it. We’ve found a way to move into the city – a deep desire of our heart. We wanted to spend more time together as a family – he’s providing it. We’ve longed for a smaller, simpler life – it’s happening.
All because of a simple “yes” we followed when we felt asked to purge our belongings.