by Frank Muller
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Have you experienced that feeling of relief after spending an entire weekend purging the home of “stuff”? Oh, there is the agony of trying to determine if I really need that concert T shirt from 1982 because, well, we always can use another T shirt. I say that knowing full well that the last time I wore that concert T shirt was in 1982.
We fight, we argue, we procrastinate, we rationalize, we hide the things we know should be tossed so that our better half does not dispatch them to the land of Goodwill at best, the dump at worst.
However, travel back to that moment after the great purge when the home feels newer and brighter. It is better organized. Things can now be located within minutes instead of stress filled hours trying to remember what hidden portion of the house contains that pet rock from the 1970’s and the now supposedly valuable stash of beanie babies.
Wed MD cites numerous benefits on how decluttering can improve our health. Some of those benefits are improved focus on the positive side but the more pronounced benefits are what it helps to control. You see, clutterers are people who form a dysfunctional attachment to things. The problem is, we all have such attachments.
The problem with attachments is not the item per se, it is the effect. The effects range from time management problems like multi-tasking where tasks are not completed well but rather are half done or not at all. Further, excess attachments can lead to perfectionism where we just lose the ability to let go and instead retain in a compulsive and disordered way.
Concerns with issues like attention deficit disorder indicate in many cases an environment filled with distractions of a thousand kinds and people become addicted to distraction and thus impairing their ability to cognitively process complex and difficult subject matters.
Attachments also lead to procrastination as life overwhelms us with the complexity of learning and maintaining thousands of different things. We just want to call an 800# and have a repairman “fix” it for us. The hundreds of crises that developed because our lives are comprised of things that break, deteriorate, lose their appeal, go out of style or simply we tire of them.
The idea of selling everything is layered so let’s peel back a few of those layers to consider. The first layer is the most important layer. This is the layer that encompasses how we view the entirety of the created order. Simply said, it is adopting the mindset that says I can live in the world, but the world does not live in me. It is a clear and conscious choice to renounce letting things own us, but rather we keep ourselves free. I chuckle that is precisely in the supposed land of the free that we may in fact be the land of enslaved to our stuff.
This is the freedom of selling everything. We can practice a Russian invasion of Texas tomorrow in our mind by knowing that we can and will leave everything behind except that which matters most which is invariably another human soul. Nothing else matters. I often chuckle when during the pre-flight instruction video, we have to be told that in case of an emergency to leave behind all your possessions and exit the aircraft.
What a sad, sad knowledge it is that in a real aircraft emergency there were people who so valued their attachments over their own lives and those of others that this safety video had to address that dysfunction.
This is the definition of being a slave because that item (which has no mind, no soul, and no lasting value) now controls the fully conscious and rational human being. In some wild paradox, it is the inanimate that lives and the living that dies.
It is clear we need things. Food, shelter, healthcare, education…. What is clearer to me though is what we desperately need even more so is to value that which cannot be purchased. Life. Freedom. To learn how to have things but those things do not have us. Therein lies the first layer.
In the movie Heat Starring Al Pacino and Robert Deniro this theme of attachment was examined. In it, we find a lead criminal extol the virtue of being able to leave everything behind in an instant if the heat is close. All the other criminals though want to continue their crimes because of the attachment to the money and the things it brings to their lives. That is, there is always room for “one more job”.
Even the good cop played by Al Pacino places his attachment on catching the criminal and with it he gives up everything that is good in his life. He trades one good for a lesser good. Both the cop and the criminal excelled in their career because each was willing to give up everything in an instant if the heat is close. The goal was the attachment more than the thing. This is the second layer we must attack. Attachments are more than just a TV, they become graven images we construct of ourselves that replace and define our humanity by a goal.
The great irony is that in the end the two-meet due to their mutual attachment to these goals. The criminal turns back when the heat is on to seek revenge on someone who betrayed him, and the cop turns back from his relationship when he finds out the criminal has been located.
In the scene where the criminal is killed by the cop, they each know that their lives and souls were lost because of their attachment to things that did not matter. There is great sadness to see that both have died in their souls. In our own lives, we can choose to live the inner world where we place our hope on the only thing that matters as we draw our last breath. We can learn to own, but not be owned.
It will not be that concert T shirt, beanie baby, or even my wallet that will matter as I draw my last breath. It will be the love of our Creator and the love of the people who share that moment of passing. We come into the world with nothing and for most of us it was only the embrace of loving parents and nurses and doctors that we first experienced. We leave the world with nothing as well except for I pray the loving embrace of our Savior and those who we are privileged to have by our side.
When in our soul, when in our mind, when in our body, when in our homes, when in our business we consciously and relentlessly declutter and simplify, then that process of cleaning up our lives leads to a discovery that we can have everything and be nothing or we can have nothing and be everything.
The Truth of this revelation can set one free.
May Peace be with us all.