My family is moving to a smaller house across town and I have discovered that we simply have too much stuff. For the past few weeks, I’ve been sorting and packing and condensing all of our possessions. Some days, I feel unstoppable; other days, I’m weeping into a pile of preschool artwork. It’s been a real journey over here.
I started with the easiest things, like clothes and sports gear and books. A few years ago, I made up a “game” for my family called “love it or hate it” to help all of us give away things we no longer needed. It works best in a speed round format: I hold up a sweatshirt or a Harry Potter book and my kids have two options, love it or hate it. There’s no in-between; if it isn’t loved, it’s given away to someone who will hopefully love it.
This method is great for recently acquired items, like TJ Maxx art or dance costumes, but it gets more complicated when I’m sorting through baby pictures or family goblets.
I’ve been texting pictures of things that I’m finding in my home to my mother with the question, “Why do I have this?” I’m asking her to remind me who it once belonged to and also why I wanted it in the first place. Her gracious response is usually “Times change and needs change; you don’t have to keep it.”
I’m not especially sentimental, but I’m finding it hard to sort through all of our stuff without feeling nostalgic and sometimes a bit mournful.
Some of it is that we don’t have little kids anymore; some of it is that many of the things I thought I’d need when we moved into this house eleven years ago aren’t useful to me anymore. It’s not just the dress up clothes for toddlers; it’s also my theology books. We are different people moving out of this house than we were moving into it, so it doesn’t make sense to haul who I thought we’d be from one house to the next. We should only bring what serves us best and release the rest.
So, instead of playing “love it or hate it” with our more meaningful objects, I am using a question I learned in seminary that is usually applied to Scripture: “Is this bread or is it stone?” It’s a way of asking “Does this nurture me or weigh me down?” It helps me figure out if I want to carry items forward or if I just feel obligated to keep them.
Another image I am keeping in mind is how heavy luggage feels the longer you carry it. Whenever I travel, I pack way too much in my carry-on satchel. Things that felt absolutely essential, such as three books, multiple snacks and all of my toiletries, feel burdensome by the time I’m in the security line. I spend half the day crossly digging through my overstuffed bag, conveniently forgetting that I’m the one who packed it. Arrivals Anna is often displeased with Departures Anna. I’d like the Annas to work better together so we don’t feel so burdened by what we’ve packed once we land.
And I’m not just talking about possessions. Part of our motivation for moving is to get a fresh start as a smaller family. Since the big kids have gone to college, the remaining four of us have been rambling around in this house missing them. Elizabeth sleeps alone upstairs; the kitchen is much quieter; there are reminders of who we were as a family everywhere. We’re ready to build some new memories in a new house, taking with us what serves us well and releasing anything heavy or burdensome. That way, we’ll have more room in our house and in our hearts for the new things that God will surely do in our lives. We just have to clear out some space.