I have to admit I haven’t read or watched anything about tidying up my house lately and from the state of my social media feeds lately, I think I might be the only one.
I have a complicated relationship with the concept of giving away your stuff. A little over a year ago, my husband, two children, and I packed most of our physical life away and brought 10 suitcases with us to our new home in South Asia. We gave a lot away, threw a lot out, and held onto much of the practical and sentimental things we owned, knowing we would come back to the U.S. eventually. We would buy the big items we needed locally.
It felt like a good purge when we were packing. I am a highly organized person by nature, so Marie Kondo’s decluttering would normally appeal to me. But as I live in the tension of minimalism and consumerism, I don’t want to be fooled into thinking owning less means more joy. We downsized for practical reasons, but I’m finding it is my heart that needs an overhaul.
We moved to a country where the average person lives on $1 to $2 a day. We were no strangers to this concept. In fact, we were going to work for a nonprofit that works in economic development and education. But daily living with and loving the poor is different than seeing them as people who need a solution.
Oh, there are plenty of foreigners and local people alike who live far beyond even our means. Some gawk at us when we talk about taking the local bus. How could we not have a car and driver like all the other foreigners? But though we live with fewer possessions than we did in the U.S., we still have more than most of our neighbors by far.
In the West, this is still true. We are richer than most of the world and even many in our neighborhoods, but it is easier there to insulate ourselves from this reality. In the U.S., we know where “the wrong side of the tracks” is and how to avoid it. We segregate our classes, and it is easy to look the other way.
Here, we have no choice but to see. In the home of a friend who is upper class, holds a master’s degree and a good job, we look out the window to see a row of tin houses. Slums and high-rises coexist. The other day my son said he has never seen someone begging in the U.S. He has — what he means is he has never seen a mother with a baby literally dragging herself across the dirty street to tug on his clothing.
There is a growing unease rolling around in my gut. In comparison to what we had in the house in the suburbs we sold, we have a lot less. But it still feels like too much.
A pang of guilt hit me when the kids opened the Christmas presents their grandparents sent. We don’t need these things. We made them give away some old toys to make way for the new. We threw away some that were broken beyond repair. There is a precious lady we adore who cleans our house. (It is culturally expected to hire someone and thought as selfish if you can provide a job for someone and don’t. We see her as family). She took the broken toys out of the trash and home to her daughter. I felt sick.
It didn’t help that I had just finished reading Shannan Martin’s Falling Free, her story of trading middle-class Christianity for physically less in an urban home but relationally gaining so much more. Martin’s words kept ringing in my ears about the change that would occur… “if we knew to our core we already had enough. A shift like this could have a sweeping impact on global poverty, local lack, and especially the cultural rift between the church and a world that has lost the will to connect with her. More than anything, I believe the biggest change would happen in the chambers of my own greedy heart.”
Her family didn’t just declutter their homes. She didn’t ask, what brings me joy? She asked “if I believe my less ensures someone else’s more, what else could I possibly need to know?” Ironically, joy is just what they found. But it wasn’t in a tidy home. It was in a home filled with complicated relationships and deeper trust in God.
My unease grows, because we will return to suburban America to a 40-foot shipping container sitting there full of all we own. We will again need to decide what is enough and how to love our neighbors well. And even if we gave away every last thing, we could still do it all wrong. The challenge is finding ways to look at what we have and what we acquire with different eyes, with a different heart.
Whether we fill a home with stuff or give it all away, if our focus is still on us, we are just tidying up. We are not being transformed by Christ’s enough. We need to live in such a way that others can have joy, can have enough.