Our voices echo off bare walls in the nearly empty walk-in closet in the guest bedroom as we box up the last of the Christmas sweaters, the fashion mistakes and the shirts we’ve grown tired of. Off to Interfaith Ministries and the refugee families who need them more than we do. Also off to IM: the Pottery Barn table and chairs that graced my dining room in Arlington when I was single; the ramshackle shelves from the garage as well as wood shelves and metal pegs from IKEA office furniture, minus instructions for assembly; and the upholstered chairs from Fred’s cousin Marj, threadbare and covered in dog hair.
As the guys from IM cram our castoffs into the small white van, I ask the driver, “Do you really want these chairs? I can’t get the hair off.” He replies, “When you have nothing, any chair is a gift.”
Do I think of everything that I have as a gift?
To Guild Shop consignment go the crystal goblets from an aunt I never knew and the boxed silverplate flatware from the Jones’ side of the family. Fred takes the outdated computers, phones, and spent batteries to the recycling center. We lug a couple more boxes to Half Price Books.
It’s a game, this downsizing, and we are fortunate to have the resources to buy what we need and give away what we don’t. It’s a Lenten discipline we’re practicing this Advent, a giving up and a cleaning up, making room for the coming King. It’s an acknowledgment of how we tend to fill the empty places with stuff, any stuff, and how we sometimes keep up with the Joneses, even when we are the Joneses. And maybe it’s also in response to the political message of the day: a reminder that for many of us, American birth affords privilege the rest of the world will never know.
The bigger game is to figure out what it takes to live. Not just survive, but to live productively, to live intentionally.
We’re pretty sure it doesn’t take a Viking range, a walk-in shower for two or a flat screen above the fireplace. But does it require driving a hybrid, growing vegetables, shopping locally? Would a smaller house, not just less stuff, mean more time and money for those things that really matter like loving our neighbors? Would less housework mean more time for friends? What would it mean to sit around together some evenings with a glass of wine just listening to music?
The images here are of Houston’s Beer Can House. The owner, a retired upholsterer, started to transform his house and yard in 1968, using recyclables including marbles, rocks and tens of thousands of beer cans. A fun pastime, an environmental coup (he lowered his utility bills with an aluminum veneer), or a work of art: who’s to say.
The question is not whether we buy a new computer or give away an old couch. The bottom line is that we’re trying to figure out what we’ve been given to do in the world, and then how to clear a path to it. It’s our very own ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord,’ a readying ‘to do the work he has given us to do,’ as we say in the post communion prayer every Sunday. It’s about loving dogs, and writing, and facilitating groups, and coaching. It’s about clearing away the clutter – in our home and in our lives – so that we don’t miss what really matters. And it’s about understanding that everything around us is a gift for us to use. We’re trying to live intentionally and productively. That’s what we’re working on that this Advent season. Will you join us?