Every April, I think a lot about spring cleaning. Visions of closets filled with neatly organized bins in trendy designs dance in my mind. I picture my desk completely cleaned off with only a few tidy, colored-coordinated piles. I even smile thinking about wiping down the miles of wood baseboards in our 1920s home.
But thinking about it is as far as it goes. At the end of the day, the task is just too daunting because I have way too much stuff. I have a room full of crafting supplies, a closet filled with an embarrassing number of clothes, and boxes of books that never got unpacked after our last move.
To overcome this annual spring-cleaning paralysis, I decided to try something new this year—a fast loosely based on Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. For all 46 days of Lent, I limited myself to wearing 15 items of clothing. I pulled out all my clothes and went through them, first narrowing them down to 30 can't-live-without items; then 18. Cutting those last three items hurt, but as I stared at the tiny pile of clothing, I felt a strange sense of relief. Turning to see the pile of my leftover clothes, was overwhelming. I am too embarrassed to admit the number of items that were left. Knowing they'd be a temptation to me, I packed them up and put them in the attic.
The message of most spring cleaning articles is that it doesn't matter how much stuff you have as long as it's organized in beautiful bins and boxes and shelving units, because simplicity comes from organization. But it seems God's way of spring cleaning involves having a lot less stuff to begin with. In the parable in Luke 12:13–21, a rich farmer has run out of room for all his crops. So he decides he must learn to organize better (sounds familiar, right?). He tears down his barns to build even bigger ones so he can keep all his crops, sit back, and take it easy. But Jesus says, "Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own." Later he calls the farmer a fool "to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God."
Seeing my empty closet had an unexpected effect: my mind cleared, and I felt focused. Like my spending fast, limiting my clothing was freeing and fun at first. I felt closer to God, and I spent more time on important things rather than choosing my outfits and buying new clothes (after all, why buy something new if you can't wear it!). But about 20 days into it, I was tired of my chosen items. People stopped commenting on how cute my clothes were. I started getting nervous that my coworkers might wonder if I really was washing my clothes between wearings. One time I even accidentally wore the same shirt twice in one week (Gasp!).
As I started looking forward to Easter, I determined that I'd donate most of my clothes that were packed away in the attic. After all, I'd survived without them this long. But when I unpacked those boxes on Good Friday, it was like seeing old friends. It was much more difficult than I thought. So I prayed through the process, and chose to add only a few items back into my closet.
Most everything else was donated to Goodwill or given to friends. A few items I just couldn't part with yet, so I packed them up and set an alarm on my phone to reconsider the items in a few months.
As a result of my clothing fast, I'm learning to hold things more loosely, and I'm considering my purchases thoroughly. How sad it would be to focus on accumulating and organizing while missing out on the one thing that truly matters: a relationship with Jesus. The result is a spring cleaning of my heart and mind, and a renewed closeness with Christ.
To learn more about practicing simplicity, check out The Search for Simplicity.