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Get Tough On Clutter

By T. Ray Rachels

Because I am always interested in simplifying my life and managing time well, I read an article that pounded home a get-tough policy on throwing things away.

“Don’t let clutter pile up,” it said. If it’s on your desk and not absolutely essential to your life, put it in the wastebasket. Be brutal. “You must never allow sentiment to get in the way of eliminating everything but the necessary.”

Good advice, I thought to myself. Toss it out, no matter how it hurts — do it, and you will be on your way to a bright new day of effective executive efficiency. Kill off that stash of memorabilia. Clean your desk, the garage, and clear out that closet stuff and attic junk. Do it with willpower that will not take no for an answer. Run the race without baggage.

I carefully read it again and felt strong motivation, realizing that I had come across the idea many times before.But, I thought, the idea is such a good one; all it needs is some old fashioned personal commitment on my part. I’ll do it. Soon.

Soon came sooner than I expected.

It was the day after Thanksgiving. Judy and I were rummaging for Christmas stuff that was packed in the back of the closets and attic. She was handing me boxes that had been buried in the attic since the beginning of time — long forgotten and dusty. These were ancient cartons of Christmases past — things to go through, just junk, no doubt.

Judy said to me, as if to add some leadership to this exercise, “Go through this stuff, check it out, and let’s toss it all into the trash unless there’s something here we really want to keep.”

Ah, I thought, just the assignment I have been looking for. Stand back and give me some room.

I plunged in with the newfound commitment I had gotten from reading the night before. Throw it away; you don’t need it, kept ringing in my ears.

A trip to the garage and I recovered the largest trash bag money can buy. Putting it aside, I readied myself for an exercise in efficiency. I began going through the stuff. What a rich resource of junk to get rid of.

Long lost treasures began to appear. Memories — things that told what happened back then.

Throw those away? That?

I felt a stab of pain.

There were stacks of old canceled checks from the 1960s and 70s. Greeting cards appeared from old friends. Scraps of wood were there, end-pieces a person might need someday. I found a few rocks brought home from a vacation. I then came across some good string. This discovery led to four or five pieces of rope of excellent quality and strength, an old album cover, and assorted papers showing various kinds of work that had been done. It was exciting to come across such historic, long lost valuables.

How could anyone part with these treasures? If I threw this stuff away, it would be gone forever. The world would never know. People forget, remember. Besides, this was really good stuff.

Judy was in another room working on something else. But I had my assignment: Be brutal no matter how much it hurts, keep only what’s absolutely essential.

Let it go, Rachels. Simplify your life.

I was trying, but it was tough.

Judy came by the trash bag, ready to view the results of my attic pruning. Impressed by all that was laying out ready for termination, she asked, “Honey, are you taking care of all that junk?”

I flashed the smile of a fellow who knows something, and answered, “Yes, darling. I’m taking care of it.”

It was true.

After she had gone, I carefully — so nothing would tear or be lost — loaded those priceless artifacts into three boxes instead of the original five. The fourth and fifth old boxes I crumpled and crammed into my garbage bag. We would probably never need those old boxes again anyway, so why keep them. Something has to go, I reasoned, and it may as well be these two old boxes — since they’re empty and all.

I kept all the stuff. A person never knows when he might need a good memory, and good memories are so hard to come by. I know where some of mine can be found. They’re safe, put away for good, or at least until the next time I decide to get tough on clutter; to simplify my life; or get an executive urge to throw away everything but what is necessary — no matter how much it hurts.

Regardless, that stuff had a close call last Thanksgiving.

A large measure of our success in Christian living and ministry is a responsible knowledge of what to keep and what to throw away.

Packed away in our flesh and self-centeredness is clutter — stuff that ought to go, but more often than not is too delicious to root out. It is kept there — unnoticed, boxed away — until anger, jealously, or temptation calls it forth.

The time to clean out your mind and heart is always now.

The moment to decide to get tough on sin and spiritual infancy is always now.

The time for renewing your mind with God’s healing presence is always now.

It doesn’t matter what happened back then, whether it was disappointment or enchantment; the possibility of beginning fresh today, of wiping the slate clean of everything that can weigh down the rest of your journey, is a choice you — only you — can make.

You can blame the church board. You can nurse a grudge against someone you think did you wrong. You can feast on a bitterness from the past, rolling every morsel over your tongue. Your flesh will rejoice and ask for more. But your spirit — the wonderful life God waits to give you — will be stifled — dead — killed by refusing to throw out the beast, beaten because you insist on being blind to the beauties of life and have turned away God’s gift of grace and peace. Christ came to put life and joy in you in place of spiritual death and despair.

Hope, health, a healed life, and happiness are what we need to box up and put away. Treasure these things. But we will never have these treasures without an intentional moment when we reach out and say yes to a Heavenly Father who is already reaching out to us.

Simplify your life. Lighten your load. Let go and let God. You will be in good hands, and your ministry will feel again the spiritual wind beneath your wings.

T. RAY RACHELS, currently executive presbyter for The General Council of the Assemblies of God, Southwest Region, and former Southern California District superintendent, 1988–2010.

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