Impedimenta are the things that impede our freedom and weigh us down. In this season our challenge at St. John’s is to slough some of that off by getting rid of 40 things in our household during the 40 days of Lent. Our economy and culture demand that we have more stuff to be more like ourselves, but the opposite is true. Kathleen Norris writes to this point in The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work.
I sense that striving for wholeness is, increasingly, a countercultural goal, as fragmented people make for better consumers, buying more bits and pieces – two or more cars, two homes and all that fills them – and outfitting one’s body for a wide variety of identities: business person, homebody, amateur athlete, traveler, theater or sport’s fan. Things exercise a certain tyranny over us. Whenever I am checking bags at an airport, I recall St. Teresa of Avila’s wonderful prayer of praise, “Thank you God for the things I do not own.”
For the next six weeks, we will offer encouragement, information, useful links, and resources of letting go of clutter and cumber that clog our homes and daily living. In doing so, we can make room for right relationship with the items that really do matter to us, and with the people we care for and the God who loves us.
Like all Lenten practices, it is meant to make room for the new life we celebrate in Easter. But general housekeeping is a spiritual practice for the whole year, as tedious as it can often be. Again, Kathleen Norris:
Things are truly baggage, our impedimenta, which must be maintained with work that is menial, steady and recurring. But, like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of its meaning and value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphemistically termed “domestic” work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.
It isn’t always easy, to be sure, to have the kind of faith that fostesr hope when sifting through the piles of paper and mis-matched socks. Keep these things in mind: 1. Prepare to feel worse before you feel better. When you get rid of things, you’ll focus on what you paid or you may feel shame about the money you’ve wasted. Breathe in, and release both the negative feelings and the item to the universe and to God, and then 2. Forgive yourself. When the feelings of shame surface, take a moment to say, “I forgive myself” and then keep going. Finally, if you need it, get help. Do you have a friend who can sit with you while you work? Or who can cart the bags and boxes to the car and haul them away? Companionship can make any job a cheerful one. Just ask the ladies at the Thrift Shop.
And too, as we heard on Ash Wednesday, God is with you, sitting on chair reading a book while you work.
The full text of the reflection from Ash Wednesday is available here.
Let It Go
Lent 1: The Easy Stuff – Clothes
Make three piles: keep, give away, and throw away. Get rid of clothes that:
- Don’t fit or fit poorly. Even the ones you are saving for when you lose weight.
- Are damaged or stained (these go to the trash, not the give-away pile).
- You don’t look or feel good in them.
- The golden rule: If you haven’t worn something in a year then out it goes regardless of condition, price or size. If you haven’t worn it during the year, you probably never will. Exceptions: good suit or dress for weddings or funerals, or other occasional events. But be very honest with yourself on this one.
- The fact that you were given something as a gift or bought it on sale doesn’t mean that it’s worth keeping. There’s no shame in getting rid of something that doesn’t add anything to your wardrobe. Sentimental clothes that you aren’t wearing should not reside in your closet. Either take a picture of it and preserve the memory or limit yourself to one tote of “clothes to show my kids so they can laugh at me someday.”
- If it’s waiting to be mended and it’s been waiting for a long time then enough is enough already. If you hate to iron and your ironing pile sits there totally neglected while you wear all your favorite clothing over and over again, why do you still have an ironing pile?
- Try things on. Do not hold something up and say “Oh this is so beautiful I’m going to keep it.” What you might not remember is that, although it’s beautiful, the buttons gape at the front.
- Block out some time to do this all at once, or you can do this a parcel at a time, such as one drawer, one shelf or one tote a day, or work for 30 minutes a day until done. Make shopping list as you go if you need to replace items.
There are many good websites with this and additional information: