Updated March 29
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 4: Getting to more difficult areas
– kid’s rooms and toys, electronics, and unfinished projects; the garage, and the attic.
Yikes. That’s a lot to think about. These are where serious emotional landmines can be hidden, and the sheer volume of stuff to handle, sort, clean, cart off and put away can be daunting. There is lots of help available on line – here are a few links to good practical information for these areas.
Getting over mental road blocks can often be the hardest part of delving into these jobs.
If you feel discouraged just thinking about starting on these areas, know that you are not the only one. And know that that letting go of things that no longer bring you satisfaction or joy, or are not useful to you, is a spiritual practice. Go easy on yourself with the harsh self-criticism and guilt, and strive to accomplish something; do not strive to be perfect.
Try these tips when you’re trying to attack an out-of-control area with lots of clutter.
Force yourself to actually look at individual items, even picking them up one by one to help you focus.
Start with the first item you see that you know what to do with. If it’s trash and you’re going to put it in the garbage can, or it belongs in a certain drawer or file elsewhere in the house, grab it and put it in the can you have for trash or the “Relocate” box. You are using the Three Boxes and a Can method, right?
Spread things out a little. Then force yourself to look at individual items. When you’re looking at a pile or stack of stuff, you can be overwhelmed and see the forest rather than the trees.
Pray. Close your eyes and ask God to bless your work for the good of the Kingdom and for your place in it.
Try using these questions to help decide what’s important and what’s not.
- How long has it been since I used this?
- Do I like it?
- Does it work properly – is it broken?
- Do I have more of this kind of thing? How many do I need?
- If I keep this, what will I get rid of to make room for it?
- Can I locate this information somewhere else (probably on the Internet) if I need it?
There are other, mental roadblocks that may be buzzing around in your head, like
I know how to do this, and I should be able to do it, but somehow I just can’t make myself.
I can’t put it away – I’ll never find it again.
I can’t get rid of this. It cost too much!
I don’t know where to put this.
I am afraid I’ll need something right after I get rid of it.
Suggestions for dealing with these issues and more is here
Lent 3: Small areas — junk drawers, night stand, medicine cabinet, the car
Start small, with one particular area. Begin with whatever irritates you most. OR begin with whatever seems the easiest. A simple, manageable job completed quickly will be motivating and rewarding. But start.
- Empty everything from the drawer or cabinet or car and then clean the drawer or cabinet or car.
- To sort items, use the Three Boxes and Can method: one box each for things to keep, to relocate to another room, to give away/sell/recycle, and the can is for trash.
- For the things that don’t fit into any of the sorting guides, use the “hide it” method. Dump the pile into a box or paper bag, tape it shut, label it and hide it for 30 days. If you didn’t miss it, release it to the universe by throwing it away. Don’t peek to try and remember what you might have forgotten. Too scary? Then hide it for 3 months and take another look before getting rid of things – but make sure it is a hard, ruthless look.
- If you need tubs, bins or baskets to tidy the items you keep, measure your drawers, cupboards and shelves before you go to the store. This step is done ONLY after you sorting is complete.
- Clean up items before putting away – the mirrors on make-up compacts, the buttons on the calculator, a new rubber band around the tape measure.
- Take out that trash. No stalling on this important step.
Store the following in the glove compartment: vehicle registration information, proof of insurance, auto club information, notepad, pen, disposable camera (to document an accident), flashlight, tire gauge, owner’s manual, maps. Combine paper napkins, straws and packages of ketchup in Ziploc bags or boxes and store them elsewhere in the car.
An emergency kit includes booster cables, a tire gauge, flares, reflective tape, a help sign, a screwdriver, pliers, a first aid kit, work gloves, a blanket, an old towel or rags, a jug of water and motor oil. An old, clean shower curtain stored in the trunk comes in handy as a cover for a summer picnic table, a drop cloth for changing a tire or a protective tarp
Bathroom and medicine cabinets:
Three bottles of shampoo with 1 inch of product in the bottom? Combine all three into the hand soap dispenser. Get rid of expired prescription and over the counter medicines. Check with your pharmacy or doctor to see if they have medication disposal receptacles. Do not flush unused or expired medications down the toilet as they may contaminate the water system. Consider storing these items in another area of your home where heat and humidity are lower.
More on bathrooms at Organized Bathrooms: Clean and Clutter-Free
Lent 2: Another Easy Week — Food
The purpose of a pantry is to be ready to cook dinner – ideally, several dinners as well as lunch and breakfast through the week. A well-ordered pantry saves money, saves last-minute trips to the grocery store and reduces the 4:30 what-to-fix-for-dinner panic. A pantry, or any food cupboard, serves its purpose best when it’s organized and everything is used regularly.
But this area of our house often goes awry. You know things have gone south into the clutter zone when your pantry is full of food, but
- you look in there and decide you have nothing to eat.
- that you would rather not eat it as long as there are other choices available.
- Even though it is “good to have,” your family doesn’t eat it, and you won’t use it in a normal week.
Working to de-clutter the pantry is fairly easy: toss old food, toss food you won’t eat. If it has expired or has not been used in the last 6-12 months, out it goes (exception: holiday decorating supplies). Duplicates could be consolidated into glass or plastic containers. Pay close attention to bags of grains and flours and discard anything with pantry moths or other kitchen pests. Please bring any fresh, edible food you find to the church for the Loaves and Fishes basket.
How long do spices last? According to McCormick,
- Seasoning blends: 1-2 years
- Herbs: 1-3 years
- Ground spices: 2-3 years
- Whole spices (such as cinnamon sticks and peppercorns): 3-4 years
- Extracts: 4 years (except for pure vanilla, which lasts indefinitely)
- Herbs and seasonings are food – if they don’t look, smell or taste good, toss.
The same rules apply to the refrigerator and freezer.
- Ketchup: 6 months
- BBQ Sauce: 4 months
- Pure Maple Syrup: 12 months
- Salsa: 3 days (fresh), 1 month (commercially produced, jarred)
- Olives: 2 weeks (canned and jarred, airtight, covered in brine), 1-2 months (from the deli)
- Mustard: 12 months
- Pickles: 1-2 weeks (homemade or barrel), 2 months (commercially produced)
- Jam and Jelly: 6 months
An exellent piece about de-cluttering your kitchen is here. Save Time, Cut Clutter: Kitchen Declutter
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: