A Spiritual Spring Cleaning: The Surprising Ways Decluttering Enriched My Faith Life

Woman carrying pile of folded sweatersWhen a rich man asked Jesus what he should do to attain eternal life, the Son of God replied: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). 

Would we be able to do this?

If I’m honest with myself, I would probably say to Jesus, “I will absolutely follow you! But… Can I at least take my journal and the pen my parents gave me for my doctoral graduation? Oh, and my engagement and wedding rings? And the drawing my little niece gave me? And my book collection? And…”

While I’m half joking, I do have emotional attachments to some material things, especially those with sentimental or familial value, like the original oil painting of a forest my parents gave me from Poland; the American Girl dolls my sister and I played with; or the copper bracelet with Psalm 23:1-3 inscribed on it that my husband made for me. 

But I also own things that simply take up space. 

We all have it: Stuff, junk, trinkets. Things collected on our travels, items purchased while window shopping, or gifts received that we no longer use. They clutter our houses. Everywhere, things we don’t really need, but keep anyway.

RELATED: Does It Spark Joy? Applying Marie Kondo’s Lessons to My Faith Life

I’m not a hoarder, but I do have a lot of things that clutter my shelves while masquerading as decor. Some of these are simple dust collectors; others are attached to memories but can be let go. After all, it’s not the object that brings us joy but the experience that we remember and hold dear to our hearts. 

A few months ago, I picked up the book “Eager to Love by Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. I was particularly interested in learning more deeply about Franciscan spirituality beyond “bird bath” St. Francis. In “Eager to Love,” I learned how St. Francis and St. Clare lived lives of true poverty. They did not want any possessions, any material connections to the world. The realization that material things can build a wall between us and God let St. Francis and St. Clare detach themselves so that they actually were drawing themselves closer to the divine.

I wanted to do the same. 

With spring nearly upon us, I decided to do some spring cleaning. And I learned that the process  is not just good for your home but also for your soul.

We can enact the virtue of charity by giving to others in need.

I was surprised to see how much “stuff” I had that was still in excellent condition: Clothes that were ill-fitting or not my style anymore, purses I used infrequently, and dog harnesses that my puppy had outgrown. These were all things that I set aside for charity. It helped to organize my stuff in piles of things I will still use, things I might use, and things I won’t use. I tried to reframe my perspective by focusing on the items’ use to me – whether functional or sentimental – rather than my desire for them. It felt good to clear out what I really didn’t need, creating space in my closets. It also felt good to fill boxes of items I could load in my car and drive up to Graymoor’s That Nothing Be Lost” Thrift & Antique Shop, where all proceeds go to St. Christopher’s Inn, a Franciscan Friars of the Atonement rehabilitation facility for men in recovery.

RELATED: Lessons in Simplifying Your Stuff

Chucking the junk in our lives can help clarify our goals and hearts’ desires.

By poring through all my possessions, I realized that I didn’t need a lot to be happy. In fact, I felt happier getting rid of unnecessary items and focusing on the things that were most important – items that helped me remember happy memories, helped me heal past hurts, and helped inspire me in my creative efforts, which I believe is God’s calling for me. I craved a simple life, and living simply, to me, meant paring down to the necessities. Some people would call that “minimalism,” but for me, it was really about focusing less on what was around me and more of what was within me. St. Francis and St. Clare were right – when we detach from the material world, our inner spiritual worlds ignite. We can see God more clearly. I came to understand how true faith, love, and joy stem from an intimate relationship with him. No “thing” would ever be able to give me the same inner peace that God’s grace does.

We can rid ourselves of any idols that distract us from the Lord.

Society constantly tells us that success means big houses, fancy cars, and anything that shows you have more. But all these things – and, more importantly, the desire for them – distract us from what is really at the core of our existence: love for God and for one another. A desire for more and more competes with our desire for the Lord. That’s why getting rid of things felt so liberating – I was no longer distracted. Things didn’t seem as important, as necessary, as relevant for me. I felt more in touch with the Lord than ever before.

This process helped me realize that, if the Lord called me to follow him today, I would be more prepared to do so. 

I hope you can engage in some spring cleaning this season, too. Not only of your home, but also of your heart. We should do the same type of cleaning in our spirits – shedding any hurts, grudges, sins, temptations we might have. Lent is a perfect time to engage in this introspection and cleaning, so we can be as pure as possible for the Lord’s Easter Resurrection. 

Originally Published March 21, 2022.