Dare of the day: open one overstuffed drawer of your desk, dresser or vanity, and count the number of individual items in it. A dozen? Two dozen? Too many to count? You are not alone. Many of us are feeling weighed down by mass-produced junk, bought on impulse and paid for with credit, which all too quickly either falls apart or gets forgotten.
Jesus says the inside of us should be as clean as the outside (see Matthew 23:25). This applies to our possessions, too. If our closets are cluttered, chances are our hearts are too. We’ve all heard the phrase, “less is more,” but you may not have realized it’s an Amish one. So maybe it’s time to consider this phrase again and look at some practical ways to live it out everyday.
Keep Stuff Out
When we moved to a town house last year, we saw it as a chance to donate things we no longer needed to the local refugee ministry. But getting rid of stuff is a short-term solution; keeping things out of the house in the first place is the cure.
One tactic is to avoid temptations. To this end, my husband Matthew and I receive very few catalogs in the mail. Every year or so, I visit the Direct Marketing Association website (www.dmachoice.org) and Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.org) to take our names off any mailing lists we no longer want to be on. It takes only a few minutes, and it greatly reduces the stream of junk mail we receive. I also save any catalogs that do make it to our mailbox and call the 800 number to ask to be removed from their mailing lists.
The same goes for email newsletters. Inboxes are already crowded enough without a constant stream of eblasts telling you about this or that great sale “that ends today!” Spend some time over the next week unsubscribing from newsletters and promotional eblasts. And be diligent about unchecking any subscription boxes when you purchase or sign up for things online.
Invest in Quality
The things Matthew and I have in our home are mostly handcrafted and durable—items we can pass along to our children and to their children.
The Amish understand longevity is a form of sustainability. In the end, things that do not have to be replaced require fewer resources and cause less wear and tear on the bank account and on the earth that God created to sustain us all.
Make the Kitchen the Heart of Your Home
The kitchen in our town house is smaller than any I have had since our pre-kid days. Yet I produce more meals from this kitchen than at any time in my life. During a typical week, we host several gatherings with friends, neighbors and colleagues—ranging from three people to 20 or more. In addition, Friday night is family night, when our grown children often also invite their friends to our table.
Most of us are familiar with the parable of the wedding banquet told in Matthew 22:1-14. A king invites guests to a great feast. But when the time comes, most of the guests who sent in a positive RSVP find themselves too busy with business meetings or piano recitals or the big game on TV to show up. Jesus is making the point that God has prepared a feast for each of us—eternal life—yet many of us get too consumed with the busyness of existence to accept his grace-filled invitation.
It is no accident Jesus uses a meal to illustrate his point. The parable is not only about eternal life but also about life here on earth. And it is not just about how to be a good guest but how to become a welcoming host. Three times a day, 21 times a week, we are given opportunities to act like the King. We are to invite all to our table, not only family and those who can reciprocate, but especially the single mother, the exchange student or the disabled person in our pews.
Clean Out Your Bedroom Closets
Matthew is ruthless when it comes to his closet—if he has not worn something in the past year, it gets donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. For speaking events, he wears outfit A (a gray suit) or outfit B (khaki pants, white shirt and sports coat). Pretty much the rest of the time, it’s outfit B minus the sports coat. The end result is that clothes take up very little room in his closet—or his thoughts.
Few of us today have the talent or skill to sew our own clothes like the Amish. Yet even so, the Amish probably spend considerably fewer total hours on their wardrobes than the average person in America. Staying up with the dos and don’ts, driving to the mall, returning clothes that don’t fit, and shopping on the Internet sap our time and energy. As one of my favorite poets, William Wordsworth, said more than a century ago, “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”
And that’s what the fashion industry is to the Amish—not only a waste, but a distraction from the family, friends and faith that really (should) matter.
Clean Out Your Vanity
The average American family spends $55 to $85 per month on toiletries. I would be surprised if our family spent $85 a year, even though I try to buy natural and organic products, which tend to cost more per ounce. I just don’t buy most of the products big business tries to convince us we need to stay clean, beautiful and young. That means no hair dyes. No special anti-aging creams (OK, almost none). All my makeup fits in one small pencil case. My blow dryer is a vintage 1970s model—the Vidal Sassoon my mom bought back when the Dorothy Hamill bob became the rage. It’s large and awkward and shaped like a dangerous weapon, but, hey—if it ain’t broke, why replace it?
Of course the Amish would not even own a hair dryer, and they don’t wear any makeup at all. But I think they (and Hasidic Jews, who dress rather similarly) are the prettiest women around. One of the most charming—and rare—qualities is being beautiful without knowing it.
While speaking at a church in Texas, Matthew met a woman who admitted to spending three hours in front of the mirror each morning. Maybe it doesn’t take you that long to get out the door, but we could try cutting back our grooming routine by 25 percent. And emptying a drawer or two in our vanities. (There’s that word again!)
Organize Your Attic, Garage and Basement
Because our family has moved several times in the last decade, we don’t store a mound of little-used stuff in our attic, garage and basement. Each of the children has one “memory box,” filled with school photos and small mementoes from when they were little. Matthew has his tools—just the bare bones for carpentry and household maintenance—and I have a few gardening supplies—nothing fancy, just a shovel, hoe, rake, gloves and a couple of spades. The sports equipment fits in one plastic tub. We own a few suitcases for travel, the pressure cooker and some canning equipment and our root cellar/pantry to save trips to the store—that’s pretty much it. The attic is for insulation, nothing else.
And while very occasionally I will miss something that Matthew has given away, mostly I’m thankful my husband prevents me from becoming a hoarder. “If someone else can use it now, why should we store it for someday?” is his frequent refrain.
The Almost Amish Way
Too easily, our lives become filled with stuff that can become false idols, tempting us to break the first of the Ten Commandments. The Amish believe we should own possessions instead of letting possessions own us. And while most of us will never become Amish, all of us might benefit from de-cluttering our lives … and becoming a little more almost Amish.The Amish understand longevity is a form of sustainability. In the end, things that do not have to be replaced require fewer resources and cause less wear and tear on the bank account and on the earth that God created to sustain us all.