THE LESSON OF LESS
They say the line “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” isn’t in the Bible, but maybe it should be. Just google “decluttering,” and you’ll find a whole bunch of websites and books clamoring on about the virtue of having less. Take a look at some of these titles:
Keep What You Love
Decluttering Your Life
Self-love and Decluttering
The Clutter Connection
The Sentimental Person’s Guide to Decluttering
Keep This, Toss That
Then there’s my personal favorite: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. There’s something about tidiness and cleanliness that makes people feel holy and blessed.
The Bible may not explicitly equate cleanliness with godliness, but it gets awfully close. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal,” Jesus famously preached in his Sermon on the Mount, “but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It doesn’t take much imagination to see how decluttering and tidying up can help us follow Jesus’ recommendation here.
The other day, my family took a trip to Costco. That store is the opposite of decluttering, and because everything is bigger at Costco, that means the clutter you get takes up even more space. So, you can imagine my face when we walk in and Emma goes bonkers over this two-foot-tall Squishmallow. Despite Sara and I trying to talk her out of it, Emma insisted this is what she wanted to use her Christmas money to buy. And so, after multiple lines of clearly superior argumentation, we decided to pick our battle and caved. Now a beanbag-sized, neon pink stuffed cat lives in our house and takes up more space in Emma’s bed than even she does!
No wonder I’ve been thinking about decluttering. Since virtually our beginning as Christians, we’ve preached the virtue of having fewer things and thus hopefully loving fewer things. Consider the vows of poverty monks and nuns have taken for centuries. “Less is more,” Jesus effectively told his disciples, and we’ve been playing with that idea for ages. The British theologian, John Stott, once referred to this as the wisdom of simplicity:
“Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment. Its motto is, ‘We brought nothing into this world, and we can certainly carry nothing out.’ It recognizes that we are pilgrims. It concentrates us on what we need, and measures this by what we use. It rejoices in the good things of creation, but hates waste and greed and clutter. It knows how easily the seed of the Word is smothered by the ‘cares and riches of this life.’ It wants to be free of distractions, in order to love and serve God and others.”
Honestly, I don’t know if this Squishmallow is going to distract us from loving and serving God and others. I hope not. But it does remind me of how much our lives are so often centered around getting more. It may be material things or even our penchant for accumulating new experiences and new relationships. None of these things is necessarily bad, of course, but each and every one of them has the potential to distract us from what is truly good.
So, if you’re struggling with greed and clutter, or if all the things you buy at Costco and all your dreams of lying on the beach seem to be taking up more and more of your thoughts each day, you might remember what Jesus told his disciples there on that mountain: Less is more; love God and others, not things; enjoy life, not possessions.
Take on the virtue of simplicity, and who knows? Maybe it really will lead you to godliness.