Giving Up Clutter for Lent: An Empty-Nester Story

Lent, Easter, what are you giving up for Lent, the 40 Bag Lent declutter challenge

I’m giving up clutter for Lent.

What are you giving up? One of the standard vices like candy, alcohol, or meat? Maybe take off a few pounds by vowing to give up carbs? This year, some of the usual “vices” some of us let go of for the 40 days before Easter seem like a reprise of our failed New Year’s resolutions. So this year, I’ve asked myself — is it time to get jiggy with some serious spring cleaning?

You know, I think it is!

Traditionally, the Catholic Church has required three things during Lent as a way to prepare for the celebration of Easter: prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. Prayer will put you quickly and easily in touch with the Divine, almsgiving will put you in touch with your community, but fasting? Fasting can just put you in a bad mood, in touch with your weakest self. I love to make grand plans for Lent, but taking them to the street to make it happen is a lot harder than it sounds when I’m making plans.

One popular idea – instead of giving up candy – is to let go of  your very own personal clutter. Tackle all the mess you’ve made over the years with the goal of taking a bag of stuff out of your house every day during Lent. If it’s trash, trash it. If it can be recycled, recycle it. And if someone can use clothes you’re not wearing, bag ‘em up and get ‘em out of your house and into the hands of someone who needs clothes. 40 bags of stuff out the door – one bag out the door for every day in Lent.

I like this idea. But I worry that it would very quickly become just another New Year’s resolution. I’d get maybe one, maybe two bags in and decide it was too hard, too time consuming, that it would compete with my need to watch Law and Order SVU reruns on my couch. I like the idea of de-cluttering much more than the act of de-cluttering. The trouble is, I’ve already put a link to this 40 bag project on Facebook so my peeps might think I could do it when I’m not so sure I can.

Maybe it’s de-nesting that’s really at stake here. I remember when I was pregnant, years ago. I read all about the “nesting” urge and how you’d know you were about to deliver when you wanted nothing so much as to wash windows and dust the ceiling fans. I joked at the time that I’d recognize that urge by just wanting to hire somebody to clean for me. I wanted to focus on the baby, not the nest and it worked out fine. True, we didn’t have a crib when I gave birth to my daughter, but I doubt she remembers.

But maybe de-nesting is something you do as your children grow up and start making that first noise about leaving you to start their own homes and their own families. I bet the appeal of the “40 Bags” is probably strongest among women whose children are older and about to leave all those nests we all built for them. We brought in cribs and bedding, toys and books, rockers and toy chests, and clothes for all seasons. All that nest building is hard to stop.

I keep things.

I have books I have not opened in 30 years and if I used a different coffee mug every day, it would be a month before I repeated one. A good bit of this need to keep is fear. I fear I could need something tomorrow if I give it away today.  I fear I need the object to call up the memory, like the high school textbooks I still have on my shelves. If I lose the object will the memory degrade to the point where it is no longer clear or present?

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So, I am going to embrace the 40 Bag challenge with my daughter. She has already printed out the sheet that allows you to plan how you are going to tackle each day of the challenge. Some days when you don’t have stuff to move out, you can sort computer files or your finances. I like that a lot. At the end of the exercise, maybe I will be a little lighter, have a smaller carbon footprint, be a little better organized, and spend a little more time with my beautiful daughter.

So for this Lent, it’s time to give up giving up and just clean your house every day until Easter. With this plan, I may never give up chocolate again!

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