Purging Away the Stuff

piles of boxesI am currently in the midst of my fifth move in ten years. Through life changes and the itinerant ministry system I’m a part of as a United Methodist pastor, periodic moving has become part of my lifestyle. I always hear people complain about the pain and hassle of moving, and I’m feeling that pain pretty badly right now. If it wasn’t for all this stuff, moving would be so much easier, of course.

Last night I went through one of the more painful aspects of our impending move: purging. I have stuff boxed up that I haven’t gone through since the last move. Some of it has been boxed up for several moves. Then it dawned on me that I can’t keep schlepping around boxes of unopened stuff. All that stuff has to get moved and stored and most likely, eventually moved again. Why keep doing that? So… it was definitely time for a good purge, a major downsizing of the stuff I’ve got.

That was easier said than done. I had been putting off the dreaded purge for months now. I was not looking forward to the physical energy it would take to go through it all. But even more, I dreaded the enormous emotional energy it would take. I didn’t want to know what I would find. And I feared having to make the hard choices of what to throw away and keep.

With a bulk trash pick-up scheduled for this morning, the purge had to be done. And so, I spent the evening on into the early morning hours opening boxes, sorting through the contents, throwing away or deciding to donate most of it, and boxing only the essentials. There were things from every stage of my life- infancy, childhood, teen years, and my young adult years. A good portion of those things were from former seasons of my life that no longer reflect where I am now. Those things were a bit easier to let go. Some things had been with me my since my childhood, like school awards and pictures, scouting memorabilia, projects I had done. Most of that I was able to tenderly let go when I realized that the lessons, honors, and memories they represent are already within me.


This morning, I looked at the large pile of garbage bags and boxes sitting on the curb waiting to be picked up, and I felt a heaviness in my gut, thinking that this pile represents so much of my life. But then again, that’s not the full picture. My life is me, the person looking at the curbside pile. Just as important, my life is the web of relationships I have with Jesus, my family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. I leaned quite heavily on that reality as I sorted through my stuff, and leaned on it again when I turned away from that pile.
Jesus said,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)

There are a number of ways to understand what Jesus is saying. In our context, Jesus’ teaching is used most often to rail against our consummate materialism and obsession with accumulating and hoarding things. For me, Jesus’ teaching navigates my heart towards where my treasure really lies. And it’s not that pile of boxes and bags on the curbside. My best treasures will never end up moth-eaten, broken or discarded; they will be with me now and always. They are my experiences with Christ in and through myself and others.

The gift of purging reminded me yet again of my true keepsakes. While it was a painful lesson to have to re-learn– the best, most enduring lessons always are!– I’m grateful for yet another treasure to accumulate that will follow me straight into the life to come. This time, it’s the treasure of perspective and of course, a lot less clutter to worry about…


Filed under Spiritual Growth and Practice

8 Responses to Purging Away the Stuff

  1. Edmund Metheny

    Sophie just pointed out to me that you have forgotten the up side of this process. Every time you move, you also discover things that you haven’t seen since the last move, and are like “Cool, I thought I had lost this!” or “Wow! I had forgotten all about this!”

  2. We all swear that we have to stop being pack rats when we move…. On the flip side, we also find stuff we’s lost since the previous move, and we get so excited, like we found a treasure! “I thought I’d lost that forever!” ^_^

  3. Edmund Metheny

    Sophie – you owe me a coke.

  4. You guys are so right. In fact that also happened– discovering things I had forgotten were there, and getting some joy from that. Of course, that made it all the more difficult to part with some of those things. (I had gone in with a guiding attitude that if these things had been out of sight and out of mind for 6 years, I didn’t need them anyway. That proved to be mostly true, albeit painfully.) But, the sense of liberation is setting in more, too. That’s my consolation prize, along with the comfort of knowing that I don’t have to move and store all this stuff any more!

  5. Reblogged this on Prodigal Chick and commented:
    Most appreciated message. Seems this is a season for purging for a lot of us.

  6. Dawn King

    Moving is a hard job but like you said you clean out your “life” everything old becomes new again I feel that way when we move I always held on to everything with the memories and thought of one day I will need that~ So wrong when you have to down side you have to go out with the old! Memories are held in your heart and yes sometimes it does sting but just think of all the wonderful new things you can now get 🙂 ………….

  7. markwalt

    I guess I’m not a very sentimental guy. I kind of like the purge. When I got divorced, I moved into a townhouse shared with other guys, and I took my truck, my mattress, my computers, my clothes, and a few other things. I left as much behind as she would allow, and threw out a lot of stuff.
    Then I moved to New York City area to move in with a woman, and took even less, donating some furniture to the house.
    When I moved to the Seattle area (into another town house with roommates) from New York, I shipped exactly four moving boxes and a TV, and went on the train with a duffel back and a backpack full of clothes and some electronics.
    When I moved into Laura’s, I donated my TV to the townhouse, donated the bed I had purchased to my mother, donated all my pots and pans to the house, and took only that which would fit into the back seat of a ’94 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
    I find the purge to be cleansing. But I’m weird.

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