When I was in seminary in Chicago, my family of four lived in a 600 square foot apartment. We had too much stuff, our home was always a mess, there weren’t enough places to put things. We later moved to Iowa City for my wife’s grad school, and apparently space is less expensive there, because we moved into a house that was like, 800,000 square feet or something.
I told my friends, “This is incredible – we have so much room, we’ll never fill it up.”
They all responded, “Oh yes, you will. You will accumulate so much crap you’ll be in the same bind you were in back in Chicago.”
To prove them wrong, I claimed a drawer in the kitchen. It was my empty drawer. Nothing went in this drawer, because it was the empty drawer. I showed it off to guests: “Look, I have this lovely drawer. Nothing ever goes in it, because it’s the empty drawer.”
And all my nay-saying friends were vanquished. I did not fill up the big house with stuff.
Then, after four years, my family (now a family of five) moved back to Chicago, and we got a house that is much bigger than our first apartment, but much smaller than the Iowa City house.
I’d like to tell you that when we moved in, I saved an empty drawer here as I finished unpacking. But the truth is, in three years I haven’t finished unpacking. There are boxes in my attic that I haven’t opened since we came back to town, because there’s nowhere to go with what’s inside them.
There is no empty drawer in my house today.
Here in Chicago I’ve realized that I can’t expect to get a bigger house just because I have too much stuff. It’s not the size of the container that’s the problem, it’s the amount of stuff I try to put in it.
Here comes the LIKEWISE:
It’s not the length of a day that’s the problem, it’s the number of tasks we try to accomplish between dawn and dusk.
It’s not the capacity of the mind or the frailty of the psyche that is the problem, it’s the number and intensity of the expectations and pressures and worry that we hold.
Sometimes the house is too small, but it’s not the house’s fault.
So I’d like to say, that if, sometime, you take stock of your life, and you come to the indisputable realization that you have too much stuff, don’t despair. Maybe you have too much work, or too many family dynamics you’re trying to keep from exploding all over everything. Or maybe you just have too many Legos in your bathroom.
If you have too many things you’re holding yourself accountable for, perhaps it’s right to let a few things go. If that’s a frightening proposition, maybe start small, say, a drawer’s worth. Dump it out, and save it for nothing.
You might just find that this empty space is one of your very favorite things.