Spiritual Update

One hesitates to announce instances of spiritual progress because what, after all, if they aren't? Or what if the very act of announcing them ensures that one will fall yet again back into one's old bad habits? But there is something that I've been thinking about this past week or so that does seem to indicate at least a modicum of improvement in my outlook on life and, therefore, possibly, just possibly in the state of my soul. It has to do with stuff.

I've written before about how I have spent years thinking that the thing that I needed in order to feel like I had finally "made it" professionally and socially was a house. Even as I write this, the twinge is still there, and I do have to confess to a lingering sense of envy as I walked my puppy round the mansions in our neighborhood this past Sunday morning. But.... But even as I was looking just now at the photographs of the mansions for sale, what I am noticing more is not so much their size, but rather the elegance (or not) of their decor. Having spent the winter without a kitchen and now the past week (and counting) with only a so-called half-bath (toilet, no bath), I am all the more appreciative of how much work it takes to make one's home as beautiful as many of these. And yet, having spent the last six months thinking about design and details and what I most want in my home, I am ever so gently coming to the realization that I really don't want to have responsibility for more than the home that I have now. Gasp!

Does this mean that the house demon is going to let me alone from now on? Somehow I doubt it. As the desert fathers knew all too well, it's the way with demons to increase their attacks on us as we get stronger at resisting them. So who knows? Maybe I'm about to be hit by an even fiercer attack. Or maybe, just maybe, that particular stain on my soul has been sand-blasted away by the quasi-Lenten penance of not being able to cook for myself or my family or, now, to wash without going to my athletic club (by the by, a thirty to forty minute drive away). What I do know is that I am closer to being in sympathy with those who would argue that our houses are for the most part simply too big and that it makes much more sense, and, indeed, leads to more happiness, not to surround ourselves with such enormous shells. I had been feeling that our apartment was too small, when in fact (as I have learned over the past four months of clearing out rooms in order for the workmen to be able to do their work) the problem is more often than not stuff that we do not want or need but have been holding onto for reasons that are now becoming increasingly unclear.

I have lost count of the number of bags of old clothes and boxes of housewares that we have given away in the past few months--there were three bags and two boxes just this past weekend--but gradually our home is becoming livable again, indeed, spacious, simply because we are no longer buried (literally) in stuff that we don't even like. Think how much worse it would be with a house! One would even have whole rooms that were effectively useless--unused, unlived in, unnecessary. Thanks to our remodeling and de-cluttering, I now even have a room that I can use for prayer. I was thinking this morning of painting one of the walls gold like the "chapel" in one of my friend's homes (hear that, love?). I could even set up a small prie-dieu if I wanted. And why do I now have this space that I was convinced I needed a house in order to have? Because we threw out a giant desk that I bought thirteen years ago but haven't really used except as a place to store stuff for the better part of the last ten. It was never that we didn't have "enough space." It was that we had filled the space with death rather than life.

Our new kitchen is beautiful. Indeed, amazingly beautiful. And, yes, there is more storage space than we had in our old one. But it only feels "more" because as we were unpacking, we got rid of yet more stuff that we knew we no longer wanted or needed. It was hard, although not as hard as it was when we first started the clear out, perhaps because we've been practicing and know how good it feels to get rid of stuff. And, yes, I pulled a few things back out of the boxes that I had thought I no longer "needed." And yet, the very exercise of giving things away seems to have made me spiritually stronger, better able to recognize what it is I need and what is simply grasping. Including thinking that I wanted a house.

Okay, so maybe some of the people living in those mansions really need that much space, but I'll bet they effectively live in about as many rooms as we do: living room, dining room, kitchen, bath (if not at the moment), bedroom, study. We even have bedrooms for both ourselves and our son, plus a study each for my husband and me, not to mention a backyard bigger than those that many of the houses in our neighborhood have, even if we do have to share it with our fellow condo-dwellers. And there's even a room for the puppy (actually, a small second living room opening onto the main one). It's enormous! More space than you could possibly need! More to the point, more space than it is even possible given our budget to decorate to the standards that our kitchen and (soon) bathroom now enjoy.

Not to worry: as I have already mentioned, I now also appreciate that the secret to having a beautiful home is not size, but design. My goal now is to make the home that we do have as beautiful (and beautifully uncluttered) as we possibly can given our propensity to buy books. I'm thinking maybe an iPad will help on this score, although I do still love the feel of books. It's just that maybe I don't really need quite so many paperbacks kicking about and some of those popular non-fiction tomes are good for a first read but only occasionally for reference. It would be nice to have access to them without all the storage problems. But that's by the by. The point is: design, not size. Plus allowing yourself to throw things away.

I'm a long way still from giving away everything that I have to the poor. But I do hope that I am a little bit closer to peace with what I actually have.


  1. One of the things that makes Lent so great as a discipline, is all that we learn during the time!

    I think the key when it comes to sin is always inordinate desire. We can have books and a nice house so long as it is not the focus and obsession of life. I’ve had to come to some terms with books and learn to sell/give away a few. It’s always the question “I like these things, but what am I willing to sacrifice for them?” And usually that answer for most of us is something more then the stuff is actually worth.

  2. It is especially interesting that that "something more" that we are willing to sacrifice is often our own comfort, e.g. when we hang onto things we don't want or need and they clutter up our homes!


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