According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, clutter means, “to run in disorder.” The word is derived from the Middle English word, clotteren, meaning to clot. A person who has had a stroke or heart attack knows firsthand that the act of clotting is very dangerous when it occurs within our veins. In the same manner, clotting up our lives with stuff is dangerous. Running our lives in disorder produces stress, and stress causes many known physical and emotional ailments. Most Americans and Westerners in general would agree that things seems to cling to us, piling up wherever there is a free space, and forming themselves as permanent fixtures in our homes. Most of us would also agree that living in clutter is not beneficial, nor desired. Then, why do we have so much clutter, and why is it so hard to give up the cluttering habit? The answer lies in our cultural fixation and prizing of things, otherwise referred to as materialism.
In comparison to the rest of the world, the United States is a blessed nation. The poorest of Americans would be considered wealthy in third world countries. Most of us have not had to worry about where our next meal was coming from nor if we would recover the next time we fell ill. Yet, starvation, sickness, and inadequate shelter are a constant reality and threat among the majority of the world's populations.
Americans, on the other hand, have the money and opportunity to buy luxuries. Our standard of living is extremely high. We have elaborate malls, beautiful clothes, an abundant selection of food, and amazing technologies. We have the Internet, where we can buy practically anything from our living rooms, and it is delivered to our door. Immigrants continue to give up everything to come to our country; “America” remains a place where the streets are lined with gold.
With our profuse wealth, we have bought into the subtle lie that money is the answer, and the acquisition of things brings happiness. We have placed terrible worth in our stuff and have clotted up our lives from the real answer to joy. Ultimately, we can no longer see our need for God; we believe we are able to provide all that we need by ourselves and our paychecks. The parable of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-23 is an adequate parallel to our overfed souls:
"Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"
"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."
"Which ones?" the man inquired.
Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"
Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'"
The one demand that the rich man could not meet was to part from his possessions. He valued them so highly that he forfeited his eternal future in the kingdom of God. We, too, must stop clenching our possessions tightly, as they quickly can become powerful idols in our lives. Items take control of our lives; the more we own, the more we invest in time and money to clean and care for our things. Furthermore, the more we accumulate, the more we want.
When we have a healthy perspective on our belongings, and when we are able to hold loosely onto them, it becomes easier to get rid of the clutter. We soon realize that the simple life is actually more joyful and satisfying than the clotted life. We understand that to give is truly more blessed than to receive, and we begin to live generously. We know that what we have is not ours, but has been entrusted to us by God himself, the true giver and owner of everything. We become stewards of what God has given us, holding possessions with an open hand and a happy heart. We attain freedom in this huge aspect of our lives, as money loses its ugly power. We are free to bless others.
How do we finally give up the clutter habit? We must learn to see counter culturally, that our possessions are mere, replaceable things. We must trust that what we give away will be replaced by joy. We must ask God for help and wisdom. Then, we must ask ourselves, “Are the things in our lives worth the time, energy, and money that they demand?” We must begin to get rid of the fluff.
Then, we watch. Watch as God gives us the faith of an empty hand. Watch as the things others around us chase after and deeply treasure slowly become trivial and foolish. Watch as God provides for us in amazing ways. As Jesus admonishes in Matthew 6:31-33, “So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”