When you look at homes on Instagram or Pinterest, you’ll see lots of pictures of gleaming floors and pristine countertops. But those homes are not exactly the norm. Most of us have a harder time keeping our homes not only tidy but free of clutter.
If clutter is a problem for you, you’re hardly alone. Some 54% of Americans are overwhelmed by the amount of clutter they have, and a whopping 78% have no idea what to do with it.
The reasons we struggle with clutter are bigger than we can control in many ways: The advertising that clogs our TVs, phones and billboards encourages a relentless, almost unthinking consumerism. It takes conscious effort to resist it.
Should we bother resisting, though? Life is busy, and it takes time and energy to clear away the detritus that seems to pile up as fast as falling autumn leaves (especially if you have kids, who think every bit of junk is an irreplaceable treasure). Is rooting out clutter really the best use of time and effort?
Well, honestly, not always. Thorough decluttering does not need to be the top priority for every person in every season of life. It’s not always realistic to do away with messes: When your home is serving as an office, classroom, playground, gym, and who knows what else, there’s an unavoidable build-up of paraphernalia.
At the same time, at least some decluttering is necessary — at least if we want to keep using the spaces in our homes as intended. It’s also vital for our mental health: We know that clutter makes us cranky. The environment around us greatly affects how we think and feel. Messy homes have been found to make us feel anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed.
A countercultural approach
There’s a spiritual angle to be considered, too. Rejecting materialism and consumerism is one of the many ways that Christians are called to live in a countercultural way. As one writer explained,
The church has long opposed the materialistic and consumerist habits that drive the American economy. At the 2008 World Youth Day in Australia, Pope Benedict warned against an “insatiable consumption” that reduces people to simply consumers. More recently and more forcefully, Pope Francis condemned the “cult of opulence” that drives the culture in the developed world. In one of his general audiences on the family, he called on Christian families to resist the “fake models” of the family based on “consumerism and the cult of appearances” by “becoming poor” and “practicing simplicity.” In his encyclical Laudato Si’, he specifically warns families to “beware impulsive and wasteful consumption …”
So how can we know whether the level of mess in our homes is reasonable and realistic for our circumstances, or indicative of a problem? We can ask ourselves these two questions:
1Is my home serving my needs?
When your home serves you and your family, you’ll find it easier to love and serve each other in it.
Examine each part of your home, one by one, and give it an honest assessment: Is this area truly serving the needs of your family?
If yes, then by all means, leave it the way it is. Yes, even if it looks messy. That’s okay, if it’s working for you. You might tell yourself, “My home is a mess; I am not a mess.”
If the area is not serving your family’s needs, it’s time to rethink it. Would a small tweak make the space more functional for your current lifestyle? Or does it need to be reorganized in a bigger way? Think through what would bring simplicity and calm to this area.
2Is order present here?
We know order is a virtue that brings peace to our souls. The next question to ask is whether the virtue of order is present in each area of our homes.
The answer to this question is going to be so individual! What looks like a mess to one person might be orderly to another. For example, many people with ADHD need to actually see all of their stuff so they don’t forget where it is. An orderly space for a person with ADHD might look cluttered to someone else, but the person who lives there knows there’s a rational order present.
Gleaming countertops aren’t the goal here. The goal is having a home that realistically serves the needs of our families, while practicing the virtue of order as well as we can. If that means we have kids’ art supplies in the kitchen or an overflowing basket of books next to the couch, that’s fine! Let’s embrace what works for our own families and ditch the comparisons.
At the same time, we want to live with order. For many of us, getting rid of clutter is an important step to doing that. As we cultivate a simple and peaceful home environment, let’s begin and end with God’s plan for our lives in mind.
Getting rid of items we don’t use can be an act of detachment from earthly things. It can be an act of generosity as we donate these things to someone else who needs them more. It can be an act of prayer as we offer up foregoing a purchase we don’t need. It can be an act of order as we prune our possessions to maintain a peaceful home that serves our needs. So if decluttering is going to help you and your family live better, then by all means make it a priority.
Ultimately, we don’t need a Pinterest-perfect home: We just need a home that serves our families, reflects our personal efforts towards order, and helps us live our vocations well.