Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Declutter Challenge: 40 Bags in 40 Days

Jessica at Shower of Roses recently posted something that immediately caught my eye, and I actually linked back to it in this Reading the Whole Internet Post. In her Daybook post, she linked back to a post she'd written last year on a 40 Bags of Stuff Challenge. [side note, I'd like to start doing Daybook posts... I really like reading other peoples' and I think it would be neat to look back on my own!]

Following the rabbit trail backwards, Jessica's initial post linked to this post at Jennifer's Favorite Links, which indicates the idea came from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. [and I *just* realized that "Jennifer" is in fact the one from Conversion Diary, a blog that has spiritually smacked me upside the head every few weeks or so since I began reading it.] Jen then linked back to this post at Simply Catholic.

My reason for all this linking is to note that in no way did I come up with this idea, but I sure do think it's a good one. Hubs has been noting lately that we're outgrowing our house - which is sort of true. BUT - our house is plenty big for us! And when I look at the devastation in Haiti right now from the earthquake, and when I think back to my mission days, I realize that we are blessed with abundance beyond the dreams of many, many people on this earth.

As an extra nudge, the lesson from this week's Women of Grace Bible study in which I am currently participating spoke of "detachment". God surely is speaking directly to me in these words from our book:

God asks us to value human life above material wealth, the human person above comfort and luxury, the kingdom of God above the desires of the flesh, and the will of God above convenience and selfish wants.
Sure, that sounds easy to do. "Of course, Lord, I believe all those things!" But the accompanying workbook takes things deeper, in the words of my beloved Pope John Paul II:

This is the so-called civilization of "consumption" or "consumerism" which involves so much throwing away and waste. [...] One quickly learns --unless one is shielded from the flood of publicity and the ceaseless and tempting offers of products -- that the more one possesses, the more one wants, while deeper aspirations remain unsatisfied and perhaps even stifled... (from his encyclical "On Social Concerns, no. 28)

He later quotes Matthew 16:26: "For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?"

A contributor to Women of Grace, Dale O'Leary, has actually written a booklet called Addicted to Stuff. There is what I presume to be an excerpt from that book in our Women of Grace workbook. She notes that:

Christians who are proud of their "thriftiness" may be horrified to realize that the Scriptural words for their attitude are lust and greed.
Holy cow. Mark 7:22 and Luke 12:13-21 relate what Jesus says about this vice, and Matthew 6:19-21 tells us what happens when we store up earthly treasurers. We certainly don't need "bigger barns" (see the passages in Luke), we need less stuff!

She notes later that
If they [Christian women] gave their excess to the poor before moths and rust destroyed it, they would be storing treasure in heaven. As it is, they are storing up condemnation.
Initially, I thought those were pretty strong words. "Really, Lord? Just because I have a pair of extra mittens, stashed away in a box, that condemns me?" But then I thought about it more. It's actually like five pairs of mittens. And I only have one pair of hands. And there are many, many more than five pairs of cold hands out there, right at this very minute.

One thing we laugh about at Bible study (but understand the seriousness of!) is the human ability to rationalize and justify. I just snagged the heck out of one of my gloves this afternoon on my rose bushes taking down the Christmas lights, so I probably will need a new pair of gloves before long. (I scratched my hand, too, but Goose is in the stage where, upon hearing someone else exclaim "ouch!", is ready with a kiss. And it really DOES make it all better!) O'Leary cautions us against making excuses or rationalizing our behavior. [One extra pair is one thing - but five?] She recommends we have a family member or friend to hold us accountable - and not to get angry when they do.

She leaves us with the following:
Take courage! Fight off discouragement, fear, and temptation! Keep moving forward, and trust in God! [...] Engaging the process is half the battle.
Here is the basic outline, as identified by the Archdiocese of Cincinnati:
1.) Taking a look at the size of your family and household, with an acknowledgement of how much 'stuff' is present, make a prudential choice on the size of bag to be employed during this challenge. Bag size should be small enough that the goal of 40 bags during the season of Lent is able to be accomplished, while not being too big that you are left with nothing. We must still live in the world, after all!

2.) If smaller children are a part of your family, a 'gauge' may be helpful to keep them engaged and help them keep track of progress. As part of your preparations, make a 'paper chain' of forty numbered links. As each new bag is started, place a new link in the bottom of the bag. This way, as the chain gets smaller, there is a greater sense of accomplishment.

3.) This challenge necessarily involves sacrifice. Each member of the family should be encouraged to give something to each bag, or there could be designated bags for each member of the family.

4.) Instead of just throwing things away, recycling is a great way to encourage good stewardship of the gifts we have been given, as it symbolizes that we are passing along our gifts to others. Families with children are encouraged to pass along clothes that no longer fit or toys that sit dormant in a closet to families in need instead of just throwing them away.

5.) Units of count need not necessarily be trash bags, either; however they should be equivalent. For example, a box of gently used toys or clothes could equate one bag off the chain. A stack of books donated to the parish library is another easy equivalent.

As the family accepts this challenge together, bonds will be created that will last a lifetime. Lessons are also learned not just by saying, but by putting it into practice. Here, the simple lesson will last throughout life that having fewer things can lead to a greater contentment in life.

(Credit due to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for this handout on vocations and family faith formation)
Our Bible study group is considering implementing this as a group project and possibly inviting our whole parish. Some ideas we had for adapting it included:

1) Each family should have complete flexibility in determining what a "bag" would constitute.

2) This is a quote from our Women of Grace book, although not regarding detaching and decluttering, I think it fits: “There may be sacrifice, but there will not be conflict.” So, for example, if my husband isn’t on board with my decluttering his fishing equipment, I’ll leave it alone and move on! :>)

3) We talked about possibly blessing a local family, or setting up a “swap” meet where people can bring things and take things, and we talked about possibly getting Catholic Social Services to bring their trailer out. We will be discussing this at our next meeting and fleshing out some ideas.

Amy at Finer Things is doing a declutter challenge, too - 730 in 365 (that's two things a day). I don't know if the big numbers or the long time frame had me shying away - it's a really, really good idea! If the 40 bags in 40 days isn't your style, head over to Amy's and see if hers is a better fit for you.


Staci said...

A great way to give things away is Freecycle. A website where you can post things you want to give away for free or are looking for. Not sure if there is a group in your area or not.

Nony said...

Like this thought process!

Kim said...

I need to declutter some areas so badly. Will consider trying this 40/40 thing.

Lenetta @ Nettacow said...

Staci, absolutely! I love freecycle. :>)

Nony, you have definitely inspired me - I love reading about your progress!

Kim, I firmly believe that this should be tweaked to work for you and your family. Heck, just getting rid of 40 things would be great! Or shoot for 40 to sell, 40 to donate, 40 to toss. Or whatever. I have to admit, I'm geeking myself up for this! :>)

Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog said...

Love this concept! I'm trying to do a bag every week for 2010... so far so good. It's not going quite as fast as I would like, but it's a start!

Stacey said...

"Really, Lord? Just because I have a pair of extra mittens, stashed away in a box, that condemns me?" But then I thought about it more. It's actually like five pairs of mittens. And I only have one pair of hands. And there are many, many more than five pairs of cold hands out there, right at this very minute.

I think I thought had these exact words running through my mind last week! This is great. I've already started a decluttering campaign in my house, inspired by the wretched overabundance we have compared to others, and knew nothing about the 40/40 thing.

The hard part, for us in our area, is to find people who need the stuff. It's awful, but I hate giving to Goodwill, because they charge too much. And people who need it are astonishingly hard to find in a "wealthy" area (no, we're not wealthy, we just work and live here). Catholic Charities will take stuff, right? And Freecycle? Is there anywhere else to go?

Trissie said...

I love to donate and it saddens me that my church and another church I go to do not seem to want any clothing, toys, etc. While I know that St Vincent De Paul do good things with the money they get from selling from there stores it is just another version of Goodwill which people with money can buy fairly cheap. What I am saying is that I would like my donations to actually go to people who need them.

Nancy P. said...

Love this idea! Saw it first on your post at Faith & Family. I'm in, and I will spread the word.

Lenetta @ Nettacow said...

Valerie, good for you!

Stacey, I'm not particularly surprised to hear that about your area, that's frustrating! Absolutely check out Catholic Charities, and Freecycle is awesome, too - especially for stuff that is too big to haul. You could try calling your diocesan offices and see if they can point you in a direction, and I am NOT going to tell you to load up two kids and to to a ... less fortunate neighborhood to donate! Since I used to work for non-profits, I can think of places around here where I could call to figure out where to donate - is there a "community action" sort of place around? Actually, I have a friend that might be able to point in a direction, I'll let you know if I get any good leads.

Trissie, your comment poked me a bit, as I'm one of those that shops the thrift stores even though we don't *have* to... (And I mean pokes me in a good way - I need to work on not bringing things in as I'm taking them out!!)

Seriously, though - I just had a thought - domestic violence shelters! They have a lot of needs, depending on what you have, might be a good place to check. Also crisis pregnancy centers/homes for unwed pregnant mothers, etc.

Or, try selling stuff (via e-bay or Craiglist - though our area has a "sell-it-here" that corresponds to Freecycle that is not nearly as sleezy as CL) and then donating the money? I've been thinking about doing that with some of my stuff...

Sherry said...

Doesn't it feel great to declutter?! :D I've done Freecycle, donated clothes to friends, and also donated to our Disabled American Veterans thrift store, too. :D

Amy @ Finer Things said...

Lent is definitely a great time to clear out... on many levels.

Kitchen Stewardship said...

We just packed up so much stuff to "set" the house to try to sell, so I WISH I could do this, this year, but everything give-away-able is already gone! I am totally committed to being careful about what I actually allow to be unpacked and back in the house, though. Maybe I can do 40 bags then...
Thanks for the push!
:) Katie

Melissa said...

I agree with nearly everything and yet I struggle to get rid of enough...it is hard...but it so worth it...

Melinda Mitchell said...

Came here from ASlobComesClean
What a great challenge! I don't think I can do 40 bags, but I am decluttering. Some things I sent to a women's shelter, that desperately needed hangers! And I had just decluttered a ton of them. It was definitely a God thing!