Back when Olivia was in preschool, she went through a brief period of hoarding. I’m not talking about holding on to too many favorite toys; I’m talking about hiding deflated balloons and broken plastic spoons in her nightstand, of “rescuing” used Dixie cups and even old tissues from the bathroom trash can because she couldn’t bear the thought of anything being thrown away. “Hon, I think she’s going to be writer,” her Montessori teacher said. And while I tried not to be offended by that evaluation, I have to admit there was probably some truth to it. Whether a writer or musician, artist or actor, creative types tend to see beauty where no one else does.
Almost one year into my job as director of communications for the Diocese of Albany, I continue to add odd trinkets and new decorations to my office to bring a sense of peace and joy to the place where I spend the bulk of my time. It’s gotten to the point where other people stop by to soak up some serenity because the twinkling lights, bamboo plant and various photos and icons signal to them that there’s something different going on there. Just walking into my office and seeing my treasures can make me smile.
And yet, I desperately want to declutter my life—physically, spiritually and mentally. I long for both literal and figurative clean lines and open spaces. Enter “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a bestselling book I thought would provide the solution to my object overload. It sat in a pile of clutter on my nightstand for about nine months before I decided to crack the cover. When I did, I began to see things more clearly, but not in the way I had expected.
Author Maria Konda recalls her horror upon opening a client’s sock drawer and seeing all the “potato-like lumps” of rolled socks. She writes: “I pointed to the balled-up socks. ‘Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?’” She goes on to talk about how socks in your sock drawer are “essentially on holiday.”
Um, I get tremendous joy from many inanimate objects in my life, but sometimes a sock is just a sock. I think when we start to blur the lines between things we love and things that serve a practical purpose and are required whether or not we love them—tax returns and toilet paper come to mind—we move into territory that can get in the way of our connection to the many things all around us every day that truly do contain a seed of the divine. Sorry socks, but you don’t rate that ranking. Unless I’m buying the wrong kind of socks.
In the book, the author tells readers to appreciate their belongings, not a bad idea, until you realize she means to have an actual conversation with your clothes. “Thank you for making me beautiful,” we are told to tell our accessories as we remove them. Objects are worth keeping in her worldview only if they give us joy, a me-focused perspective that gets everything backward.
Why not thank God for making us beautiful? We are all “wonderfully made,” as Psalm 139 reminds us, not because our accessories are working so hard but because our God is loving us so much, every minute, every day since before time began. Why do we tend to forget that and go searching for “magic” in books and classes and movements?
There is no magic, and that’s the good news, because magic isn’t real; magic is a slight of hand. God’s love for us is anything but. God holds each one of us in His hand and finds us good, lovable, worth saving, even when we are fickle and fraught with flaws. When we look at life through the lens of God’s unconditional love, we can find joy everywhere, maybe even in a cluttered draw full of balled-up socks.