While emptying out closets is fine, let’s not forget this year to clean out our hearts
By George Valadie
I can’t believe she made me do it.
It’s not even February, and she made me take down our Christmas tree.
Not just taking the ornaments off—she’s made me do that before—but at least she’s let me keep the tree up until then. It’s pre-lit, we have a remote, I’d light it up every night of the year if I could.
No muss, no fuss.
But not this time.
“I’m done with it. It all goes out today!”
So the celebrations are apparently over. Our house—and the Church—have both entered Ordinary Time.
But more than just the tree, the Nativity, and the garland, Nancy is on a mission to de-deck our lives.
With a little holiday free time on her hands before our school resumed, she’s torn through our closets, emptied the pantry, reorganized the cabinets. Even the one under the sink. Yes, that one.
Not to rest, she’s also dreaming up major changes for the laundry room and the garage.
I don’t mind at all, really I don’t. Except for the fact that her plans often involve me.
She seems to have become the human embodiment of “less is more…,” her new watchwords for 2021.
We’re even tossing out the color on the walls as we’ll apparently soon be painting the downstairs, choosing from among six different shades—all that look remarkably like white.
“We’re getting rid of all this stuff around here,” she boldly proclaimed. “I’ve become a minimalist!”
“When?” I muttered to myself right after the Amazon truck left.
I did think she was creeping a little close to the line when she brought out some birthday cards I’d been keeping, asking, “Do you really want to hang onto these?”
She had retrieved them from my sock drawer, which I hadn’t been aware was in need of her redesign.
So I hid them in my T-shirt drawer, though I imagine it’s only a matter of time.
Not entirely sure but I’m guessing this new lifestyle of hers—I mean ours—may have been jumpstarted when we recently announced our impending retirements.
We’ve dreamed about it for years; discussed it more often of late; decided the time had come at last. At the end of the school year, we’ll find ourselves with a lot more time together.
The two of us. Just the two of us. Only the two of us.
She’s started asking, “We’ve worked together for so many years, what will we talk about without school?” And that fretful monologue generally ends with a frustrating “Do you think we’re even gonna talk at all?”
“Sure we will, honey” keeps feeling like the only smart answer I should offer.
I think she doubts me so she’s just sure we’re in need of some projects. Fearful we’ll get bored with each other, she’s getting an early start on keeping us busy.
As if our previous projects have turned out all that well. Just hanging curtains and painting that one hallway six times bring back near-divorce nightmares I’d rather not relive.
But all in all, I think she may be on to something.
It’s not that we all have too much stuff. Some have hardly anything. Some have nothing at all.
But some of us do. Turns out we threw out 40-plus packets of to-go plastic silverware we’d apparently been hoarding for the end-times. Out went all the power cords we keep in the “this is where we’ll keep the power cords we might need someday” drawer.
We gave away clothes someone else could have been wearing. We discarded trinkets we used to love in hopes that someone else might feel as we once did.
But it’s way more than the stuff of our lives—I believe she’s right in that we need to devote less attention to the things and much more attention to the things that aren’t really things.
Relationships, families, prayer life, our care for one another and for ourselves. Just a few of life’s blessings that are far more important and deserve much more of our care.
“Less is more.”
We could easily give up the grudge we’ve been carrying for way too many years. The distaste—if not hatred—we harbor for that certain someone though we long ago forgot the details of a spat that happened too many years ago.
No need to hang onto that.
We could give up the control we feel we need to exert over our spouse, our kids, our co-workers.
That sort of effort just wears you out.
We could give up 10 minutes on our devices and swap for 10 minutes on our knees.
You can still argue with Him, but He actually hears you. Every word.
We could worry less about exercising our rights and focus more on exercising our brains and bodies. Turns out your rights don’t matter if you’re not here to enjoy them.
Anything else we could live without?
Hollering at drivers.
Posting insults to those who disagree.
Texting what we wouldn’t say in person.
Pretending we don’t matter to God.
Pretending God doesn’t matter to us.
Judging. Anybody. Anytime.
Hoping the homeless and hungry have someone to help them—someone else, that is.
Cleaning out closets and cleaning out hearts. Could be a great year!
Dear God—Please keep us mindful of how little you needed to change the world. Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.