In the current economic crisis, many families are choosing to downsize. There is even a television program highlighting the many challenges one family faces as they learn to live on less. As much as I am personally able to relate to this family, no reality show is able to cover all the facets such a major change in lifestyle involves. It is difficult to portray the process of change that occurs in our hearts as we battle with the moment by moment choices we used to take for granted.
I admit “living large” is never something I aspired to. I have always felt that happiness never comes from our possessions. Since I was a teen mom, perhaps this philosophy was simply an excuse for why my husband and I could never keep up with the neighbors. We tried to keep things simple for many years, but never really learned how to effectively manage our resources. After five kids and nearly eighteen years of marriage, we suddenly found ourselves living a life of chaos. How did this happen? This big house; three cars in the driveway; a television in every room; and bills that were double our income—all of it taking a toll on our minds, our spirits and our hearts. We were overwhelmed and knew that letting go of most of it was the only solution to getting peace and to simplifying our lives.
Though my husband and I have gone back and forth on the solutions for handling the stress associated with our living situation, we are both coming to realize that our hearts must change before we will see any lasting change. My first step was releasing myself of the personal obligation I felt toward others. This sense of obligation was cluttering my mind and tugging at my heart and I had difficulty deciding what was important. Every pile of paperwork, unfinished project, and unread email symbolized my relentless pursuit to please others. Yet, none of it was fruitful. I began to feel like I was laboring in vain. I tried to stay optimistic, but my survival depended on being realistic and not caring what others thought about the choices I knew I needed to make.
Everything in my house soon became a symbol of the excess clutter I held onto inside. What was I doing this for? I had no time to do the things that really mattered to me- seeking God daily, spending time with my family and pursuing my writing projects. Every corner, every room was an obligation and work without a reward. As soon as my husband and I realized holding onto our house was not worth all the trouble, I started purging like mad. I shredded papers, tossed old toys, filled trash bags with clothes I never wore, emptied my kitchen cupboards of extra sets of dishes; getting rid of anything that represented more work was gone. Each item releasing me of the obligation to hold onto a proof, a memory, a “what if”… until the day came when most of what I needed to get through my day was reduced to what I could fit in the back of our mini-van.
Then came the day I took what was likely the last walk through what had been our home for over six years. The burden in my heart had been downsized. I could finally let go and start anew. Lessons still in progress, I felt a freedom in knowing I was in control of what and who I allowed myself to feel obligated to. Yes, there were many challenges ahead as our family transitioned through the changes we needed to make. But my heart was at peace. I had come to the conclusion that the true “cost” of living beyond our means had nothing to do with money at all. It had to do with an invisible sense of obligation toward an invisible “them” that probably did not exist at all.
Today I sit in a small apartment nearly 1/3 the size of my previous address. Though it has only been a few weeks, I am already experiencing the freedom of downsizing. Less driving, less yard work, and less kitchen to clean have all given me more down time, more sunshine and more capacity to breathe! I am not claiming perfection by any means. There are many habits that require my moment by moment reflection and refocus. The point is that now I can involve my heart in those choices; leaving me more space than ever to live a fruitful life!