Today I completed the last of the seven tasks I set myself for this month of Simplify 7. Those who know me probably won’t be surprised to know that the last area I chose to tackle was books. Going back to my William Morris criteria I find books to be both useful and beautiful; they are an enhancement to any house and it grieves my heart when I consider how many children grow up in homes where there are no books, or where they are discarded as soon as possible because the adults think they are simply clutter.
However, I am nothing if not pragmatic. And I realised many years ago that the only way I could buy more books was if I could learn to let go of some of the ones I had already read and would probably not read again. I try to see it as releasing them into the world: they always go to charity and hopefully most find another loving home! But even so, I never find it particularly easy. Still, I filled two large shopping bags with the fruits of my shelf-picking today…and a good many of them are heading off to their third home (at least) as I got them in charity shops or church bookstalls.
There are plenty of other books on my shelves that I may never read again, but I could no more choose to get rid of them than I could suddenly decide to cut a good friend from my life. I might almost say that great books are like great friends…which are also like stars: you can’t always see (read) them, but you know they are always there! Taking stock of the books remaining on my shelves is a very similar feeling to taking stock of my jewellery. I only have to look at the truly special ones to evoke a whole host of memories that are as much about the person I was at the time I read the book as about the book itself.
Taking stock of my toiletries, on the other hand, was a more purely practical exercise. I didn’t really clear an awful lot – but I now have a much better idea what I actually have…and absolutely no excuse for spending any money on travel sized toiletries or bathing products for a good few months at least! It makes me feel very fortunate – and I can’t help but think of women (here in the UK, as well as in disaster areas around the world) who don’t have basic toiletries and sanitary products. I found a small way to help via Present Aid – you can click on the picture if you are interested in doing the same. It’s a drop in the ocean, but better than nothing.
It’s hardly ‘sacrificial giving’ though – something my church is going to be looking at in the next few months. For all of the bag fulls of ‘stuff’ that I’ve cleared out this month, part of taking stock is realising that I still have so much. It might have been a little difficult to let go of some things, but it didn’t really cost me anything. But the point of the exercise (Simplify 7, that is) was about making space in my life…and I think that’s an ongoing exercise. There’s more space on my shelves and in my cupboards and drawers, but there’s a lot more sorting through still to be done – and potentially plenty more still to give…or give up.
It wasn’t planned this way (not by me, anyway!) but this month of Simplify 7 comes to an end on Shrove Tuesday – and the final month starts on Ash Wednesday. It seems appropriate to me. And it also seems appropriate that the final month is extended by a couple of weeks so that I can celebrate the end on Easter Day (16th April). Simplify 7 has been all about giving things up, a series of fasts, aimed at finding more room in my life for the things that God wants me to focus on. To extend my final fast for the whole season of Lent seems like a good way of giving thanks for all the many blessings I’ve experienced through this personal exploration.
But the final part is probably the hardest challenge I’ve faced. I’m returning to the book that inspired all this – but not just because I think there’s a nice sense of symmetry in starting and finishing with the same type of fast as Jen Hatmaker. When I started, I was looking to explore what it would be like to try to create more space for God in my life, and I’ve come to realise that it’s not just being busy that creates a barrier, it’s the stress and anxiety that seems to be such an integral part of my daily life that I really can’t imagine it being any different. Well, even though the idea seems more than faintly ludicrous, this Lent I’m aiming to give up stress!
More details will follow in the next blog – I’m still busy praying about it all – but one thing I’ve learned already:
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.