Are you completely overwhelmed by stuff? In an attempt to help you find the margins in your life so you finally have room to breathe, Ruth Soukup walks you through her process to get Unstuffed in her new book. She breaks this process up into three areas: the home, the mind, and the soul. I read an advanced copy of this book in January and anticipating this review, I wanted to put some of her tips into practice. Here are my nine biggest takeaways on my own journey to get unstuffed and declutter my home, mind, and soul.
Living: Creating a Vision for Your Home
Ruth challenges her readers right off the bat to decide how they want their home to feel and think long and hard about the purpose of their home. When reading this book four months ago, I had no idea my husband and I would follow his military career to Virginia and we’d be in the process of purchasing a home so beautiful we don’t even feel like we deserve to live there. I can’t wait to have friends over to share meals together. I can’t wait to teach Bam how to catch a ball in the backyard. I can’t wait to write like there’s no tomorrow in my new office. I sense this home will be used for so much more than I can even wrap my mind around. I will be thoughtful as we settle into our space to carefully pursue my vision and use our home on purpose.
Storage: More Closet Space is Not the Solution
My favorite part of moving is downsizing from one home to the next. How we acquire so many items we don’t need, I have no idea. This chapter of the book breaks down a really powerful declutterathon. You can spend an entire weekend purging your belongings and she provides a ton of useful tips to help you succeed. About six months ago, I read Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and learned from her the neat tip of minimalizing one category at a time instead of one room at a time. If you downsize all your clothes, then move on to books, then paper, you will be far more effective in the long run. I found this to be true and even though I am already a minimalist, I had a lot of room to grow (or shrink). Let me know if you want to adopt one of my books; many of them are looking for new homes and loving owners.
Kids: The Stuff Just Keeps Coming
This was a hard chapter to read right after Christmas. My son just hit a year before the holidays and has two of the most generous grandmas on the planet. We honestly couldn’t haul everything back home with us and my parents had to bring it the next time they came to visit. My husband and I are in no way boycotting toys or presents the way Ruth does, but in conversations, we both emphasize the importance of the relationship we want our loved ones to have with our son. It’s not about the stuff. The quality of the moment or the relationship is what matters. While I haven’t read any research on this, I think when rooms are clean and access to toys is limited, behavior is just better. It’s a little unrealistic for me to put everything away all day long, but having a clean up time (with the clean up song) is really effective and keeps the whole family from losing our minds.
Schedule: How Much is Too Much?
This chapter reiterates what Lysa TerKeurst champions in her book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands. We can’t do it all, and honestly, I’m not sure why we want to. Ruth points out how busyness becomes an idol and drives home her point, “We can’t slow down for fear that our lives won’t matter if we do.” Ouch. Bringing a child into the world inevitably shifts your priorities, and my husband and I realized quickly all of our obligations were too much. I’ve heard a good rule of thumb is keeping only one long-term commitment and one short-term commitment at a time. I thought this was quite good. If I play softball every Thursday night, that is my long-term commitment. Short-term commitments can be anything from preparing a meal for a family with a new baby to attending a birthday party. Whatever you commit to, just know you don’t have to do it all.
Paperwork: Drowning in a Sea of Information
My husband and I think about this one often. It feels like our pile of papers is bottomless, and we don’t even have a school-aged child. I can only half sympathize with Ruth on that front. She has some great tips for keeping the paper piles in check, and like much of the book, it starts with deciding what your priorities are. When I was in grad school, I viewed everything I read as though I might one day teach it. For that reason, I kept every single handout and all my notes. I have a pretty heavy-duty filing cabinet for the whole shebang. With this next move coming up, I think it might be time to organize these folders so they exist in the cloud instead of in my home. With digital note keeping tools like Evernote, it’s a no brainer, and access to them will be so much quicker.
Other People’s Stuff: Letting Go of the Guilt
This is a tough one for me. I’m pretty young, but for whatever reason, I’m no stranger to death. I’ve lost a number of people but the most difficult and confusing loss came from saying goodbye to a close friend almost five years ago. This friend loved to give gifts, write cards, and not only that, but I have a ton of items I bought while spending time with her. The thought of getting rid of any of these things makes me sad. We bought our yoga mats together almost a decade ago, and this yoga mat is super thin and I definitely need a new one, but it reminds me of Liv, so it stays. On a whim, this friend decided to give away all her belongings so she could move to Hawaii. That move never happened, but I ended up with her dresser. It’s been sitting in my garage collecting dust for what seems like forever, but I still want it. A really important point Ruth makes in this chapter is how important it is to separate the memory from the person. She writes, “By equating someone’s memory to something they left behind, you’re actually diminishing and cheapening their memory.” Death or no death, understanding this will help you sort through gifts or stuff you might not really want. This is another really practical, tip-filled chapter that will challenge your motives for holding onto stuff.
Friends: Cultivating Real Relationships
The last portion of the book deals with the soul, and the first place we visit is the idea of friendships. This feels like a largely unchartered subject and I would love to read more about it. What do healthy friendships look like? Tim Keller preached a sermon on this last fall, and suggests the recipe for a great friendship has four parts: constancy, carefulness, candor, and counsel. It’s really powerful, and if you find it helpful, I’d also commend Brene Brown’s talk on The Anatomy of Trust. In the spirit of “unstuffing,” Ruth discusses the qualities of healthy relationships and the toxic nature of unhealthy relationships and how important it is to remove the toxins from your life. I’m not really an elimination diet kind of person because I’d rather just eat healthy. The same goes for my friendships. I have really great friends in my life and will do whatever I can to invest in those healthy friendships. If toxins creep in, time will reveal this. A huge part of maturing in this area is learning how to let go and understand some friends are meant for seasons and not forever. I don’t give up on anyone, but I let nature run its course.
Wellness: Finding Balance in a Chaotic World
This chapter talks about stress and was deeply humbling. The first huge reminder is how closely linked stress is to major illnesses. Ruth includes The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale to help readers assess the stress level in their lives. I won’t share my score, but it’s up there. It’s life, and I guess I never realized how odd it is that all these things are happening at once. As a result of feeling totally overwhelmed for a long season, I’ve started learning more and more about rest–true spiritual rest in and with God. This kind of rest is only helped by eliminating the physical triggers, and in that regard, Ruth provides a plethora of practical tips and helpful reminders to keeping your stress low.
Spirit: Letting Go of the Need to Do it Yourself
This whole book is so jam-packed with useful tips and then the final chapter does a complete 180. No matter how badly you want to unstuff your life, you will never do enough to put your soul at rest. Trusting God is the only way to “achieve” that. Ruth tells her story here about what brought her out of a deep depression and into the arms of God. She drives home her final revelation: “It strikes me that the very process of decluttering our lives might cause us to uncover the things we have been valuing above all else–things like a nice home, our kids, a busy schedule, a successful career, an elevated social status, or even things that are less tangible, like feeling good about ourselves or simply just wanting to be happy.” Something will always be missing as long as we aim to find value in the emptiness of stuff, the shallowness of relationships, or the never-ending pursuit of happiness.
The most powerful nugget I took away from Unstuffed is that our homes are an outward reflection of what’s going on in our hearts and minds. It’s all related. This is not a new idea, but I definitely appreciated the careful way Ruth walks her reader through this realization, and I suspect you might as well.