The Purge of Muchness
By Elisa Morgan
I'm re-running this blog because it was one of our most popular last year, and it's a good time of year to consider this topic again!
We've lived in our current home for nearly twenty years. Before that, we lived in several other places for shorter periods of time. The move from one to another, after an average of maybe five years in each, brought the need for purge frequently into our lives.
Twenty years in one spot has provided an accumulation of muchness. Much hand-me-downs. Much inheritance from all four of our parents. Much memory boxes from our two now-grown children. Much outgrown items from our grandchildren. How did I get to such muchness? An episode of "Hoarders" haunts me as I imagine myself trapped under its weight and no one finding me for months.
Just recently, some internal nudge motivated my husband and me to enter the purge of muchness once again. Perhaps the nudge was knowing we will mark our 40th year of marriage next year. Maybe it's because our oldest grandchild is about the age when our oldest child first left the nest. Maybe the memory of liquidating the muchness of all four of our parents still stings and we don't want our family members left with such a task.
For whatever reason, one recent Saturday morning, I found my husband at his basement desk, surrounded by boxes, sorting through files and heaping rejects into Hefty bags. Minutes later I initiated my own purge. For several hours, and then days, I dug through my children's report cards from kindergarten, artwork (including thirty-some drawings of cats - a phase my son never seemed to outgrow), swim ribbons and trophies and all species of TY-labeled Beanie Babies.
At my insistence, each adult child spent one afternoon sorting through what they wanted, entering their own purge of muchness. Pawing through photos, notes, plaques, schoolwork and letters, one child leaned sentimental and the other practical in terms of what seemed to matter to them. The rest went into giveaway stacks for me to process later.
While they sorted and tossed, chuckled and reminisced, I moved on to the remnants of my parents' memories. A magazine article about my media CEO dad, my mother's vintage dresses and now-antique dolls, my grandmother's cup collection and gobs of grainy black and white photos of stern-looking old people standing in front of beigey-blah buildings.
At last, I opened box after box of my own boxes of muchness. Letters to my mother from camp. A scrapbook with browned and crumbled corsages. A faded and furless teddy bear and my Barbie with her once-upon-a-time brunette pony tail now hanging bedraggledly about her shoulders while her pencil skirt cinched her legs tightly together. Mounds of cards from friends and coworkers as well as from daughter, son and husband - for every special occasion celebrated.
When my kids left with their loot and my husband stacked up his own selections, I sat with what seemed like a million piles of muchness. But much whatness? I wasn't sure. What to keep? What to purge? And why?
Gradually, I realized that while I'd enjoyed the review of the lives of generations before me, I had less need for the mounds of evidence of their beings. A few select items signaled their personalities and our connection. Pouring over the stacks of greeting cards, I summarized messages from each giver and sealed them in my heart.
From ministry assignments: God really used you in my life.
From my daughter: Thanks for all you do for me.
From my son: You are the best mom ever! (Always laced with a wry sense of humor).
From my grandson: You mean so much to me - thanks for always being there for me.
And from my husband: God chose just the right life partner for me. I love you.
All "rise up and call me blessed stuff" for sure. My heart felt sated.
Viewing the remaining stacks before me, I settled on a principle for keeping and purging: What items would help my children know "me" when I'm gone? Into a box went several heirloom items from my generational heritage, a selection of the greeting cards and a trove of personal journals trailing my movement from season to season in life.
I stationed the rest of the muchness around the basement for garage sale, Goodwill, junk dealer ... and trash. Some thirty bags of trash. (I do hope the trash folks will forgive me! I tried oh-so-hard to both recycle and to pass along stuff to others and to keep my bags light enough to easily lift!)
As I write, there aren't very many boxes in my storage area any more! Three contain the memories of the childhoods of me, my husband and our children. Two house photos and heirlooms. Three more boxes carry various holiday decorations.
Perhaps I needed so much muchness in my basement long enough for all those sources that formed me to finish their work and to be firmly housed in my heart.
My muchness has been purged. And in its place is treasure that represents my life.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4
Elisa Morgan is an author and speaker and the cohost of Discover the Word and contributor to Our Daily Bread. Her latest book, The Prayer Coin, releases in July. Her other books include The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, and She Did What She Could. Connect with Elisa @elisa_morgan on Twitter, on Facebook and elisamorganauthor on Instagram.