The spiritual practice of decluttering

Packing up our prized possessions and giving them away doesn’t just de-clutter our lives, it fulfills our baptismal call.
Our Faith

I love my Christmas dinnerware. For the past 20 years I’ve served many wonderful feasts on it. Family and friends have gathered around my festive green and red table year after year to pray, eat, celebrate, and share stories. Our sons have grown up with my Christmas dishes, and now my granddaughter looks for them. Our family picture album reinforces the years gone by.

As I was putting my treasured dishes away at the end of this last Christmas season, I wondered what would happen to them once my husband and I downsize or die. In a perfect world one of my sons would use them in his home, telling wonderful stories of Christmases past and then passing them on to one of my grandchildren. It’s a beautiful and comforting scene but not very realistic; my sons and their families have their own tastes and will create their own traditions.

The same is probably true for the crib, bunk beds, baby clothes, room decorations—the spirit of Michael Jordan lives in the boxes in my basement—as well as the videos and video games, excess furniture, housewares, and clothes.

We tend to store these things long after they have outlived their usefulness. I am not sure why; perhaps we document our life with them. Maybe letting go of them reminds us of our own mortality, with the realization that we will not be taking a U-Haul with us into the next life.


Jesus warns us against storing up treasures on earth. There is a reason: I find the more I keep unnecessary items, the more difficult it is to be at peace and in solidarity with Christ’s teachings. I am often distracted by clutter, and there is little doubt others could benefit from my surplus possessions.

I realized it was time to be courageous and bid farewell to the things of the past. I needed a “no excuses” plan. My first order of business was to eliminate my tendency to procrastinate by setting a nonnegotiable date. When it came, I would get up early, dress comfortably, and leave home only to deliver what was to be given away to the St. Vincent DePaul Society.

My second order of business was to speak with my adult children. If they were serious about their childhood items, it was time for them to store them. I reminded them of how their donations would benefit others and called with a reminder the day before the deadline. In the end the choice was theirs.

I began my de-cluttering day with a prayer of gratitude and asked for assistance in “letting go.” I played soft music and spent time with many memories. The most difficult moments involved items from my children’s early years. I selected some baby clothes, pieces of artwork, and, of course, their “blankies” to save, which will make an appearance at an important moment in their lives. I also saved their storybooks—no generation should miss the lessons of the Berenstain Bears. At the day’s end, I had experienced a small death as well as a sense of freedom.


For me sharing possessions is as important as sharing money and serves as a reminder that all we have comes from our loving Creator. My heart needs to be first and foremost grounded in God. My actions need to reflect the generosity of Jesus, both in my willingness to let go and to give what I no longer need.

I have since made a resolution to continue to de-clutter my life as a response to my baptismal call to both let go spiritually and be a good steward of what has been entrusted to me. Spring and fall are the intentional seasons to “dig in and dig out.”

I still spend a moment with the items and the amazing memories they hold. Though saying farewell to the “stuff” of my past is a challenge, there is no doubt that down the road my children will be grateful. They will not have to go through boxes and bins after our passing, not only because their mother was an organized person, but because she had already done her own spiritual work of letting go.

As for my Christmas dinnerware, that tradition will continue as long as I can prepare the feast and set the table. After that, I hope they find a home with someone who will enjoy them as much as I have. It will be another small death, but God has promised that his disciples will be ongoing guests at the banquet to end all banquets. It’s a heavenly treasure, to say the least.


This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No.1, page 55).

Photo by HiveBoxx on Unsplash

About the author

Mary Ann Otto

Mary Ann Otto is the stewardship and special projects director for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

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