Alrighty, we are kicking off 2020 blogs with a book recommendation! This may seem like a strange place to start, but I know I really enjoyed Uncluttered by Rev. Courtney Ellis and I think maybe some of you would enjoy it too. As you think through what is to come, the excitement and joy of a fresh start – a new year, a new decade – and the direction you want to head this year, let this book be a resource to equip and inspire you!
I first saw this book mentioned by a friend. She actually tagged me in the post remarking that the book, along with a post or two from my blog, were encouraging her to declutter parts of her life. I was super intrigued and found the book on Hoopla (the most amazing app ever!). I listened to the book by myself and it was exactly what I needed to hear, even though some of it felt like a personal attack. You know the kind – where someone is calling you on your sh*t when you’re trying to pretend your sh*t doesn’t stink? Yeah, that kind. But it’s ok, I needed to hear it.
As I listened, I was hearing Ellis beautifully articulate some of the anxiety and stress I had been feeling but wasn’t able to find the words for. Some of the practical things she mentioned changing were ones I wanted to strive for – fully embracing a mantra of start small and get some victories before some big overhaul. But, some of the changes I wanted to try were ones I really needed Brandon to be on board with as well. Soooooo, we carpool to work almost every day and we decided to listen to the book together. This was a fantastic decision! It’s not like any of the concepts and ideas in this book are completely revolutionary but listening to it together has given us a similar vocabulary to speak from about things in our lives.
So, let’s get to some of the details. First, again, I did listen to this book. It was read by the author, Courtney Ellis. I love when the author reads the audio version. You get to hear the inflection and emphasis that she originally intended for the text. If you’re one who prefers to hold the book in your hands and read it, I definitely think this would be a quick read because of her conversational style of writing. Second, yes, this book is all about decluttering your life – going through cabinets, drawers, toy bins, finances and your calendar. I know I know, there are tons out there just like this, so what makes this one so different? There are two things in particular that I really loved specifically about this book and that made it different for me. One is Ellis’ style of sharing her journey to decluttering her life as well as her suggestions for the reader and the second is how she brings it all back to her faith.
First the style. It’s easy to read a blog or see a picture someone posted of how they’ve organized their life or some radical change they’ve made and be immediately colored green with envy. We all do it from time to time. It’s honestly a concern I have for doing my own blog, “will people see this or read this and think somehow we have it all figured out?!” I deeply deeply hope not, haha, because that would be so misguided. Well, I never got his feeling while listening to Uncluttered. It was like she just wanted to share her journey in hopes that if even just one person could pick up and run with one of her lessons learned it would be a win. I don’t think she ever said that explicitly, but that’s the feeling I got. It was completely a “you do you” feel. She would share what worked for her, her husband, and their two boys, as a starting place. From there you’re able to think through what might work for you and your family. She also makes sure she shares that they are not perfect. She and her family have made adjustments that work for them, but there are always exceptions, there are always times where they fall short, but they have set a new norm for them to operate within.
The second characteristic that made this book different for me was the motivation behind all of Pastor Ellis’s decluttering in her life. We’ve established that this isn’t a new idea, but Ellis always brings her reasoning back to her faith and how decluttering parts of her life has better enabled her to live out her call more fully and more authentically. For instance, a part of her call in life is to be a mother. So, if being more intentional to schedule time with her children allows her more time with them and if creating a less cluttered space for the time she spends with her children increases the quality of time with them, then she’s able to honor her call as a mother more fully. Another example would be that throughout scripture, old and new testament, we are given a call for deep hospitality, to be in community with one another. If a neighbor comes and needs a listening ear, and because of the fact that Ellis doesn’t have every minute of everyday scheduled to the brim allows her time to listen, she is able to live into her call as a person of faith to welcome others into her home. Throughout the entire book, as Ellis looks at different aspects of her life, she speaks to how she and her family have decluttered, focused on what’s important, and made time for each other. She shares how each of these changes of less has filled them with more! And the more is more Jesus. I found this incredibly powerful, encouraging, and also a little bit freeing.
Practically speaking, what difference has reading this book made? First, listening to it with Brandon has given us a similar vocabulary to use when speaking of our calendar, our house, and our future plans. We didn’t agree with everything from the book, and not everything from the book would really work for us and our house, but overall, we were really encouraged to move forward together with some changes.
One thing we both did, and have never looked back from, was altering notifications that come through on our phone. I know, it may sound silly, but it’s been awesome! Brandon and I only get alerts from phone calls, texts, and work email. No more Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and other miscellaneous app alerts. Brandon used to get ones from the app that is connected to our vacuum cleaner, how silly is that! It was not like any of these notifications took a huge amount of time to swipe away, but they were constant interruptions in our concentration and often created a feeling of being overwhelmed. Since the change, I check Facebook and Instagram way less than I used to. I would open the app almost every time I had a notification, just to see and clear the little red number away, and now, I only open it when I think about it and have a break in what I’m doing. It turns out that I think about the app a lot less when there isn’t a constant barrage of notifications coming through.
It may not seem like a lot but these simple changes have made a difference in what spending time together as a family looks like. These simple changes have made us more engaged in conversations, with one another and with others, not constantly getting our attention broken by an unimportant notification. These were changes that were a variation of what Pastor Ellis had done. It’s what has worked for us. The big thing that Brandon and I will be working on in 2020 is decluttering our calendar. We will be reminding ourselves that a yes to one thing is a no to something else and that time together needs to be scheduled and sacred. It’s not just going to happen. It is a work in progress, it always will be. I hope that if you have been having any of the same feelings of being overwhelmed and way too busy, maybe this book can help be a spark that lights a fire to remind us to focus on what’s important in our lives, and to get rid of all the “stuff” around us. Good luck and Happy New Year!