The Empty Drawer
When I was in seminary in Chicago, my family of four lived in a 475 square foot apartment. We had too much stuff, our home was always a mess, there weren’t enough places to put things.
We moved to Iowa City for my wife’s grad school, and apparently space is less expensive there, because we got a house that was like, 800,000 square feet or something.
I told my friends, “This is incredible – we have so much room, we’ll never fill it up.”
They all responded, “Oh yes, you will. You will accumulate so much crap you’ll be in the same bind you were in back in Chicago.”
To prove them wrong, I claimed a drawer in the kitchen. It was my empty drawer.
Nothing went in this drawer, because it was the empty drawer. I showed it off to guests: “Look, I have this lovely drawer. Nothing ever goes in it, because it’s the empty drawer.”
And all my nay-saying friends were vanquished.
I did not fill up the big house with stuff.
Then, after four years, my family (now five of us) moved back to Chicago, and we got a house bigger than our first apartment, but much smaller than the house we’d just been in.
I’d like to say that in the new house I saved an empty drawer as I finished unpacking. But the truth is, I never finished unpacking. We had too much stuff to find a place for everything. When we moved again after four years (family of six now), we loaded boxes on the truck that we hadn’t opened since we packed them a couple of houses ago.
And that’s embarassing. But also helpful. Apparently, I need to be reminded me that I can’t expect to get a bigger house just because I have a lot of things I want to keep.
It’s not the size of the container that’s the problem, it’s the amount of stuff I try to put in it.
It’s not the length of a day that’s the problem, it’s the number of tasks we try to accomplish between dawn and dusk.
It’s not the capacity of the mind or the frailty of the psyche that is the problem, it’s the number and intensity of the expectations and pressures and worry that we hold.
Sometimes the house is too small, but it’s not the house’s fault.
So. Sometime, if you take stock of your life, and you realize you have too much stuff, don’t despair. You might have too many material possessions or too much work, or too many commitments, or too many family dynamics you’re trying to keep from exploding all over everything.
Also, there are probably too many Legos in your bathroom. But I digress.
If you have too many things you’re holding yourself accountable for, perhaps it’s right to let a few things go. If that’s a frightening proposition, maybe start small, say, a drawer’s worth.
Dump it out, and save it for nothing.
You might just find that this empty space is one of your very favorite things.