Monday, April 21, 2014

Day of Reckoning

Yesterday was Easter Sunday, the official end of the Lenten season. That means that today is the day of reckoning for 40 Bags in 40 Days. Did I make it?

I did not.
Over the course of the 40 days of Lent, I got rid of somewhere between 15 and 20 bags of donations, trash and recycling. The majority of the non-trash items went to two local consignment stores (clothing) and the local library (outgrown books and prizes for their summer reading club which included a Thirty-One bag and signed copies of Casting the First Stone and Diverse Divorce -- things I would not normally "get rid of"). Nearly everything else was recycled paper, including magazines that had sat untouched for months. While it was a great feeling of relief to get rid of some of that clutter, pieces of paper and issues of magazines don't add up very quickly when you're marking progress in terms of garbage bags.

Still, this was a valuable experience, one that reminded me of a few things:

  1. A goal is a good thing to have…Even at the outset, 40 bags in 40 days seemed like a lot, but I opted to aim high, especially since I have no doubt there are at least 40 bags of useless stuff in our house. 
  2. …but it works better if it's clearly defined. The 40 bags part was clear enough, but…what constitutes a "bag"? A plastic grocery store bag? A paper grocery store bag? A kitchen trash bag? A yard waste trash bag? Once again, I aimed high, classifying a bag as something between the last two. That's a lot of paper and magazines…which is what makes up the bulk of the ordinary, dust-collecting, "I know I'll get to that someday" clutter at our house.
  3. An unreachable goal doesn't make me virtuous - just more likely to be disappointed. If normal, everyday trash and recycling "counts," then we hit our goal. But in the Lenten spirit of almsgiving, I included in my tally only those things I wouldn't have normally gotten rid of, and so I fell far short of 40 bags. 
  4.  My daughter is a dynamo when she's in the mood to clean. Credit where credit is due -- a substantial portion of our 15-20 bags was a result of my daughter's self-imposed, well-timed spring cleaning. Without her, the final numbers would have been much lower.
  5. Sometimes you have to move the endpoint. 40 bags is a worthwhile goal, and not hitting it in 40 days doesn't diminish its value. So I'm going to keep de-cluttering, and tallying those bags (something between a kitchen trash bag and a yard waste bag, depending on contents) on the kitchen calendar. I want to see how far we get by the end of 2014.
So, was "40 Bags in 40 Days" an epic fail at our house?

I don't think so. One of the things that made this a great goal for Lent was that it focused on simplifying and sharing what we have with others who might need it. Over the past 40 days, we've made a good start toward clearing things out, tackling overdue tasks (that mountain of papers to be shredded) and setting guidelines to avoid falling into the same trap again (no one is allowed to start a "to be shredded" pile. That's just asking for trouble). 

Best of all, I've gotten much better at answering the "do I really need this?" question in the negative…and finding someone else who might appreciate the thing I don't need.

Some of our best family habits and traditions have begun as resolutions for Lent or Advent, and I fully intend for "40 Bags in 40 Days" to be a Lenten resolution again next year. Unless, of course, my house is completely devoid of unnecessary clutter by then.

Okay, that one might just make me chuckle from now until Lent 2015.

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