My heart thumped when my colleague and friend said that her 2018 new year’s resolution was to get rid of 2,018 items in 2018. “That’s 39 things a week,” she had already done the math. That naggy, unwelcome, irritating little voice tapped her crookedy pointer on my inner sanctum, ‘Hey – you need to do that.‘ Over the course of the next two weeks, her voice wouldn’t shut up. “Hey stupid,” I said, “we’re past the new year’s resolution zone, so shut up and hit snooze.” She didn’t shut up. Resolutely, and somewhat bitterly, I have found, sorted, photographed, and kicked out of the door my first laundry basket of 39 things. With its exit have come several realizations regarding why 39 things is healthy.
I would like to have a healthier relationship to material things. I am willing to take a look at my culture where having a plethora of stuff can equate to happiness, comfort, and safety. For me, one of the biggest hurdles to moving away from the States was leaving behind the dream of a white picket fence, 2-car garage, and cozy house in suburbia. I grew up poor on a farm in unstable circumstances, so those things equalled stability and normal. I thought that I would be happy if I had a life of matching dishes and upscale hospitality and cozy throw pillows. Now, after 24 years in Eastern Europe, the suburbia dream holds much less appeal to me.
Living cross-culturally is not a cure-all – one can move across an ocean and still be chained to some hefty baggage of unhealthy-commitment-to-things.
We are a family of 6, so maybe some level of clutter is inevitable. I find clutter creates stress, it steals the creative aesthetic from our home, and it breeds conflict surrounding the maintenance of a pleasantly organized space. Clutter equals chaos in our home; baggage, both real and relational.
When our Russian friends would step into our Moscow apartment, they would have a small tote bag with them. One. small. tote bag. Our itinerary would continue together from Moscow to wherever, but invariably, my luggage was expanding beyond the 30 kilogram marker with an extra backpack and purse along for the journey. When we began to do life with our Bulgarian friends in Sofia, the scenario was exactly the same. It caused me to question why I needed so much.
At one conference, I found myself admiring a Dutch friend who was part of the music team on stage. On day 3, I realized that she had been wearing the same sweater every day. Style and stylish was somehow unchained from the concept of a daily wardrobe change.
I would happily ignore the part of me that insists on asking who, where, and what was sacrificed for me to wear or use or eat the items that I enjoy. Honestly, I do not want to explore this question, but my gut tells me that as a Christ-follower, I have to care and I have to ask questions. It is my social responsibility to seek real answers regarding if and how my consumerism causes unjust realities for people in other countries. It is my obedience and submission to Christ himself that brings me to a place of repentance for depending upon things instead of Jesus. To the extent that, not only have I been chained to material desires, but I may have allowed or facilitated others to be put into chains in order to meet my material desires, I feel a sobering responsibility.
Climate change, going green, ecological responsibility – these topics breed disagreement that somehow leads to astonishingly destructive polarization in our society, in our politics, in our homes, and in our churches. I am not interested in having that argument.
It seems clear that in our relationship to plastic, to toxins, to paper, and to garbage, we could do better. As I collect my 39 Things, as I grocery shop, as I purchase for my family, I am motivated to evaluate how my buying habits contribute irresponsibly or responsibly to the health of our planet. I would like to live responsibly.
Come along on my 39 Things journey in 2018.
I’ll be posting new thoughts, insights, and new information discovered as I try to unchain from 39 things each week.
Follow my instagram @TSunberg with #39Things and #Unchained2018. My commitment is to photograph and post weekly with simple unfiltered, and unedited photos of my 39 Things journey.