This week for his ecumenical tithing Fr Martin Magill visited Glengormley Presbyterian Church, where Gwen Montgomery from “Sorted by Gwen” spoke about the practical and spiritual effects of clutter and de-cluttering.
It sounds like an immensely helpful evening which left people with plenty to think about — with the potential to build the resolve to declutter our lives.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: De-Cluttering
This week I worshipped in Glengormley Presbyterian Church as I had been told there was going to be input on decluttering.
The evening began with the opening hymn “Hosanna” which I found moving as the previous day the P4 boys from Sacred Heart Boys’ Primary School sang it at Mass where they received Holy Communion for the first time.
The minister Rev David Brice welcomed us and led an opening prayer. The choir sang an anthem which fitted with the theme of the evening which was about finding our security in God instead of material possessions.
The scripture passage which David read was from Matthew 6:19-24. We sang another hymn and then David introduced Gwen Montgomery, who is a professional declutterer. Gwen had chosen the title: “The Dark Cupboard under the stairs – treasures in heaven” for her talk.
The following are some of the points which made an impression on me:
- Clutter can lead to time lost.
- We can find all sorts of excuses to justify holding onto things such as it will come in useful some day.
- The main issue is that more stuff keeps coming into our homes and little leaves.
- Clutter and hoarding place a strain on relationships, cause stress in homes and affect our mental health.
- Clutter can also affect our relationship with Jesus.
Gwen identified 4 main types of clutterers!
1. creative multi tasker
These types have a lot on their minds and a lot in their work spaces with so many unfinished projects. They are often very busy and quite productive but also leave many other things undone. She suggested that they need to ask what is being neglected? She made the point that there were spiritual lessons. Gwen acknowledged an aspect of God in this type, because creating is exciting and a blessed thing, and after all God is creator.
2. future fearer
People of this type have fear of running out. Some of them may have been born around the time of WWII and they keep things believing they might be useful in the future. She pointed out that Matthew 6 was relevant, with the advice of Jesus not to worry. Instead she encouraged trust in God and asked do we trust in God, but only for salvation? She also commented that there was value in an increased simplicity of a smaller home and to hold things more lightly.
3. custodian of history
This type holds onto memorabilia, travel souvenirs and is full of stories about the many different objects in his or her house. They have a fear of forgetting things that have happened – e.g. war memories. Gwen pointed out stories are important but not as important as God’s story. There is a need for genuine remembering, but she also suggested the need to question motives and safeguard against objects becoming idols.
4. intellectual librarian
For this type the emphasis is on paper – books, recipes, cuttings and so on. There is the power of the written word, but there is a need for a system and a reduction in volume. Some options to be considered: can books be loaned? is there an idolatry of the written word? Gwen suggested local shops over Amazon. She also mentioned advertising and how it appeals to part of us and we buy more.
Gwen then moved on to consider if there was a sense of unease within us that we hoard, and invited us to consider if our stuff was like a security blanket. For Christians our security is not in things but in relationship with Jesus. She invited us to think if we placed a high value on stuff, if we often thought “that’s mine”. She remarked that it is very sad if this life is reduced to stuff. She invited us to question if we had little or no discipline about what comes in to our homes and what goes out. She said that from her work there was a sense of shame about clutter. She invited us to be aware of the danger of anything taking over in our hearts.
Personally speaking, I found one of the most valuable parts was when Gwen asked: What is our place of worship? She said: Treasures in the home can become idols in a new temple, and pointed to the teaching of Matthew 6 which was read as part of the service.
Gwen commented that when we start to deal with clutter it feels like there is a burden lifted which was holding us captive. She pointed out that the human mind can treat clutter like wallpaper as a way of dealing it, we don’t see it any more. But she questioned what effect this can have on our psyche. She referred to a number of passages in scripture which offered direction to freedom.
At this point in the service there was tea and coffee, and then questions and answers with Gwen, and a number of people from the congregation asked a question or made a comment. My favourite contribution came from a man who told us about his Hornby train sets, Dinky toys and his extensive collection of tools. Gwen suggested he could think about donating some of the tools to an organisation called Tools for Solidarity.
In conclusion, Gwen suggested we ask for “experience gifts” rather than solid gifts, and take a photo from the experience.
In the final part of the evening, David shared a story about a visit he had made to an art gallery and pointed out what we think is valuable might not be the case for the next generation.
In a conversation with him afterwards, David told me about the true story of a Methodist minister who was asked what he was burning in his garden said – “my old sermons.” He went on and said, “they are neither good for me nor my congregation.”
On reflection on the service: Sometimes we hear “church is boring and irrelevant.”