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Clutter is Good Again: Finding Security in the Stuff We’re Saving

Last week, I was talking with a younger friend (via Zoom, of course) about how COVID 19 might change our lives going forward. The changes are likely to be big: many expect the impact on Americans now living might compare to the impact of the Great Depression or World War II.

Extreme thrift is one of the habits Americans in those generations learned.

I’ve helped a few friends from those times to downsize their homes, and their collections against possible future need would make anyone chuckle. With the possible exception of Marie Kondo. If anything could make her frown, these homes might.

Security in That Time: Save Everything

I described to my younger friend the man who had filled an entire pantry drawer with foil-coated brown paper bags. They were produced to carry ice cream home from the market in the 1950s and 1960s, and then sometimes repurposed as cold food carriers for picnics. They’re even referenced in a 1959 edition of the Scouting magazine Boy’s Life as a way to convey meats to a campfire cookout.

Then I told her about the older woman who had filled much of a closet with meticulously labeled shoeboxes full of potentially useful items, including “Pieces of String Too Short to Save.” One presumes that the “Pieces of String Long Enough to Save” had been somewhere else knotted together into a ball of cord for package tying and other essential needs. A friend familiar with the habits of that era speculates that the short pieces may have been saved for reuse as stuffing in a pincushion or other small item.

The woman who filled her closet with shoeboxes of odd bits hadn’t heard of Marie Kondo-style “tidying.” Or maybe — Kondo-style — the older woman found joy in knowing that her closet held nearly everything she might ever need.

Security Today: Save (More) Things

My younger friend laughed ruefully.

“I’ve noticed that the takeout containers I would usually throw out – I’m saving a lot of them,” she said.

To what end? Did she even know? Take out containers are just something that might eventually be useful. Just like glass baby food jars (and more recently their plastic successors) eventually found new purpose as accessible storage for nuts, bolts, nails and screws at our grandparents’ workbenches.

We’re not certain of many things today that seemed ordinary expectations just a month ago. I suspect I’m not the only person who regrets having “Marie Kondo’d” some sewing supplies with which I might have assembled a few more protective masks. Being able to go shopping is no longer a certainty, so hanging onto stuff has become a practical life strategy.

Being able to go shopping is no longer a certainty during COVID, so hanging onto stuff — even “Pieces of String Too Short to Save” — has again become a practical life strategy.

When life become less certain, we are inclined to create whatever certainties we can. I can’t be sure that COVID won’t overwhelm my local health care system, but I can take the recommended precautions against exposure. I can’t be sure that my job will still be considered essential next week, but I can do it well today. I can’t be sure that my retirement savings will still be worth enough to last my lifetime, but I can be sure I have enough plastic takeout containers.

When life become less certain, we create whatever certainties we can. I can’t be sure that my (now plummeting) retirement savings will last my post-COVID lifetime, but I can be sure I have saved enough plastic takeout containers.

During COVID 19’s big challenges, we are reminded that what we achieve is “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” according to God. And as little as we feel able to manage right now, God reminds us not to “despise the day of small things” (Zech. 4: 6-10). The small things we accomplish today — including that stockpile of reusable takeout containers — can establish the foundation for a time God knows is to come.

What small things are you able to control today that help you feel more certain during these uncertain times? Give us some ideas!