If you tuned in last week you know I committed to a quest. Seven weeks and seven areas of life to explore more deeply for the start of the new year. I won’t gush every week (like a crazy fan girl) about the book that inspired this project, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker, but wanted to remind you that my project is based on my own spin-off of this book. If you’re thinking “that’s not very original,” you’re right, but I believe in continuing great ideas. In my book Global Girlfriends: How One Mom Made it Her Business to Help Women in Poverty Worldwide I invited budding social entrepreneurs to “copy left” or build on my ideas. The opposite of a copyright, copy left simply means “take my ideas, use them, improve on them, and share them with someone else.” During day one of my 7 project, I listened to hours of speakers from The Year In Ideas: TED Talks in 2014 while cleaning my kitchen. My unexpected favorite was How Sampling Transformed Music by Mark Ronson. It was very “copy left.” Ronson explained how sampling builds on the best of creativity in music. That does not mean sampling always makes a better song than the original (for example: Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby is not better than Under Pressure by Queen). So here is what happened in my first week of sampling 7 — I purged.
For any of you truly organized souls I’m sure this does not sound earth shattering. After all cleaning your house may be something that you just do. I, on the other hand, am a surface cleaner but a closet hoarder. I’m the sort of hoarder who hides beneath the facade of a tidy entryway. If you come to my house it’s probably socially acceptable in all the areas I’ll allow you into, but please don’t open a cupboard or step into my bedroom or ask to see my laundry room. This is when you’ll learn that I’m only putting on a good show for company. My original idea was to spend 7 days on 7 rooms donating good items we no longer use, returning borrowed things, and getting rid of the rest of my life’s clutter.
I learned quickly, on day one, that 7 days wouldn’t cut it to clean out all the places I’d been hiding my junk. In the kitchen I was astonished at what I was either wasting or holding on to. The expired food alone was incredibly disheartening. Am I so special that I have the right to buy food my family and I will never bother to eat while 870 million people in the world go hungry? Not to condemn myself completely, since I know I’ve tried not to be a waster. For example I found an opened box of Cream of Wheat with a brown piece of packing tape stuck over the spout. At some point I had made an effort not to waste the contents of this box. But when I read the expiration date I found that the cereal had expired in May of 2005. I had moved to my “new” house over 7 years ago in 2007 and brought the box along. Even my tape up effort had been a waste. Into the trash it went (nine years late). I vowed to try to eat what’s in my cupboard and to try not to buy more than we need.
Then to the vinegar — oh how I believe I should eat vinegar. My great-grandma Mary Lakeman lived to be 106 years old. The 4 secrets to her longevity, from what I could tell, were her devotion to God, her midwestern practicality, her love of family (and she had a big one with ten kids and their off spring), and her daily consumption of vinegar. My kitchen clean-up unearthed 12, mostly full, bottles of vinegar. I was trying to add something “good for me” to my life, but clearly I was not consuming “the good stuff” at the rate of purchase. In fact, I had no idea I owned most of this vinegar because the bottles were hidden behind things like the old box of Cream of Wheat.
And isn’t that true about our lives sometimes? We fill up with the unnecessary. We busy and burden ourselves with the clutter, while ignoring the “good stuff.” We have abundant access to the things that will make our life better, fuller, and richer, but we lose it in plain sight.
My week of cleaning went on to yield 15 bags of items for Goodwill, a pile of possessions returned to their rightful owners, some extra bags for the garbage man, and a pitcher full of loose change. Dakota and Cali, my two oldest kids, cashed the change at a Coinstar machine and used the proceeds to buy groceries for our church food pantry. Our once forgotten coins from the drawers of my house (almost 2,000 of them!), turned into $116 in groceries to help our less fortunate neighbors. I was feeling lighter. It was good to let things go.
Then I was asked to let go in ways that I hadn’t planned or wanted. I found myself at two funerals, one for a friend named Ann and the second for an acquaintance named Mike. I knew Ann because she had been one of my teachers when I went through the RCIA program to become a Catholic. I didn’t really know Mike, but he was the husband of the best teacher any of my kids ever had (and that’s saying a lot as they’ve had many great teachers), so I went in support of her. Their memorials were powerful testaments to their faith and to the impact they made on the lives of others. These two people used their lives to let others know that they mattered, both to them and to God.
One unexpected song used in a video tribute to Mike stayed with me. It was Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s catchy 1988 classic Joy and Pain. In case you don’t remember this hit from my freshman year in college, the refrain is “joy and pain are like sunshine and rain.” Isn’t that our lives — joy and pain, sunshine and rain. Mike and Ann picked joy over pain and brought sunshine to others during rain. These two knew how to get to “the good stuff” because they’d made room for what’s really important. I thought back to Mark Ronson’s TED Talk on sampling, but learned this week that sampling isn’t just for music. We can sample from the lives of people we admire to become better ourselves. So even if my version of their song is more Ice Ice Baby than Under Pressure, I’ll try my best to sample from these inspirational lives and, in the words of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, to “pump it up, pump it up! keep it goin’ keep it goin’ now…” I hope you’ll sing along.
dc:title=”Joy and Pain, Sunshine and Rain”