My husband Ray has been to Haiti on mission trips about 5 times, to help our pastor friends Jay and Linda Threadgill of Fishers of Men Ministries International, including after the 7.0m earthquake in 2010 when he set up a medical clinic treating 200 to 300 injured and ill patients a day.
On his third trip there, I went with him. My heart hurt for the poor people of Haiti, and I learned many things there. One of the things that stood out to me the most was the trash problem. The trash is an ongoing nightmare for the people living there, with garbage filling the streets. On seemingly every corner, I saw garbage several feet high and wide and was horrified.
I couldn’t stop talking about it to the point where Ray’s friend Shawn made a running bet with Ray that Ray had to pay him $1.00 for every time I talked about the trash. I was unaware of the bet, but began noticing after awhile that Ray would groan every time I mentioned it and Shawn would start laughing. After awhile, Ray owed him so much money that he had to stop the bet! They finally told me about it, and I told Shawn to give Ray his money back or give it to pastor Jay for the people of Haiti.
Once dubbed “The Pearl of the Antilles” in the 1950’s, Haiti has few landfills or dumpsters, and there’s nowhere to dispose of the garbage. Many people have to climb over it or wade through it to get anywhere!
The trash problem results in:
- Mice, rats, roaches, and mosquitoes to increase, and disease to spread.
- The horrible smell and awful appearance are destroying the economy and are leading to a severe decrease in tourism, which could help lift the poor country out of aid dependency.
- A toxic environment. Decaying waste produces methane gas, which when inhaled can lead to serious long-term lung, heart and brain defects.
One night as Shawn, Ray and I sat on a patio, surrounded by luscious emerald-green palm trees and it began to gently rain as we drank small bottles of cold Coke®, I sighed with contentment, thinking, “We are in Haiti! HAITI!” It was surreal and like an exciting adventure. Then suddenly, I saw a big mouse running across a nearby power line and wanted to go home!
The trash and the rodents mar the idyllic tropical beauty of the land. It’s the same in our lives. At the end of each year, I intentionally “take out the trash” to declutter my home and my heart.
Here’s a few of the things I do to “declutter” physically and spiritually, which might help you, too.
Last night I pulled everything out of my office closet to organize, declutter, and throw things away. When I posted this above picture on Facebook, some of the amusing responses from my friends were:
- “Oh my, is that all you have? My paper tiger is huge!”
- “I’m doing the samething. Paper mountain for me.”
- “Me, too!”
- “My husband and I cleaned out several boxes in the basement. I found an old journal from the 1980’s.”
- “I have so much paper stuff it’s not even funny!”
- “I’m doing the same. I love organizing and purging!”
- “I just had a white peppermint mocha. Yummo!” (I had mentioned drinking a cappuccino while doing my pile!”
It seems I’m in good company here. What about you?
This time of year, one of my best friends is the shredder. The one I bought (pictured above) is from Walmart, and I think it cost me about $30. I use it all the time. One reason I shred personal papers is for protection against identity theft. (Nineteen people become victims of identity theft every minute, with $15 billion stolen from 13.1 million U.S. consumers in 2015.)
Last night I went through the folders in my black file cabinet, pictured above. (I have a small one; that helps tame the paper tiger!). If there are any papers that I believe I will not need, I toss and shred them.
This is the part where it gets sticky. So many people are afraid to throw away papers (or other belongings) because “I might need this one day.” Do you really need it? That is the question. You will not need 3 copies of the same medical bill! You don’t need papers from every place you’ve ever worked in your life. If you’re an author or speaker, you don’t need to keep copies of every single speaking presentation or old manuscripts. Purge!
Next, I organize the papers into various, colored folders. Write a short label for the contents of the folder, such as:
- Present bills
- Past due bills
- Personal joint checking account
- Business checking account
- Paid off bills
- Student loans
Your folders may have different labels. Since I am a published author and do research for my books, I also have a few folders for topics that I’m studying and writing about, such as:
The key is to not let the paper tiger get out of control. Remember, your goal here is to get your office, desk, closet, or whatever space you’re working in organized, neat, and clean to prepare for the coming year. A study by Princeton University found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress.
You decide on what to keep and what to throw away and shred. There’s such a feeling of accomplishment and lightness when you are finished! You can breathe easier.
Another good idea is to buy a fireproof, waterproof safe to keep all your important family documents in, such as:
- Copies of each family member’s birth certificates;
- Copies of each family member’s driver’s license;
- Family members’ passports;
- Rent agreement or mortgage papers;
- Copies of your car insurance papers;
- Medical, dental, and vision insurance papers;
- Retirement papers;
- Bank information papers;
- Spare keys to house, cars, safes, etc.
- Any other papers that would be irreplaceable if lost or destroyed.
You can also get a safe at your local community bank to store these for you at a cost. I advise making copies of everything first.
A few other things I do at the end of the year to declutter and prepare for the new year:
- Go through my closets and drawers. A good rule of thumb for giving away, selling, or throwing away an item is if you haven’t used it for a whole year (some say 6 months). Just think of how you’re making room for cute new clothes! 😀 The leggings from 3 years ago won’t make you this winter’s fashionista! Then again, I don’t care about that personally; I wear what I like and is comfortable. Just make sure that your clothes still fit, are still in good shape (not torn, buttons missing, badly faded, etc.), you feel attractive in them, and they’re suitable for the current season.
- Deep clean my house and decorate it prettily. This includes those once a year jobs like dusting ceiling fans (or dusting in general! Just kidding!), cleaning out your fridge, freezer, oven, and/or dishwasher. You can run vinegar and water through your dishwasher while it’s empty to clean it. Go through each room of your home. Does it look clean, organized, warm and inviting? Is the decor a reflection of your personal style and taste? If not, it may be time to toss some things and decorate to reflect you more. A woman’s home is her nest, and I think we should love where we live!
- Knock down spider webs in the corners of every room, and in each closet and cabinet. This is a job I often leave to my husband Ray as I’m afraid of spiders! Spiders love to come inside your house during the colder months. They are not my furry little friends!
- Check and replace light bulbs in each light or lamp and batteries in the smoke alarms. I usually do the light bulbs, and I ask Ray to check the smoke alarms since he used to be a fire chief and fireman. Smoke alarms save lives, and reduce fire deaths and injuries. The batteries should be checked once a month and the smoke alarm every 10 years.
- Check your car’s oil, windshield wiper fluid, brake fluid, tires, headlights and brake lights, and overall well-being (again, this is where I need Ray’s help!) You also might need a tune-up. Make sure your trunk has jumping cables, a spare tire, a flashlight, a blanket (this might be kept in the back seat in the event of breaking down during cold weather, plus snacks and water.)
- Create an emergency kit for disasters for your home. (This is on my goals list!)
- Clean out the garage. Sweep, knock down spider webs, and organize it. Make sure your car(s) fit in there! Throw away any empty cans of charcoal fluid, car oil, brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid, pesticides, Windex or other cleaners, etc.
Last and definitely not least, I declutter my heart to prepare for the new year. “Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.”–Proverbs 4:23, NIV
I ask God to search my heart for any unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, anger, rage, malice, jealousy, envy, worry, fear, stress, or anything that displeases Him. I don’t want to carry those things with me into the new year. I want a clean and pure heart, and to run unencumbered into 2017!
Take out the trash! Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart and show you any sin, anyone you need to forgive (including God or yourself), any unnecessary weight (such as stress, fear or anxiety) that will keep you from fulfilling your purpose walking in authority and in peace this year.
Examine your relationships with people this year: your marriage, your children, your parents, your siblings, your in-laws, your friends, your business peers or co-workers, your boss, your neighbors. Is the relationship good and close? Is there tension or unforgiveness between you, and if so, why?
Remember the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over, but expecting a different result. If you do what you always did in this relationship–hold a grudge, blame, act snarky, criticize, withhold affection, ignore, take him or her for granted–you’ll get the same tired strife or distance!
The Bible says in Romans 12:18 (Berean Study Bible): “If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.” You might not be able to reconcile with everybody, but do your part and let God deal with the rest. When you prioritize a relationship and let the person know you sincerely care and humbly approach him or her (including apologies when necessary), it can work miracles.
Love is the greatest miracle of all. I’m asking God to give me more of a heart of unconditional, agape love for Him and others this coming year.
At other times, for the sake of your own emotional and mental health, you may need to set firm boundaries in relationships to protect yourself or those you love. You can forgive someone, but that doesn’t mean allowing others to abuse or mistreat you.
The most important relationship of all for the coming year is between you and God. Is there any “trash” between you and Him—known sin? Spend time in prayer and ask God to show you anything hindering your intimacy with Him. Walk in obedience this coming year and you will experience His many blessings that He longs to bestow on you.
“God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done.”–2 Corinthians 9:8, The Message
Are you ready to get rid of the trash, and declutter your home and heart? Don’t put it off. We have 3 more days before the end of this year! Let’s prepare for 2017 and make it your and my best year ever!
***Do you want to draw closer to God in the coming year? Check out my eBook on prayer at Amazon, Walking With God.