Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

The Gift of Emptiness

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One of the Christmas gifts we received this year was a very thoughtful gift of time and energy from my sister and brother-in-law. They offered their time to help with our move. We decided that we really needed their help, not during the week of the move itself, but rather to help us move the accumulation of three trailer-loads of stuff that we had put in storage in Tucson during our house-hunting, inspecting, and signing trips. So my family is with us this weekend, and the three storage units are now empty.

Have you ever thought of emptiness as a gift? These storage units used to be filled with boxes of books, art, my grandma’s china, outdoor tables and chairs, yard art, storage shelving, craft supplies, and what felt like a million other things. Now they are empty…and that means that we finally have everything all in one house (and yard) again.

“Everything” is also less than it used to be. We did take the time to sort through a lot of our belongings during the process of this move. We donated kitchen gadgets, clothing, and other items that we weren’t using to the church’s annual bazaar back in November. I gave away a bunch of art supplies to an artist friend, and Henry shipped eight boxes of books to his high school’s library, which is looking to expand its theological holdings.

Letting go of the “stuff” that doesn’t give us joy is a phrase that is taking some segments of America by storm these days. On Facebook I’ve read about a number of friends who are using Marie Kondo’s philosophy, outlined in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, to let go of the excess clutter in their lives and create some positive empty space. She’s tapped into a serious problem, which is that too many of us have, to some extent or other, bought (literally) into the idea that the more we have, the better off we are—in terms of status, wealth, success, or whatever.

One of the great ironies—and the source of another gift we received with this move—is that my granddad was one of the first to recognize that Americans were buying up more than they could store in their homes. Perhaps because he built houses for a living, he saw that people were having a difficult time finding room to put everything they owned. Way back when (and I don’t know when that was), he and a friend approached a bank for a loan to build something new: a self-storage business. The bank wasn’t as forward-thinking; they didn’t understand the need and refused them the loan. So my granddad and his partner self-financed the construction of one of the first self-storage businesses in Tucson. It was in three of those storage units that Henry and I were able to store our belongings during this transition time.

Emptiness is not always a good thing; it depends on the circumstances. Empty bellies plague too many of our schoolchildren, making focus difficult in the classroom and limiting their physical and psychological growth. But far too many of us—including, I suspect, everyone reading this blog—are plagued with the opposite problem: the accumulation of more than we can reasonably handle or enjoy. And so I ask: Is there a need for more emptiness in your life? What might the gift of emptiness look like for you, and how might you get there?

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2 thoughts on “The Gift of Emptiness

  1. Shirin, Great post! I was on a day trip yesterday with a friend. We wondered over all the trucks on the road and how this seems to be a phenomenon of the last 30 years or so. Which fits with the accumulation of “stuff”. I live in an old house with itty bitty closets. I used to wonder about how people managed with such small closets. Now I realize that it’s more about how we’ve become accumulators.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, indeed, Sondra! We could learn a lot from our ancestors about living a simple life, I think. I’m glad that my post resonated with some of your recent experiences!

    Peace,
    Shirin

    Like

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