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Declutter this Lent, and drive out envy and avarice

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Minimalism is a flexible tool to help you regain freedom from slavery to your possessions and to consumer goods more generally.  Photo:
Minimalism is a flexible tool to help you regain freedom from slavery to your possessions and to consumer goods more generally. Photo:

How’s your Lent going? And how’s that temperance going?  

I don’t think I’m doing well. But I took comfort from Ed Condon’s recent comment in The Pillar: “I try very hard to recall that these 40 days are something God is giving me, not the other way around.” 

Ed is right. So was C. S. Lewis, who said in Mere Christianity, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.”  

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“You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.” 

This week we’ll look at how to overcome envy and avarice. These evil twins are both breaches of the tenth commandment, and they have multiple virtues to combat them. 

The Catechism tells us (CCC2554) that, “The baptised person combats envy through good-will, humility, and abandonment to the providence of God.” I’m going to focus on two specific virtues related to these: the common good, and justice.  

Envy and avarice drive our consumer society. Like gluttony and cooking programs, I bet that if you turn on the television right now, you’d find that around 95 per cent of it involves selling you things you don’t need.  

Meanwhile, hoarding disorder—an ongoing problem with getting rid of stuff from your home—seems to be increasing in Australia. The stuff builds up and cause severe clutter and congestion, and it’s distressing for everyone who lives there. 

In the United States, childhood friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus decided they’d had enough. Together they founded a movement called Minimalism, a lifestyle that helps people question what things really add value to their lives.  

Neither of them is Catholic. But they provide us with an example of pursuing the common good as an antidote to the avarice and envy that’s drowning us in stuff, a remedy that goes beyond simply “sparking joy” and “decluttering.”  

Minimalism is a flexible tool to help you regain freedom from slavery to your possessions and to consumer goods more generally. It requires slower and more deliberate decisions about how and what you spend your money on.  

This isn’t just material things. You might be obsessed with joining an expensive elite social club so that you can rub shoulders with posh types. Or you might spend too much money trying to impress people so that they’ll nominate you for honours or awards.  

Pagans are practising minimalism and finding freedom, greater happiness, and more fulfilment. I think envious and avaricious Catholics can definitely use it to rediscover—or perhaps discover for the first time—trust in God as the provider of all good things.  

You can and probably should live with less stuff. If you offload it, there is less to clean, less to keep tidy, and less to worry about.  

Do you really believe that God created the entire universe, including you, out of nothing?  Do you really believe what Jesus says to us in the Scriptures about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air?  

If the answer is even a wobbly “yes,” then you can learn to let go of at least some of your stuff.  

There is no doubt that cheap manufacture and excellent transport have created a hugely wasteful economy in Australia. We also struggle to recycle, reuse, and repurpose most of what we’ve bought.  

The best solution is not to buy so much stuff in the first place. That’s also what Lent is for.   

If you can learn to live with less, you will also be practising detachment. This frees your soul and body to spend more time with other people, and with God. 

I know it’s hard to get started. Your kids want endless moulded plastic, the car is looking patchy, the kitchen is dated, and your spouse just bought a massive new television because the old one wouldn’t download updates on something or other. 

But you can start, and you can start small. This Lent, why not try to really clear out just one room in your house? 

The best room to start with is your own bedroom, especially if you’re a woman. If you’re a man, you might like to start with your shed, garage, or study. You will find online guides to starting this process when you feel overwhelmed and want to run away. 

Open wide the doors of your storage units, wardrobes, and other hoards of shame to Christ this Lent. Let him come in and help you get rid of everything that’s weighing you down.  

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