Cover image for Simplicity : finding peace by uncluttering your life
Simplicity : finding peace by uncluttering your life
Thomas, Kim, 1958-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Nashville, Tenn. : Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.
Physical Description:
v, 149 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library BV4527 .T47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Eggertsville-Snyder Library BV4527 .T47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Audubon Library BV4527 .T47 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



A biblically inspired 3-part pattern helps readers simplify their physical, emotional, and spiritual self and ensure that God's image will be more clearly reflected in their lives.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Poet, painter and singer/songwriter (as half of the modern pop duo Sayso) Thomas debuts as author in this warm, funny volume aimed at simplifying the lives of Christian women. In pursuit of what Thomas calls the "Sacrament of Simplicity," she divides her material into three sections, addressing the needs of the physical (body), relational/emotional (soul) and spiritual (spirit). In each part, Thomas outlines ways to get rid of excess, find joy in daily tasks and reflect the image of Christ in everyday life. There are also exercises, such as creating a mission statement; questions, to help readers target sources of clutter; and summaries. Although these clear, concise suggestions will most likely be appreciated by those who are overwhelmed by the demands and pace of contemporary life and by those seeking a deeper spirituality, what elevates Thomas's book above the average how-to is her engaging candor. Anecdotes about her own struggles and, yes, meaningful "clutter" (four Christmas trees), relayed in an appealing, conversational tone, will make readers feel like they are having a soothing cup of tea with a treasured friend. By gently poking fun at her own setbacks and quest for perfection (which, she points out, "will either ravage the well-being of our interiors or reduce us to humble gratitude"), Thomas will not only encourage readers to start weeding, but also to be kind to themselves in the process. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One REDUCING THE CLUTTER     What is so seductive about a full attic? Or so irresistible about a full basement? Or so mesmerizing about a packed closet or drawers that bust forth? I remember as a girl being totally uninterested in my mother's dresser drawers. It was probably due to her instinctive gift of "de-clutter." In one drawer there would be four neatly folded pairs of "functioning" pantyhose (purposely separated from the trouser hose, the ones with runs in them), seven identical pairs of panties folded in thirds and then halves, three bras folded cup-in-cup, and a flowery-smelling sachet in the midst of this neatness, This was representative of her other drawers. Don't get me going on her linen closet.     There was absolutely no mystery to be discovered in those drawers. All the items in them were full-fledged members of her wardrobe, so there were no surprises, nothing I hadn't seen before. On the other hand, Mom did allow for three small indulgences in the "stuff I never use but still save" category: the attic, Dad's jewelry box, and the out-of-date-clothes basket.     Even on the hottest day in the summer, I could entertain myself with the mysteries of the attic. My old toys and stuffed animals, my older sister's old toys and stuffed animals, and exotic items from Dad's many tours to places like the South Pole and the Orient held me long after the sweating began. The wonder that was created by boxes labeled simply "Books" sent me into hyperimagination. If the attic was entirely too hot and unbearable, a pass through Dad's jewelry box with the many bejeweled cufflinks and tie bars, old unworn rings, and multicolored ribbons symbolizing honors earned in service to his country would capture me for an afternoon. And the out-of-date-clothes basket, which at the time seemed so big and heavy, would net me many in a long line of one-of-a-kind fashions.     While I maintained a cache of baby dolls so large that my friends and I often played "Adoption," Mom's gift for de-cluttering was forced on her early due to my father's career in the Navy. Every eighteen months to two years we would be notified of our new geographical location. Moving a home of four (not counting the baby dolls) so often can keep a girl lean on the "stuff" side of life. I think we probably had just enough clutter to keep my youthful creative juices flowing, but not enough to choke on.     So why do we have full attics, basements, closets, and drawers? I'm sure somewhere there is a psychologist who would rationalize it as having something to do with thumb sucking, but I think it has more to do with making a statement of permanency and ownership of our place on this planet. However, maintaining the eternal perspective that this world is not our home and that everything we have is a gift from God will help push us toward detaching from "things."     My theory is that we will fill whatever space we are allotted. We moved from an "efficient" (whoever named it that has obviously never lived in one) one-thousand-square-foot apartment to our two-thousand-square-foot home. The first thing I did was go into each room, fully extend my arms, and do an impromptu little dance. I'm not a very gifted dancer, but I just wanted to feel the space. We were so overcrowded in our womb-like apartment that our home felt like a warehouse ... just waiting to be filled.     I was recently reminded of how pristine and huge our basement was back then. I was looking for the leftover paint for the exterior of our house to do some touch-up. After rummaging through a convicting amount of stuff, I found a can and proceeded with my task. The next day, I went out to inspect my now-dry work, only to discover that I had used the wrong can of paint. By sundown the next day, I found myself in the presence of a leaned, cleaned, and weaned basement.     Many times my husband and I have spent an evening in our home watching a rented movie. By the end of the evening, our two miniature schnauzers have collected their most favored toys and brought them all into the room. It's as if they are saying, "You're here, we're here, our stuff is here. We're not leaving." I recently stacked their two dog beds in the hall for delivery to the basement, since they haven't slept in them in months. I came down the hallway only to discover Rose, the sentimental one, lying in her bed. I could almost hear her saying, "I know I never use it, but it's mine."     A friend sat in our den with us recently lamenting the fact that he had to go empty out a storage unit he was renting. He was trying to reduce his outgoing expenses, and the $200-a-month rental "box" was a good start. We were shocked to know he still had a storage unit, as he and his family had moved into a three-thousand-plus-square-foot house, and he was maintaining a twelve-hundred-square-foot office space. We had helped him empty another storage unit the year before. We began to discuss some of the items in this unit, and it was instantly clear to me that he was a prime candidate for simplifying his life. He had caseload boxes of stuff from each of his many successful entrepreneurial ventures and more unusable stuff than I had seen in my lifetime. He was in a transitional time in his life, waiting on the Lord for career direction, and it seemed that these things symbolized a time of comfort and success. But they also were an anchor around his soul, keeping him from detaching from things as well as the past. At the end of the evening, he had committed to the "stuff-reduction act" and gave me a smirk as he said, "Well, Kim, there's a little story for your book, hmmm?"     Perhaps a healthy combination of conviction and inconvenience can lead us to our need for simplicity. Thomas Merton said, "It gives great glory to God for a person to live in this world using and appreciating the good things of life without care, without anxiety, and without inordinate passion." In many ways, to hold things loosely, to need them, but need them not. To have them, but not need to have them. He summarized this thought by saying, "We cannot use created things without anxiety unless we are detached from them." There is no better way to begin to detach from things than to lean, clean, wean, and begin to organize the "things" in our lives.     While I have never appeared on one of those morning shows with a hundred ways to organize your life, I have studied under the tutelage of my mom, and I think that qualifies me to give some suggestions. Here are a few. CLOTHES CLOSETS     Let's start with an obvious one. If someone knocked at your door right now, would you run in a panic to be sure your closet doors were all closed? Or would you, with gladness of heart, sashay to the door in confidence that all of your closets are color organized and that their floors have only enough shoes to be worn in one week? As we consider reducing the clutter in order to simplify our lives, a seasonal look into our clothes closets is necessary.     The fashion industry sets us up for full closets by changing trends so often. In turn, we fall victim to the industry when we allow ourselves to be defined by what we wear instead of who we are. Mary Kay Ash, the cosmetics entrepreneur, said that because women don't know how great they are, they "come to us all vogue outside and vague inside." Her wisdom is reminiscent of God's reminder to Samuel when he was finding the next king for God to anoint. In 1 Samuel 16:7, God reminded him that while man may look at the outward appearance, God looks at the inward condition of the heart.     While clothing is a necessity, clothing should never outshine or outshout who we are inside.     As we consider the practical nuts and bolts of cleaning our closets, let us lead with the inside, and let our sense of style be determined by who we are rather than the "styles" or trends of our time. This way, we don't become victims, but instead advocates of sensible thinking. It doesn't rule out the occasional radical orange sweater with red berries on it that doesn't go with anything, but it is a reasonable reckoning with the urge to have and the freedom not to.     I've been known to don a radical rag or two in my day, particularly when I was scouring the thrift stores. However, one day I approached my closet in such fashion exhaustion that I made a pact to limit my selections. If there was anything in my closet that didn't look good on me, even on my best days, I discarded it. If I hadn't worn it once that season, I tossed it. If it didn't support who I wanted to project from the inside, I lost it. I began to carefully wean myself of any clothes that I would be physically uncomfortable wearing. You know, the collection of "If I only wear it for a couple of hours, I can still breathe" stuff. If it looked great, but creeped, crawled, or constrained, it was still out. And then I packaged the retiring garments in a bundle bag and grinned at the thought of someone rejoicing at coming upon one of my treasures in a thrift store.     The danger here is that upon creating space in our closets, we feel that instinctive urge to fill them up again. Upon pondering your next purchase, you might want to consider three things: (1) if it doesn't add something essential, resist it; (2) if it doesn't look great, or feel great, just say no; and (3) if you have to do complicated logarithms to justify how expensive it is, do the sensible thing and turn your back and run. Simply put, it should be functional, flattering, and fiscally sound.     It is amazing the freedom that comes in reducing the choices. I can get dressed pretty quickly now because I know that anything I grab out of the closet has been scrutinized for its flatter-ability and comfort. While extreme formulas for wardrobe selection based on things like your colors, seasons, fruits, and alphabetical personality types can be irritatingly obsessive, a seasonal inventory of usable and unusable clothes, shoes, and accessories will give you a lot of mental and physical space to use elsewhere. HOUSEHOLD GOODIES     Once you finish going through your clothes closets, your next step is to rid yourself of those household items you don't need. Keep the goal in mind: "We want to reduce the clutter ." Consider the bowling pin he had in the living room when you got married, the spitting fish vase you got from Aunt Ruth, the paperback books you've already read, the cabinets full of Tupperware that is unburpable because the lids to the containers have run away with the missing socks from the dryer. Then free yourself of these things. Have a yard sale.     One summer our income was unexpectedly and drastically reduced. We gathered up the unusable "junk and stuff" from our closets, cabinets, basement, and any other visible hiding places. We put them on tables or scattered them around the yard, and by the end of the second day, we had two months' rent in cash.     The first time I did a yard sale, I defeated the entire purpose of simplifying my life. I bought a ledger book, wrote in every item, including the iron with the missing plug and the assembled bouquet of hair ribbons. Then I put a sticker with an identifying letter code on each item, and as something sold, I recorded it in the ledger book.     There are many ways of managing a simple yard sale. You can group items of like price. For example, anything in this box is fifty cents, any shirt two dollars, items on this table five dollars each. Or you can make up prices as you go, although as a frequent yard sale attendee, I don't vote for this method. And my favorite idea is the way my sister does a yard sale. She puts out lunch bags, grocery bags, and leaf bags and prices them accordingly. Anything you can get in the lunch bag is three dollars, anything in the grocery bag ten dollars, and anything in the leaf bag twenty-five dollars. You have to have the mind-set starting out that anything that doesn't sell does not come back into your home. That leads us to another alternative for purging yourself of unneeded household items: charities.     Call Goodwill, Salvation Army, or any other local charity for a pickup. We have organizations in town that will even come at the end of the day and take everything that didn't sell at a yard sale. This is a wonderful service and gives you no excuse not to get rid of that recliner in need of a new home or the bicycle you've ridden once this decade, or curtains that don't match any room in your house any more. The tax-deductible receipt is sometimes more valuable than the time and effort involved in a yard sale, and your donation can help meet someone else's needs.     Consider donating books and magazines to a local nursing home. Take CDs, cassettes, and even records to the local used music store and sell them. We even discovered a consignment furniture store that would come to our house and give us estimated prices for saleable items and then haul them to the store. We sold a television, entertainment center, and a set of bookshelves through them. We simplified our lives and made what we call "free" money.     My grandmother on my dad's side was a classic pack rat. When paper towels were on sale, she would buy a case. That was fine, except she would store them upstairs and forget they were there, until she went upstairs to store the ten extra copies of the new Billy Graham book (well, they were new a couple of years ago, but a dollar apiece at the thrift store was too good to pass up). We had jokes in our family about her comical eccentricity. I have a picture of myself sitting in a chair in my grandparents' spare bedroom on Cape Cod, wearing three hats, holding four pocketbooks. All of these items had to be removed from our bed so we could get in it. I admired some candleholders in their house on that same trip and my granddad said to take them home with me. My grandmother, not wanting me to get something without my sister getting something as well, asked what I thought she might enjoy. I seized on the opportunity to let my sister know I was thinking of her, far away in Texas where she lived, and I impishly suggested that she would very much appreciate the set of plastic swans with plastic blue roses in them. UPS will deliver just about anything.     When you endeavor to rid yourself of household goodies, ask yourself, "Have I used it this past year?" If not, let it go. I guarantee you the reduction will free you. So what about those truly one-of-a-kind misfits cluttering your house? Wrap that spitting fish vase and give it to a depressed friend. You know Aunt Ruth would want it that way. CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS     I am a Christmas fanatic. Around August I'm ready to start slowly introducing the Bing Crosby Christmas CD into our listening routine. It is all I can do to wait until Thanksgiving to set up a Christmas tree. And even then, it isn't just one Christmas tree, but four. And that's when I'm using self-control.     Some people would look on with admiration at my Christmas decorating zeal, while others would look on and encourage me to get a life. Still other dear friends and family consider it a highly serious neurosis.     It all sort of snuck up on me. We were traveling so much that my sensibilities said, "Let's get a fake tree, so as to minimize fire hazards." Now in its innocent beginning, this was an attempt at simplifying. Purchasing the perfectly shaped, short-needled, crayon-green tree was supposed to make quick work of my Christmas decorating. I hung on each twisted wire branch the few ornaments we had collected as well as the many dough ornaments I had lovingly made over the years. I was content. That lasted for one year.     The next year, I came across an irresistible find. (Please keep in mind that words like irresistible were in my vocabulary before I began simplifying my life.) I discovered a perfectly intact archaeological find from the '50s--a silver foil tree complete with rotating colored spotlight. I snatched my find up and hurried to the checkout counter of the downtown Salvation Army Thrift Store and counted out twelve one-dollar bills. By the end of that night I had made, baked, and painted thirty-eight "rein-steers" to hang on my tree. "Rein-steers" were my attempt at a southern Christmas. They were cattle with reindeer antlers that hung precariously on the Christmas tree. My family and friends began to look up neurosis in their home health guides.     As the following Christmas season approached, everything was overshadowed by the death of my grandmother. I attended her funeral in Hyannis, Massachusetts, a couple of days before Thanksgiving. I attribute my purchase of a solid white tree decorated in antique ornaments from the thirties and forties to my nostalgia for my grandmother. The five-foot fluffy white tree with delicate painted and fading ornaments was a reminder of my grandmother with the fluffy white hair and delicate fading body that year.     The next season, I went fairly inconspicuous with my purchase of a table-top two-and-a-half-foot tree, one twelve-inch tree, one antique three-foot scraggly excuse for a tree, and one Martha-Stewart-looking tree to put on the mantle. I decorated each by taking apart several sizes of fake fruit grapes in "theme" colors and quietly whistled "O Tannenbaum" to myself.     It was clear the next year, as my husband and I were making the necessary repeated trips up and down the basement stairs, carrying a variety of boxes in various stages of "tatterous-ness," that when I suggested I would like to add a real Douglas fir tree to the decorating festivities, that something must be done to tame the beast that had gestated in me. I must digress a little here and remind you of my context, or family history.     Every year we had a family conflict of whether to icicle or not to icicle the tree. With my father in favor and my mother opposed, a small tit-for-tat tradition was devised. My father insisted that the icicles be placed one at a time on the tree, equally distributed to please a naval officer's eye for detail. In retaliation, my mother insisted that when we took down the tree, those same icicles be removed one at a time and returned to their box for next year. For years my peacemaker's heart would not take sides, but in adolescence, I began to voice my displeasure with the entire icicle controversy. That year we came upon the Tinsel-Détente Accord. We opted for tacky garland.     With this as my background, I began to search for compromises and simplification in my holiday routine. My family and friends rejoiced. Here are some things I found helpful:     If storage space allows, the most wonderful convenience of all is to store your trees fully decorated. Many stores sell Christmas tree bags, and if you can't find them, a large trash bag and twist-tie substitute perfectly.     I don't have that kind of storage space, except in the case of the smaller trees, so I opted for a collection of what I call "tree-coffins" (not a very festive title, but descriptive). I purchased large plastic crates that will hold one dismantled tree each. One box was just a couple of inches short, so I cut a small hole to accommodate the large piece. They stack on each other perfectly and keep out moisture and basement bugs. A small piece of masking tape identifies the contents, and that was that.     For the many varieties of ornaments, I purchased smaller storage boxes and grouped the ornaments in themes and colors. Once again using the hi-tech device of masking tape and pen, I labeled them. The rein-steers met up with an unfortunate "accident" when my husband knocked the silver tree over one year. But all the other ornaments are surviving their three-season sleep safely and simply in the basement. SIMPLE SUMMARY     As we begin to detach from "things," we begin to conform to the pattern, to "lay aside every encumbrance" (Heb. 12:1, NASB). While things themselves are a-spiritual, meaning they are in themselves neither spiritual nor unspiritual, our attachment to them is a matter for personal reflection.     Mies van der Rohe, the German architect, became famous for his strong but simple architecture. His steel and glass structures, located at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, became the icon of city architecture for the mid-twentieth century. His buildings speak to the philosophy of style he became known for, when he said, "Less is more." Maintaining this same attitude when it comes to collecting things here in our physical world will lead us to a philosophy of life found in Matthew 6:19. Our treasures on earth should be less so that our treasures in heaven can be more . Because where our treasure is, that's where our heart will be. Our earthly collections are subject to the decay process of this natural world and will eventually break and fall apart and hold no value.     Even our bodies, those most amazing creations of blood, skin, and bone personally stained with the breath of God, will someday break down and function no more. Being aware of this, how can we carry on such attachment to the so-much-lesser "things" of creation? While the average life span of an American is eighty years, I can leave my charming fat-tire bicycle to which I am so attached out on the back porch over a rainy weekend and see signs of rust begin to form immediately. In the span of one summer's storage, I can lose treasured sweaters from the '40s and one-of-a-kind Pendleton wool shirts to an average family of moth larvae. The earthly baubles and treasures that are so vulnerable to the destruction of this world must never collect in such a pile that our vision of Christ is blocked or strained.     As a young preteen, I adopted a habit, popular at the time, of putting stickers, photos, and other treasures on my mirror. The idea was that as I got dressed and combed my hair I would see them and be reminded of special things. This innocent hobby began to lose its charm when I filled my mirror so full that my own image became blocked.     As we try to simplify our lives by reducing the clutter in our physical world and in our bodies, let me remind us that the ultimate goal is to more clearly reflect the image of God. When our lives become so full of things, we can easily block the image we were meant to reflect, as well as make it difficult for us to "fix our eyes on Jesus."     Obviously, this is in no way an exhaustive look at reducing our clutter and finding efficient ways of storing the things we have. But it is a jump start that pushes us toward enjoying the things we have instead of being consumed with acquiring. In the flurry of cleaning out you will be surprised to become reacquainted with old "friends." The teapot that you used every morning one fall after you sent your child off to her first year of school was lost behind other unused kitchen nonsense. Now you are ready to reintroduce it to your life. And you discover in the overall process that you have some very beloved treasures that make your home your home. Copyright © 1999 Kim Thomas. All rights reserved.

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