101: Controlled Chaos

101: Controlled Chaos

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less


Controlled Chaos

In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy.

~Karl Reiland

Recently, I decided to partner with chaos and de-clutter my life in a BIG way. We decided as a family to return to one of our rental homes, and it meant downsizing by about two-thirds!

We needed to get rid of LOTS of stuff and we only had a few weeks to pull it off. You can imagine how much work that was with four children, but I turned it into a beneficial learning experience. I wanted them to take control of their own clutter and understand the value of getting organized and letting go of excess things they didn’t need. I placed boxes inside each of their rooms and encouraged them to make three piles: things to give away, things to gift, and stuff to throw out. What survived the cut got to go back to our old house with us.

What is the difference between giving and gifting? For us, “giving” meant donating to a good cause for people we didn’t know. “Gifting” meant seeing the value in something special for family and friends. We called the process “Gift/Give/Garbage.”

It’s amazing how much stuff one family of six can accumulate. And loads of it is good stuff! I love going through my closet and sharing some of my favorite fashion pieces with girlfriends who will enjoy them more than I do. And I always know I can find treasures in another friend’s closet. Unorganized spaces stress me out so I try to keep only what I use. This is what I have always tried to teach my children, so this move was a HUGE teaching opportunity.

I knew that space and storage were going to be a challenge as we moved back into our old home, one-third the size of this one, so I threw out as many damaged goods as possible, donated bags of outgrown clothes and shoes to charity bins, and packed most of my extra kitchen stuff for future use. My kids did pretty well at separating what they loved, liked and didn’t need.

I tried to sell most of our old furniture on the Internet, but no luck, so I called resale stores to try to make a few deals and had no luck with them either. Then I remembered Habitat for Humanity and discovered they would pick everything up and give me a tax write-off for my donation. What a win-win! They actually did me a favor by clearing out my crammed garage that looked like a swap meet, and allowed me to experience the joy of knowing I had participated in helping many families in need.

Then my e-mail chimed and the subject read “family lost home.” A family in our temple community had lost everything when their house burned to the ground. The e-mail said they needed anything and everything. I read on to learn that their three children were close in age and size to mine and the father was the same size as my husband.

This awful news gave us even more motivation to give away our things. I quickly called for a family meeting and each of us went back to our rooms to revisit anything and everything we could part with to help out this family in need. With that message in mind and held close in our hearts, we easily parted with many more wonderful things and gave Gift/Give/Garbage a new meaning.

It was so much easier to let go of the clutter when we could imagine how it would help this unfortunate family. Sometimes someone else’s tragedy becomes a lesson for another. My kids learned a great lesson — when it comes to charity, you get back as much as you give.

We managed to make it through the move, and it was a pleasure to reacquaint ourselves with our old house, accompanied by only the most meaningful of our possessions. I hope that we can all implement Gift/Give/Garbage on a regular basis now and continue to live a less cluttered life in which generosity plays a big part in our everyday thinking — without having to move again to remind ourselves!

~Brooke Burke-Charvet


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