There must be a few people tacking up last-minute wreaths and lights in our neighborhood, and the stores are clogged with the final wave of shoppers. I, however, am cleaning out my closet, emptying file folders, and stripping bookshelves.

I surrendered to an itch: a need to purge as much stuff (read: junk) as I can. It has been irritating me for weeks, so now I’m rummaging through my space, turning drawers over, even emptying my pockets. Asking about each thing: Do I like it, need it, want it any more?

I realize this seems a bit anti-Christmas. But Scrooge-like, I have been haunted by three spirits: the Ghost of Past Junk, the Ghost of Present Clutter, and (most ominous!) the Ghost of a Future Full of Unwanted Stuff.

“I am not a halfway house for crummy books,” I announce to my shelves. “I am not a shelter for mediocrity!” So out they go, the ones that looked so smart on my bookcase, but which I never enjoyed or couldn’t manage for more than a hundred pages. Sorry, so sorry, but out you go.

Oof. Have I really been living with this much obligation to things? Keeping what I don’t like, because it was given to me by someone I love? Solution: Keep loving the person. Toss out the thing. It can be that easy.

Or, I’ll keep something out of false hope. The sweater in the unflattering color will always unflatter. I’m turning thirty in eight months: Do I have time for unflattery?

Nope. Out it goes.

And then: Am I really brave enough to say this out loud? No. I’ll whisper: I even chucked two Frederick Buechner novels. I know, I know. Wretched excuse for an English major! Who doesn’t love Buechner? I think it’s even a requirement somewhere. I liked his non-fiction, but couldn’t admire these novels. I’m sending them to find happier, wiser homes than mine.

It’s not just the things in my life that I’m sifting through and discarding—the clothes, old shoes, knick-knacks, books. I’m also looking again at how I’m eating. Two years ago, my family turned vegan. (Don’t throw things at me: I once had chronic headaches. Without animal products, I don’t. That’s reason enough for me.) But now, I’m toying with the idea of also going gluten-free.

In other words, I will be completely impossible to cook for.

To kick off a better year of eating, I’m spending five days juicing, fitting it into the last space of the year. I’m not dreading it at all, even though it always takes me a day or two to reacquire my love of green juices. (Kale, I love ya, but you always do smell a bit like a barn yard.)

I’m willing to tough it out though. Eager to strip away the clutter that’s crept onto my plate. Christmas hasn’t come yet, but I’ve been devouring peppermint bark like I’m on a sinking ship. (This recipe! So good!)

Five days of post-Christmas juice will set me right again, getting me back to my plant-happy ways. But I’m even crazier than I sound, because my mom’s family’s Christmas gathering falls on the 29th. Day Two of juicing. I’ll be sitting amidst my aunts’ best Christmas cookies (and they can bake, let me tell you) sipping kale-spinach-apple juice.

Desperate measures.

I’d be discouraged, but this purging desire is deep.

It’s been brewing all year, in one way or another. Last February, a miniature bedbug plague struck our family, requiring a house-wide overhaul. We bagged and treated every scrap of fabric. (There are three women in this house, and each of us owns plenty of clothes and knows how to knit. You tell me just how much fabric we went through.)

Then in mid-June, my mom was hit with Post-Concussion Syndrome. (Short version: the effects of a concussion don’t go away. For three months, six months, a year. Or longer.) She can function normally, but her brain can’t stand the sight of words, dots, stripes, clutter, or any kind of visual busyness.

So our dozen bookcases are covered in sheets; my sister’s glorious paintings turned their faces to the walls. Most of our visitors ask if we’re moving or painting. No, we’ve just been living in a strange limbo for months.

In the midst of bedbugs and brain injury, I read the book Seven: An experimental mutiny against excess, by Jen Hatmaker. It’s a beautiful book, and probably you should just skip the rest of this post and go read that instead. It will flip your heart inside out and make you laugh the whole way. Utterly worth it.

So. It’s been that kind of year, which is why here, at the end of it, I’m willing to investigate, question, shed, and purge.

Nothing is safe!

I’m even exfoliating more.

All this doesn’t sound very Christmasy of me, and yet maybe it is: Advent is the time of year for making room. Prepare ye the way—I’ve never tried to do that literally.

I don’t want to hyperspiritualize a mundane household action, but at the same time, don’t our physical surrounding affect our spirits?

I’ve been asking myself: How can I listen well to God while cramming my mouth with junk I don’t need, storing books I dislike, wriggling into ugly-on-me sweaters, and tripping over what I refuse to let go?

The more I think about it, the more a purge seems like acceptable Advent behavior. Wasn’t God’s son plunked into a feeding trough because there wasn’t room in the right place? He was even born at census time, when all over the land things were being tallied, accounted for, reckoned.

Right when the unreckonable happened.

Well. I’m craving a bit of breaking in, a divine interruption. So I’ll spend the last week of this year making room.


  1. Geneva Langeland

    Oh, Jenn, I completely understand this “obligation to things.” When I purge my closets or bookshelves, I’m torn between nostalgia and a wish for simplicity, guilt and glee at my new-found freedom from clutter. Thanks for your post!

    • jenn langefeld

      So glad to hear I’m not the only one! Everything on its way out the door has its own voice, nagging me as I send it on its way. But you’re right: the simplicity and glee are well worth it.


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