by Marc and Julie Anderson
ARLINGTON, Virginia — Approximately 300,000.
That’s how many items the average American home contains, according to professional organizers. Catholic author Laraine Bennett said she finds the fact mind-boggling.
Still, she said it can be difficult to let go of possessions, as she learned firsthand from her own move from a home of 4,000 square feet to one of around 1,000. The move, along with her personal journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth, is recounted in her latest book “The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower,” released in September by Sophia Institute Press.
The book does not fall into the genre of home organizational books (although tips from a professional organizer are included). Instead, it is divided into 11 chapters ranging from “Decluttering the Soul” to “The Only Good Thing” and “‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple.”
In its pages, Bennett refers to virtues like trust, poverty and simplicity as roses, alluding to St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s promise to shower the flower from heaven.
Because the book includes reflection questions, it can be used by book clubs, faith-sharing groups or “anyone who hopes to grow in love for God and neighbor by living with a little less.”
A few years ago, Bennett’s husband Art noted that as a couple they only used about 10% of their home.
It was at that point that the couple decided to get on board with “the minimalist bandwagon.”
But it was harder than expected, said Bennett.
“It turned out to be really hard for me, actually. It was a struggle,” she said. “I thought I’d be able to handle this really easily — no problem.”
But she learned an unpleasant truth.
“I still have these attachments,” she continued. “So, kind of going through this, I realized I wanted to write about it [and the fact that] there’s virtues underlying this process. I needed to grow in these virtues.”
St. Thérèse exemplified the virtues to a heroic degree, Bennett said.
“She lived in [the] upper middle class and it was a beautiful house that she grew up in,” Bennett added, “and she had beautiful things around her.”
But she saw the temptation.
Thérèse’s family “went back to Alençon,” recounted Bennett, “where she had been born and spent the first few years of her life. And they were being wined and dined and treated her very well. She saw these wonderful things, really beautiful things, and she understood the attraction.
“She understood the allure, and yet she remained so steadfast in pursuing her goal, which was to become a great saint, to love God with her whole heart, soul and strength. She’s just such a perfect example to me of what I felt I needed.”
Decluttering is hard work
“Without the motivation of truly inspiring goals — to strengthen the bonds of love, to serve others better, to follow Christ more perfectly, to love God with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength,” Bennett writes, “it is likely that we will soon find ourselves frustrated with any decluttering, organizing, or minimizing project.
“Simply tidying or organizing or minimizing without the motivation of a truly meaningful ideal will likely fall short of the abundant life we are called to as Catholic Christians.”
While Bennett advocates living a simpler lifestyle, she said simplicity can be found in homes of all sizes. It’s more about having a particular mindset.
“On so many levels, we do need to let go of actual stuff and we need to practice that detachment of heart, that poverty of spirit, as well,” she said. “I don’t want to minimize either one.”
It’s a lesson, Bennett added, she had to learn herself as it related to her Amish farmhouse dining room table.
“We had so many dinners around it,” she said. “We raised the kids with this table, and it’s a beautiful table. And so, I said, ‘Well, I’m not selling this one.’”
After disassembling the table, she shoved it underneath the bed. Months later, a friend encouraged her to sell it or give it away. Eventually, Bennett said she realized the friend was right and gave the table to her son and daughter-in-law.
In the end, Bennett hopes people will benefit more spiritually from her book than anything else.
“I’m not trying to advocate that everybody has to be a minimalist,” Bennett said.
She just wants them to put first things first.
“We want everyone who comes over to feel like they’re welcomed, cherished,” she said. “We want our homes to be places where people experience love and generosity and humble service. How can we best do that?
“We don’t have to have grandiose mansions, and we don’t have to have perfectly organized houses either. We don’t have to have incredibly beautiful artwork on the wall either.
“It’s what we can do with what we have, and how can we appreciate and be grateful for the many, many gifts that we do have [that matters].”