Feighan: Lenten decluttering group helps tackle ‘stuff’

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

The large Chinese paper dragon sat perched on the second shelf of my closet for more than two years before I started asking myself a simple question: Does it “spark joy?”

I’d made the dragon, a rare Pinterest victory, for a Chinese New Year dinner party my husband and I hosted. Awed by my creativity, I took dozens of photos of my fabulous dragon perched near our front door. A few weeks after the party, I took it down and carefully wedged it in my closet. You never know when you’re going to want to hang back up a Chinese dragon made out of paper plates and construction paper, I told myself.

And there it sat. And sat.

But the philosophy of Japanese organizer Marie Kondo — keep only things that spark joy (easy for someone to say if he or she lives in a small studio apartment) — echoed in the back of my mind. Did I love it? Yes. Would I likely ever hang back up a paper dragon that weighs 5 pounds? No.

As Americans, we love our “stuff.” We love our adorable decor bought on a whim at Target, our Costco sweaters, and the list goes on and on.

But having so much stuff is like dealing with a whiny first-grader after a long school week. It requires maintenance and attention, as it keeps growing. The allure of getting more “stuff” is always there.

No wonder Mona Shand’s Facebook group about Lenten decluttering appealed to me so much.

In February, Shand, a writer based in Brighton, started a special Facebook group called “40 Days, 40 Bags: Lenten Decluttering,” encouraging friends and acquaintances to try to tackle their clutter by packing up one bag a day of items to pass on or throw out for the next 40 days.

Shand, a mother of three who writes for Public News Service, said she first heard of Lenten decluttering through social media post more than a year ago. Not an organizer herself — “by any stretch,” she admits — Shand was drawn to the idea.

“I’ve been trying to purge our house,” says Shand. “You look around and go, ‘We have way too much stuff.’ And you realize how much of your time is sucked up by your stuff. You feel like you are never making progress.”

So Shand took action. She started a group, inviting friends and neighbors. A friend invited me to join.

Today, there are 187 members from all over the world. Shand posts daily messages, encouraging members to stick with it or share their own victories, whether it’s cleaning out Tupperware to good ways to save your kids’ artwork. At the start, she encouraged members to create a plan of attack for their daily purging — in pencil, because things can change.

“Having a plan, being systematic, and taking it in manageable bites is really key,” says Shand. “Also have a plan to get it out of your house. Don’t just bag it up and put it in your garage.”

Shand also recommends putting a moratorium on bringing more stuff into your home during decluttering. She admits it’s “definitely work” because after you tackle the obvious stuff — the kids’ closets, the pantry — it gets harder.

“And you have to confront all the emotional ties to things,” says Shand. “Our stuff is more than just stuff.”

Tiring as that may be, “I feel better,” says Shand about her own decluttering. “I feel like I can breathe a little easier.”

I’ve been doing my Lenten decluttering in binges, primarily working on weekends when I can get my children and husband involved. I dropped off seven bags at the Salvation Army this week, wondering if my kids’ toy lawn mower counted as an eighth bag.

As for my beloved dragon, I finally took it out of the closet. I studied the beautiful feathers and painted paper plates. And then I stuffed it in the garbage. The dragon may be gone, but the memory isn’t. And that sparks enough joy for me.

Twitter: @mfeighan