The Great Purge

October 24, 2014

We’ll be posting fairly regularly on topics related to economic discipleship and living more justly. In some cases, these blog posts will share our lives and struggles associated with economic justice. We are not writing from the perspective of having all the answers. Our goal is to inspire discussion and encourage thoughtful action in community through storytelling. We’d love to hear your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.

By Christa

After going through BFJN’s Lazarus at the Gate curriculum with a group several years ago, I began to look at buying new things differently than I had before. I had become accustomed for a few years, as my income increased, to making small, fun purchases whenever I wanted something—new nail polish when I went to the drugstore, new earrings when I was out buying a birthday gift, a new shirt when I picked up cat litter at target. I had basically stopped thinking about these buying urges, enjoying the short “high” that comes with small or large-scale consumption.

Living and growing older bring change, and as I step back it is interesting to me that I had relaxed into these patterns. This was decidedly nota practice I had regularly allowed myself at earlier in my life. After graduating from college,I took a job in a very low-income neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, running after-school programs for at-risk children and teenagers. I lived in the neighborhood, spending time with kids and their families. The organization I worked for didn’t have much money, and I certainly wasn’t involved in the work to get rich. My income was very little, and I watched every cent.

I was also convicted by the life and writings of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, whose name graces hundreds of soup kitchens across the country. I resonated with her words and ideas around voluntary poverty, living with and among the poor as a means of finding and reflecting Christ. How could I understand or relate to the children and families I served if I didn’t even try to understand the fear and vulnerability associated with having little money? I wanted to live simply. Or more accurately, I wanted to wantto live simply. Because even then, the desire to buy whatever I wanted was strong, and I was limited in my consumption mainly by my lack of income.

This time around, with another decade of experience behind me, my thinking is different. I was sitting in my kitchen at some point after finishing the Lazarus group, and the amount of stuff that surrounded me–the pilling sweaters and broken earrings, the kitchen utensils I had doubles of just in case, the bottles of nail polish when I rarely paint my nails– began to feel heavy. I wanted to be surrounded by only things I loved or things that were useful, and I wanted to avoid buying items that contributed to a system of exploitation and oppression. I began to crave simplicity, at least the simplicity of having less stuff.

And so I started to purge. My husband and I went through every kitchen gadget, plate, cup, and utensil and kept only the most beautiful and useful. We went through clothes, books, furniture, sports equipment and tried to stop imagining “what-if” scenarios – what if I need this again someday? What if I end up regretting giving it away? We ended up with a full cargo van-load of things to give away.

I’ve never missed the stuff, any of it. All I felt and continue to feel is relief, and a sort of vigilance against allowing it all to return. But all of these thoughts and actions are still in progress. I find myself sometimes walking toward the nail polish at CVS, or considering a kitchen utensil at the grocery store. Just thinking about the urges, though, rather than blindly following them, is a step toward living more justly.

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