In February, we moved to a new house in Tucson, Ariz. As someone who likes order and knowing where things are, I don’t like moving. Then again, who actually likes moving?
I felt stress building as our moving date approached, so I took this to my spiritual director. We discussed the spiritual practices involved in packing and moving a household across town.
1. Sorting: For many, this can be the hardest part of moving, as it involves decision after decision. Do we keep this appliance or give it away or sell it or store it? What about these books? Clothes? This part of moving feels worldly; involves all one’s earthly possessions at one time. Furthermore, it can be overwhelming and humbling when you realize how much stuff you own, but that is for another post. The spiritual practice in sorting and packing is learning to take one drawer, one closet and one room at time. Matthew 6:34 relates to this: “Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
2. Packing: After we sorted, we packed. Last fall, I read about a new book on decluttering by a Japanese cleaning consultant, Marie Kondo. Kondo’s two tenets include: “Discard everything that does not ‘spark joy,’ after thanking the objects that are getting the heave-ho for their service, and do not buy organizing equipment—your home already has all the storage you need.”
Surely that sounds good. However, my husband, Brian, and I disagree on what “sparks joy.” He believes his collection of “vintage” college soccer T-shirts spark joy. I believe my many scarves spark joy. We also had the challenge of moving from a larger house to a smaller house, so that means even more compromise.
3. Cleaning: With the furniture gone and the closets empty, dust bunnies abound. Here comes the cleaning. But God is in the cleaning. As Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century monastic, wrote, “The time of work does not with me differ from the time of prayer.” The mundane tasks offer a time for silence and prayerful contemplation, especially without the distractions of cable TV or wifi in the old home.
4. Accepting help: We could not have moved in one week without the help of Brian’s parents. They arrived on the scene with extra packing tape, cleaning supplies and lots of energy. It can be tempting to think, “I can do this on my own,” but definitely not this time, with an 8-month-old. The takeaway here is acknowledging one’s shortcomings and the need for teamwork. My mother-in-law played with our daughter while I organized the closets. Brian ran errands while my father-in-law cleaned the yard.
5. The “in between”: This is the hardest for me. When I don’t know where things are, I panic. When I’m tripping over boxes, I feel frustrated. And as much as I like to travel, I love to have a home base and familiar surroundings and a routine. For this move, there were several days when our old house didn’t feel like home, but neither did the new house. This in-between time stretches me to realize what I truly hold dear—my family. I also hope it made me more grateful for the physical things, like food and shelter, that are all too easy to take for granted.
6. Welcoming newness: I do love the end result of a move. I like organizing in new spaces and getting to know a new neighborhood. While we talk a lot about what we like now, we also discuss what we miss. Our new neighborhood is much more walkable and bikeable than our old neighborhood, but we had a beautiful view of the Catalina Mountains at our old house.
Interestingly enough, after the transition of moving from Pittsburgh to a rural reservation in Arizona, or after the birth of our daughter, we rarely indulged in those compare-and-contrast conversations—perhaps because the new was so different from the old and required significant buy-in.
Before, during and after moves, we are tired, but we are stretched and learn about ourselves. We also know that God is everywhere—the new, the old and the in between.
“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).
Anna Groff is executive director of The Mennonite, Inc. She is member at Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson, Ariz.