Two months.

I am two months into my three-month sabbatical. On July 15, I walked away from my duties at Baptist Women in Ministry. (I also am taking a sabbatical from my adjunct teaching position at McAfee School of Theology and my associate minister position at Cornerstone Church). Two months seems like a long, long time, but it has passed quickly and has been filled with lots of reading, sleeping late, bird watching, and walking on the beach and in the park.

Sabbatical for me has been about rest and renewal. I have made time and space for rest. And I have made time and space for spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual renewal. For those who know me well, they will tell you that I have workaholic, perfectionist tendencies. Practicing Sabbath has never been among my strengths, so this time has been a learning experience! Actually, it has been learning experiences! Just yesterday I learned something–or really re-learned something that I already knew to be true.

In addition to rest and renewal, one of my sabbatical goals was to declutter my life . . . AND my house. My family has lived in Atlanta for nine years now–the longest Keith and I have lived anywhere in our twenty-nine years of married life. The downside of our not making a recent move is that my house is now filled with lots of stuff. My closets are full; my drawers are full; my under-the-bed storage space is full; my bonus room is full.

So yesterday was the day . . . the day I scheduled to clean up the bonus room. The bonus room is where all the papers in my life have found a home. Papers live in the roll-top desk that belonged to my grandfather. Papers live in the room’s closet. Papers live in pretty baskets. Papers are hidden carefully behind a beautiful wooden room divider. Before yesterday if you walked into my bonus room, you would not know that it contained a chaotic mess: nine years worth of tax returns, stacks of medical records, all my children’s school papers, copies of my favorite journal articles, and hundreds of photos. Over the years, I have worked hard to make the chaos of papers look good. I am a master at using a really big roll-top desk and nice baskets to disguise a haphazard collection of papers.

Yesterday, however, was the day of truth. I emptied every drawer and basket. I emptied the closet. I looked at every piece of paper. I sorted them and stacked them and re-sorted them. I threw away the ones I knew I would never need–many of which I had no memories of ever seeing before. I filled three entire garbage bags with the rejects. I now have empty drawers in my roll-top desk and two banker boxes filled with the papers that are important. I did discover some treasures along the way, but that is another blog for later.

Decluttering my bonus room took ALL DAY. Eight long hours. Last night I wrote an angry note to myself.clutter

Decluttering is hard work. I spent eight hours in one room. No walks in the sunshine. No taking a nap. No reading an interesting book. Just sitting and sorting and filing and filling garbage bags. It was an experience that I hope not to repeat anytime soon. And it made me mad–mad at myself for letting the situation get so out of hand, mad that I hadn’t taken better care of important papers, mad that I hadn’t taken time years ago to throw away that newsletter from the electric company, mad that I somehow thought I should keep ten copies of my church’s anniversary bulletin.

I learned, re-learned really, that simplifying, tidying up, decluttering–our homes AND our lives–is hard work. We can keep the clutter and delay the work. And we can even make the clutter look good if we own enough pretty baskets and have a big enough roll-top desk. Or we can do the daily work of sorting important from unimportant, keeping that which is needed and throwing away that which is incidental.

I probably don’t need to connect the dots. You get the idea.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.