Embarrassment of Riches


My wife and I have been growing in our desire to minimalize. We want our lives to be neater, more orderly, less cluttered, and more freeing. We want this in terms of items in our house and in our time and schedules; really, we want it in our lives as a whole.

As I have been working on paring back my books (I’ve managed to avoid needing therapy for this so far), I cannot help but thinking about how many riches surround us. I am sure I have more books than I could read in my lifetime as it is. In terms of information, I am rich. Since books are my main struggle, I chose to use that as a picture for this post to represent the riches we have. But we have other riches as well.

I have thought the same thing about the clothes I have. I have clothes in my closet and drawers that I am sure I have never worn. If I have, I cannot remember it. Some people struggle to find clothing to wear, yet I have more than I actually wear. In terms of clothing, I am rich.

We are the same with anything I can think about. Food. Money. (My friends just returned from Uganda, and talking with them always reminds me just how rich we truly are in comparison to many parts of the world.) You name it.

This got me thinking in spiritual terms as well. Looking at books to get rid of, I realize just how many Bibles I actually own. Do I read them all? No. I have a select few that I return to time and again. But I keep the others just in case. But that got me thinking. What about my spiritual riches?

I have all these Bibles. Some people have none or only one or two to share in a village. I can read mine whenever I want. I am rich indeed. But am I wasting these riches? Do I neglect my Bible more than I should? Even when I read it, am I reading for information only, am I reading to check off some spiritual to-do list, or am I really reading to know the God of the universe through His Son Jesus Christ? Am I memorizing passages to know them, or so that they will sink down deep into my heart to enact lasting change by applying it to my life?

What about time? I have more than enough time (even though I may complain that I don’t). I don’t often work 12-hour days, much less working my entire waking moments. I have free time. Some people don’t have that free time. I am rich. But am I using that time wisely, making the most of the time? Or am I wasting what time I do have? John Piper has said that the greatest use of various forms of social media will be to prove on the last day that we really did have time for prayer.  Ouch.

I could go on. When we think of riches, most of us truly have an embarrassment of them. We will be held accountable as stewards of what God has given us. What will the outcome be for us in terms of rewards?

Let us realize the riches we have, and let us steward them wisely for God’s glory.


Book Review – “Unstuffed” by Ruth Soukup


There comes a tipping point in our lives. A point at which we realize things have to change. Sometimes it is a good revelation. Sometimes it is a hard revelation. Sometimes it is both.

In the past few months, I have slowly had one of these revelations. My wife actually had it before I did. It’s catching on now. We have too much stuff. Our otherwise nice home is overtaken by things. Our kids’ toys. Clothes. And . . . this pains me to admit . . . my books. I am still of the mind that having a lot of books is a good things. Studies have shown that children who grow up surrounded by physical books achieve more. I will never be book free, at least I don’t foresee that right now, but I do need to cut back.

In an effort to help with this, I have been reading more books on minimalism and decluttering.

I knew my wife had picked up Ruth Soukup’s book Living Well, Spending Less before, and she really enjoyed reading it. When I saw that she had released a new book, Unstuffed, I really wanted to check it out. I was not disappointed.

Soukup’s book is like many books on minimalism in that it strives to help us break free of our need to collect and keep more and more things. It is different, however, in that it does not stop there. The subtitle of the book is “Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul,” and the book strives to show us how to “unstuff” all three areas of our life.

The first part focuses on the same aspects as many minimalist books: Cleaning up the house. Soukup encourages us to create a vision for what we want to see in our home, and then to do whatever it takes to make that vision a reality. She encourages us to realize that more storage is not the answer, purging is. She also focuses on one aspect that is probably the most difficult for many minimalists, reducing the stuff the kids have and get.

But here is where the book took a nice turn. The next section focuses on decluttering one’s mind. She encourages readers to cut back on what we do by paring back our schedules, by reducing the amount of paperwork we have to wade through, and by learning how to reduce the guilt of getting rid of things that people have given us. This last part is very difficult, as we attach memories to things so that we feel that if we get rid of the stuff, we get rid of the memories that go along with it. Soukup encourages us to realize that the memories will remain long after the things are gone.

The final area Soukup focuses on is unstuffing our soul. She starts by encouraging us to declutter our friendships by focusing our time on developing a few deep friendships as opposed to spreading ourselves very thin in all of our friendships. This is not to say we have no acquaintances and aren’t friendly to everyone, but we cannot have an infinite number of deep friendships. She then moves on to unstuffing our lives to support our wellness. By focusing on sleep, exercise, and taking down time, we can drastically improve our overall wellness of life. Finally, in the last chapter, Soukup focuses on unstuffing spiritually by relying on grace and realizing we are a work in progress. I really liked that last chapter, as many minimalism books seems to come from an “I’ve arrived, so why haven’t you” perspective. Soukup, however, is very clear that she is still growing and has obstacles to overcome, as will we all if we embark on this journey to unstuff.

Perhaps other books on minimalizing have some of these same concepts and I just haven’t read them yet, but this book struck me as very well-rounded.

Throughout the book there are gray boxes with practical tips on how to apply the information in the book itself. The first one, for example, is “five easy decluttering projects that will transform your living space,” and the projects include creating a collection zone, clearing the counters, sweeping the surfaces, pitching the pillows, and managing the media (pp. 17-19). These practical steps are nice, as they take the information from ideas into real-life projects. As my wife and I work on cutting back on stuff, we will go back to these tips often.

The book also provides an address to a site to take the information further, and she mentions an app to download to help spur the process along.

One of the things I liked most was how the author kept tying in the concepts with examples from her own life of how she faced and overcame (or is in the process of overcoming) the very struggles she is writing about. This made the book feel much more personal than some other books and articles I have read on the subject.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to declutter, minimalize, and “unstuff” their lives all around. Unstuffed is a good and encouraging guide in the process.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from Zondervan publishers through the BookLook Bloggers review program in exchange for my honest review.


Anxiety for a Bibliophile


Hi.  I’m Martin.  And I am addicted to books.

Anyone who knows me is not shocked or surprised by the words above.  I have loved to read as long as I can remember.  I have always had a bookshelf with books on it, whether it was in my own bedroom growing up or a joint bookshelf in our den where my father and I shared (actually, still share) books.  (Sorry, Dad.  I’ll get my books out of there some day.)

I have multiple bookshelves in my house with books.  Most shelves are now two deep.  I also have boxes in my garage with books.  And I have boxes in my parents’ shop with books.  And I have some on a bookshelf at my parents’ house.

Okay.  I have a problem.  I admit it.  I can justify it by talking about how great it is to have books, and I still think that is true.  But I still have a problem.

Books are my trophies.  Whether I have read them or not, I love to be able to point to them on my shelves.  I justify keeping them.  What if I want to read them again (which I have done on occasion, but not all that often)?  What if I want to reference them? (After all there was that one sentence on p. 24 out of a 300-page book that was great.)  One day I will have a room as a study/library.  (The fact that I don’t have one now and will have no way to have one anytime in the near future is irrelevant.)

Lately it has been weighing on me more thinking about just how many books I have.  My wife (Chrissy) has been leaning toward minimalism more lately, and I am impressed by how much it has taken hold of her.  In some ways, it has taken hold of me, too.  (Don’t tell her I admitted that.)

We have a smaller house.  It’s enough room for us, but it’s not huge by any stretch of the imagination.  Because it is a smaller house, it is all too easy for it to fill up with various items.  Add to this that we are both teachers who work about 45 minutes away from home, and we struggle to keep up with tidying up the house with all the things we have laying around.

I hate to admit this.  My books are a large part of the problem.

Recently I have gotten better about getting rid of books by donating them to my church library or by giving them away.  But it is kind of like using a thimble to bail water out of the Titanic while it is sinking.  I am constantly taking in more books than I can read or get rid of.  (Did I mention I have a problem?)

I really got thinking today when I read an article by one of my favorite bloggers, Tim Challies.  He wrote an article titled “Going All-in With Ebooks.” In the article, he thinks through the possibility of getting rid of his entire library and going all digital.  I like some of the reasons he brings up.

I also read several articles today by minimalists on the idea of at least trimming back one’s collection to one bookshelf (or less, in some cases).

I have to admit, the idea interests me . . . but it makes me extremely anxious at the same time.  It would be very beneficial to cut back on my book collection, transitioning to mainly digital.  I say “mainly” because at this point I have no plans on getting rid of certain collections I have (C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, Randy Alcorn, etc.), but that would reduce the number of books I have to probably about one complete shelf, maybe a little more.  I currently have four bookshelves in my bedroom, so that would be a huge improvement.

I keep getting almost ready to take the plunge, and then the anxiety kicks in.  It is at this point that I understand at least a little how hoarders struggle.

So, I feel stuck and indecisive.

On one hand, I could help my wife with her minimalizing.  I could reduce the amount of books I have to keep track of and take care of.  I could have my entire library always at the touch of my fingertips on my Kindle.  And I could focus on having a library with more purpose and focus on only a select few authors.

On the other hand, the time and money I have spent collecting books would be wasted.  I feel like I would be betraying my bibliophile ways.  The ease of referencing something in a physical book would be gone.  (I am extremely visually oriented and mentally map many of the books I read.)  And I would possibly have a nervous breakdown.  (Okay, not really; but it certainly feels like it.)

Perhaps I will make a decision sooner rather than later.  But I am interested in your thoughts.

Do you prefer physical books or digital?  Have you found yourself overwhelmed with books, or do you think, as I tend to, that there is truly no such thing?  Is the comfort of a large library worth the hassle of having more items all around the house?  Is the convenience of having all books in digital form worth giving up a large collection?

Comment with your thoughts!