Christina Capecchi: How to travel lightly: the great de-clutter

By Christina Capecchi

My next-door neighbors have been packing up to move for the last month. The empty nesters are downsizing, and I’ve watched their weeks-long purge with a mix of horror and admiration.

High-school letter jacket?


Handmade desk?


Barbie clothes sewn by Grandma?


Almost everything had to go. There was no longer space or, it turns out, need. They’ve raised their kids, retired from their careers. So they handpicked recipients for special items that no longer serve them and donated the rest.

Yesterday, when the moving truck pulled up, their garage became the graveyard for the final bits: a wooden Santa, a large clock, potting soil and a box labeled “rags.”

That’s what it had come down to: the rags.

I could see a lightness in the wife’s face. Sure, the past month had been grueling – endless sorting, boxing, lifting, lugging. But she had eliminated all the unnecessary stuff in her life and, with it, a tremendous psychological weight.

She is ready for the next chapter, and she has put in the work so she can travel lightly.

I want to do the same. I just don’t know if I’m ready.

For guidance, I’ve been reading Laraine Bennett, the Catholic author best known for her writing on temperaments. Laraine’s latest book explores the spiritual underpinnings of our consumerist culture. It draws inspiration from St. Therese of Lisieux, who wrote: “Happiness has nothing to do with the material things that surround us; it dwells in the very depths of the soul.” It is titled: “The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower.”

The book begins with Laraine’s account of selling almost everything to move to Germany with her husband and two young children. They settled in an old farmhouse with a tiny kitchen and miniature stove. Their American-size box spring wouldn’t fit through the stairs, so they made do with a mattress on the floor and fleas from the barn animals next door.

“This discomfort opened up a space where there was a possibility of spiritual awakening, an encounter, a surprise,” Laraine writes. “God is the God of surprises, Pope Francis says. But when you are too comfortable, too content with the status quo, you rarely step out of your cozy cocoon to encounter the surprise.”

In lieu of the frantic Christmas shopping she’d witnessed in the U.S., the young mom participated in a neighborhood tradition: hiking through snowy woods to a mountaintop where snow began to fall just as St. Nicholas appeared, with bishop’s miter and staff in a horse-drawn carriage.

“When our hearts are filled with our earthly loves, our creature comforts and our material possessions, we have less room for God,” Laraine writes.

Ultimately, we need very little. But the line between want and need has never been blurrier in the age of Amazon. We buy for so many reasons: because we can, because it brings a momentary thrill or distraction, because it was recommended by an influencer.

It can be difficult to examine our motives, especially when the period from idea to acquisition spans a matter of seconds.

This year I’ve tried to slow that down. What I discovered is that sometimes – embarrassingly – I already had the thing I was about to buy, or something similar. I could get by.

Before a party, I could dig through my “Rainy Day Bin” and find a gift that would suffice. I’ve become more honest about the recipient’s needs. I picture a cluttered house and busy schedule and opt, instead, for a handwritten card paired with a jar of honey or box of tea.

Buying less isn’t fun, but I can feel virtue building – patience, prudence, peace. It feels good to be resourceful, more easily contented.

I want to travel lightly, unencumbered, with my arms and heart open wide, ready to be surprised.

Christina Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights, Minn.


Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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