Church un-Cluttered

Two Church Closets: Before & After

Churches have a unique tendency to become cluttered, as I have blogged about before. But never underestimate the power of energetic volunteers!

The goals: 1) make items accessible;

2) create dedicated space for pulpit robe and worship materials.

BEFORE large closet

BEFORE small closet











AFTER large closet

AFTER small closet

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Church Clutter

New Year, Clean Slate!

Clutter-free spaces communicate hospitality. The hotel industry understands this. Unfortunately, many churches don’t.

I’m on my way to a “Clean Up Day” at my church. I’m still quite new there — since Labor Day — and the church basement is in reasonably good shape. Still, it’s always good to sift through the flotsam and jetsam. Cleaning up is a good way to learn the church’s history, both formal and informal. I’ll take some “before” pictures of closets, although I expect it will be weeks before I have “after” pictures.

Meanwhile, I’ll repost an article I wrote a few years ago — to draw the connection between clutter and hospitality in church settings, and why I prioritize uncluttering. (more…)

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What Have You Uncluttered in 2015?

It can be helpful/inspiring/hilarious to hear what other people are uncluttering. So far in 2015 my list has been quite tame, but here it is . . . .

~ a coffeemaker broke — was dispatched to my husband’s Middle School “Take It Apart Club” — the intact coffeepot was donated and a new Mr. Coffee was purchased

~ a toaster that broke — went to the “Take It Apart Club” —  and a new one was purchased  — right! 2 appliances in 1 week! weird, right?

~ 3 books on peacemaking that I read and won’t reread — donated

~ a pair of expensive shoes that my husband can’t use after foot surgery but which still have wear enough to be useful — donated

~ a votive holder that I didn’t particularly enjoy using — donated

~ the Christmas lights that didn’t work — trashed

~ some plastic containers from the cupboard — recycled

~ from my files — a folder labeled “Hymns” and another labeled “Pictures of Jesus” — neither of which have I touched in 4 years — into recycling (this is serious uncluttering, friends, pictures of Jesus!)

~ some dingy Tshirts from husband’s drawer deemed to be rags and used for cleaning

~ pantry items sorted — made waffles — some frozen broccoli is being turned into soup today — and a can of soup with an expiration of 2009 was unearthed and tossed

Now it’s your turn! What have you uncluttered? What area would you like to tackle?

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One Bag Packing: Zion & Bryce & Las Vegas, Winter

A good trip often travels between extremes, doesn’t it? We recently traveled “out west” to do some hiking — mainly Zion & Bryce national parks — and also spend a few days in Las Vegas. Those are two very different scenarios!

In the parks we soaked in the sun, snow, silence, and scenery. In Las Vegas we were barraged with slot machines, smoke, artificial environments and people — a very different kind of thrill! Despite the breadth of activity, each of us fit everything we needed into one bag — four bags for four travelers for one week. I was happy to repeat many items from our Alaska trip. Since my family members appreciated the specificity of this packing list, I will pass it along. What would you add or subtract?

There are a few pictures below the list. I need to download the rest of them! We did most of our hiking at Zion NP, which isn’t pictured here.

ON FLIGHT (wear or carry):

  • jeans and top
  • warm layer (suitable for hiking, a workout-type pullover or cardigan)
  • winter jacket, scarf, gloves
  • walking shoes
  • phone/recharger
  • Kindle/recharger
  • camera/recharger


  • lightweight hiking shoes/3 pairs of sox
  • hiking pants/long underwear bottom
  • long-sleeved tee-shirts (2) (you can re-wear, no problem)
  • water-proof shell (or use winter jacket)
  • fleece hood, to be layered with a ballcap with brim (hopefully it will be sunny!)
  • sunglasses/case
  • drawstring bag to carry water etc.
  • bathing suit/flipflops (for hot tub afterward!)

FOR LAS VEGAS (2 days):

  • extra sox for walking shoes
  • a nicer top to wear with jeans
  • going-out outfit (incl. jewelry) (consider your shoes)


  • nightgown
  • warm sox to use as slippers
  • adequate underwear
  • glasses/case
  • small card game
  • toiletries (incl. chapstick, Tylenol, Tylenol PM, Rx, spare set of contact lens)

Bryce NP was significantly colder than Zion NP, as it’s at higher elevation.

Bristlecone Pine Trail, Bryce NP

Bristlecone Pine Trail, Bryce NP


Can you guess where this is?

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Self-Storage & Church Space

Chances are your church needs an income stream. Chances are it also needs to let go of something. What’s the connection?

America is good at holding onto things. According to an industry sourceThere is 7.3 sq.ft. of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time – under the total canopy of self storage roofing.

That’s a lot of storage space! But have you driven back roads lately? Self-storage units are everywhere. Towns that are too small to support a gas station, and lack even one new home, have a brand-spanking-new storage enterprise. Interesting!

What does this mean for the church? For one thing, maybe churches with dwindling Sunday School attendance could retool their classroom space as rental storage units. After all, we’re talking premium climate-controlled space that is probably under-utilized.

The church classrooms built in the 1950s and 60s are no longer teeming with children. In a sense, they are a vestige of another time. Do we dare admit that this space is obsolete? If so, how poetic that this space should be converted to house the obsolete items that people cannot bring themselves to discard.

Brooks Palmer, the Clutter-Buster, calls storage unit fees “alimony” for the stuff we can no longer live with. I like that. It strikes me that churches are often willing to pay “alimony” for models of ministry that they can no longer live with.

I am kidding. In a way. But I do think we church leaders need to do some rethinking about our space, our space usage, and what it is that people need. Many things become obsolete, except for the gospel. How does our space usage advance that message? What do we need to be willing to let go of?

Chances are that most storage units are full of items that people need to let go.

Chances are that churches are full of ideas we need to let go.

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Hospitality: What the Church Can Learn from Air Bnb

airbnbI’m a Presbyterian pastor who often talks about hospitality, sometimes in relation to one of my other passions, which is uncluttering. Last spring my husband and I took the practice of hospitality to a new level when we became Air Bnb hosts. Air Bnb is part of the sharing economy.

Many people are curious about the experience of hosting. Why would we want to open up our home to complete strangers? I’ll readily say that the propelling reason was to create an income stream. Writing is rewarding in many ways, but not financially. But like many things a person does for economic reasons, we discovered other benefits. Being hosts made us feel better about staying in a larger-than-we-need house with unused bedrooms.

We welcomed our first guest last May — he stayed for a couple of weeks during a job transition. Since then many of our guests have been doctoral students, often from other countries. Only a few of our guests have been from the United States. I speculate that is due to our preoccupation with personal privacy. I have found it quite interesting to learn to navigate boundaries while there are strangers in the house. Usually it comes down to basic cleanliness, civility, and communication.

We have found some unexpected benefits to being an Air BnB Host (besides having become more regular about cleaning our bathrooms!).

For instance, we have discovered how quickly strangers can become friends. A chat at the kitchen table over a pot of tea is always pleasant. We have met guests who share our interests in many things: milkweed, the Chesapeake Bay, Buddhism, neuroscience, cats, new technology, the Shenandoah, the Civil War, organic cooking. Conversation has never lagged. At other times we have zero conversation with the guest, which is also fine.

We have the added pleasure of being a support to young people who are transitioning to the area. One young woman — upon hearing that I could squeeze her into a busy calendar — cried out: Why are you being so nice to me? I chuckled and said: Because once I was your age, relocating to a city where I didn’t know a soul. Upon reflection, I would say that this is the best part of being an Air Bnb host: paying hospitality forward. In a world that seems increasingly violent and full of tension, it feels good to add just a few drops of hospitality to the mix, and to ease someone’s burden.

We have also been guests a couple of times. When traveling we prefer Air BnB to “regular” B&Bs because they’re less costly, mainly because Air Bnb hosts don’t provide breakfast, only coffee and tea. A typical B&B provides a sumptuous breakfast and I don’t need the expense or calories every day. (Vacation model vs. Daily model)

As we’ve gone along, we’ve added a few rules. We have clarified the issue of friends staying overnight, for example. We ask overnight friends of guests to be registered, for security reasons. Recently I specified that no firearms are allowed in our home. I am fine with letting the rules evolve as we go. Also, I understand that there are regulatory/legal issues in some places; it is not my purpose to respond to those. I am only sharing my personal experience here.

If you read my blog, you know that I like to make comparisons to the church. Here are some Airbnb learnings that may have applications to how we do church:

~ Guests have different needs and it is possible to adjust to those if the host pays attention.

~ A clean, uncluttered environment says: I am ready for your arrival.

~ Effective hospitality requires rules, which evolve naturally from the situation and its needs.

~ Hospitality is often sweeter when it’s unexpected, meaning last-minute or after being caught in a surprise deluge. In fact, “crises” provide an opening to give and receive a gracious presence.

~ Sometimes hospitality is absolutely silent.

~ Hospitality is good for the host as well as the guest.

~ Most people like cats.

~ Perhaps most important, people have a very basic need to belong. And that need is not going away in our digitally connected world. Check out the video below. It introduces the new logo, which I agree has some unfortunate anatomical resonances. But that aside, what’s your reaction?

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Packing for Alaska: the One-Bag Approach

I like to keep things simple, including packing, but a cruise to Alaska raises inevitable complications. The weather is varied, and so are the activities, from very outdoorsy to very formal. I aspire to the freedom of one-bag travel. (Did you see this hilarious guest post on one-bag travel some time ago, I still love it!)

On this recent trip, my husband and I had a pretty typical Alaska itinerary:

~ a week on land (Fairbanks to Denali NP to Anchorage to Seward)

~ a week on a cruise boat (Seward to Glacier Bay to Haines to Juneau to Ketchikan to Vancouver)

Instead of showing you the clothes laid out on a bed, here they are on the scene, with a bit of commentary:

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESFOR DAILY ADVENTURES: a T-shirt layer (brought 4), a long-sleeve layer (brought 2), hiking pants, hiking shoes.

I loved my hiking pants. Lightweight, comfy, look like real pants. Bought them at the last moment and SO GLAD I did, I wore them nearly every day.

I also brought a pair of khaki capris that I wore a couple of times when it was warmer (Anchorage, Vancouver).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGLACIER WEAR: a warm layer, a rain-proof shell with a hood, ear band, fleece hat.

This may seem like a lot but we wore it all. I loved my purple zip front which layered well with my purple rain jacket. 



DINNERS: black knit pants, nicer tops (brought 3), sandals.

FORMAL NIGHTS: a little black dress, a wrap, jewelry (for Doug, a suit, dress shirt, tie, good shoes). Some people opt out of formal nights, which is perfectly reasonable. But we enjoyed them. Plus Doug re-wore his wedding suit. And my friends, this was our 30th Wedding Anniversary!

Denali National ParkALSO IMPORTANT: sunglasses and hat, a daypack (the foldable kind with strings), a passport pouch.

Binoculars, camera and recharger, Kindle and recharger.

Insect repellant, a sleep mask (it is never dark!) and Dramamine.

And yes, a purple bandana.

NITTY GRITTY: We did laundry at the hotel after our first week. I purchased a package of 3 drip-dry (non-cotton) underwear for each of us so we didn’t have to cart around dirty laundry, and that worked really well.

Also, the cruise people took our bag of formal wear and put it on the boat so we didn’t have to deal with it during the land portion of the trip. (Nice to know that when you’re packing.)

BROUGHT BUT DID NOT USE: a swimming suit, shorts.

ACQUIRED and WORE THERE: an Alaska cap! Alaska T-shirts! A couple extra pounds!

ONE LAST THING: SUNSCREEN: Why didn’t I know about grownup sunscreen before? There is screen with zinc oxide in it, so it is very effective, but which has a tint that keeps it from looking white on your skin. I found some that goes on like a lightweight foundation and blended easily into my  fair skin.

Have you been to Alaska? Feel free to leave a comment about your experience.

Are you going to Alaska? Lucky you! I hope this helps with your packing and I hope you have a fabulous time!

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Open-Window-Time: Spring Uncluttering

IMG_1262I love sleeping with the windows open. What a pleasure to wake to the birds and a breeze.

The open-window time is, itself, a brief window of time, coming after the worst of the pollen has passed, and before the heat arrives. Open-window time makes me want to air out other parts of my life.

Which is how I found a “fantasy self.”

I began with some simple cleaning in my kitchen –I shined the stainless steel range hood and made the glass-fronted cabinets sparkle. Those results motivated me to tackle my bathroom drawers. It was relatively easy because I did a thorough clutter-bust on the bathroom a year ago. Still, it was interesting to remove everything and find the items I decided to keep a year ago — and haven’t touched since. Why did I keep things like this?

But I know why. Those items are part of my “fantasy self.” Do you have one of those? I have many fantasy selves. Apparently one of my fantasy selves wears eyeliner. I discovered 3 unused types of eyeliner in my drawer. Will I embrace that particular fantasy self or relinquish her? These are the questions that uncluttering leads to.

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Fall Is a Great Time to Organize

The fall is a time of new beginnings.

The air is crisp, those new notebooks have uncreased covers, and the holidays loom, but not frighteningly so. All things seem possible!

But is it hard to feel fresh in your home environment? Does your space support the kind of life you want to live? Or are you hampered by clutter and relics of the past?

~ Does your home office help you get bills paid on time, and with ease?

~ Does your bedroom closet make dressing a daily pleasure?

~ Do your kitchen cupboards help you create nutritious, economical meals?

All of these areas really matter in day-to-day life, and this is a great time of year to tackle a project.

If you need help getting started on a home organizing project, and live in the DC area, send me a message. My attitude is upbeat, my rates are reasonable, and I have a bench of people who can help, for a few hours or a few days.

What’s the work you’d like to see “in progress”?

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Clutter Creep: Now you see it, Now you don’t!

Refrigerator magnets. Overstuffed bookshelves. Piles of paper on the kitchen counter. To me, it’s all visual clutter, and I say: Get rid of it! I like clean surfaces.

A couple weeks ago we reorganized a section of our basement. After we cleared out some “stuff” we decided to get rid of the shelf unit that held the stuff. (But we kept the never-used glass punch bowl. Some stuff is just appealing.)

The shelf unit was cheaply made of white laminate–no value–but good enough to hold stuff. We decided to put the shelf out on the curb the next fine Saturday. Maybe someone would take it home and fill it up with their stuff.

Temporarily, we set the unit on the breezeway between our house and garage. Breezeway, indeed. That night some strong winds blew the unit over onto the cement slab and broke the top shelf. The lower shelves were still intact, but now the unit seemed entirely worthless. Which made me vaguely sad.

Not wanting to admit that the unit belonged in a landfill, we started putting things on the shelves as we went in and out of the house. A few building supplies. A stray cooler. Gardening items. See? It’s handy!

In the space of two weeks, I no longer saw the unit anymore, or thought of it as an invader. It was visual clutter, but it was MY visual clutter and therefore invisible to me. It held the residue of stuff I wasn’t ready to deal with yet. By which I don’t mean the gardening items, so much as a whiff of guilt about my consumption, and the way my life creates garbage.

What visual clutter have you stopped seeing, and why?

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