It’s All in the Bag – Guest Columnist Jodi Nisly Hertzler

Editor’s note: Jodi Nisly Hertzler writes occasionally for Another Way and is a proofreader and tutor. Jodi and her husband have three children.

There’s something about the physical act of throwing out the junk that’s therapeutic. Add to that the visually calming effect of a mostly empty, organized drawer? Ahhh.

The season of Lent snuck up on me this year. I knew the time was approaching, but I hadn’t put any thought into my personal response until my husband made the startling announcement on Shrove Tuesday that he was going to give up tea for Lent.

You’d have to know my husband to understand why this was such a shock. The sweet iced tea he grew up on is mother’s milk to him. And let me tell you, that tea is sweet. I’m sure if we were to pour it in a hummingbird feeder it would be received in flutters of ecstasy. Over the years, my husband has cut back on the sugar from his mother’s recipe, but it’s still decidedly sweet. And he drinks several large glasses of it daily. He craves it the way I crave coffee.

Given the weight of his proclamation, I was seized by the need to make a similar pledge in solidarity. Without putting much thought into it, I decided to avoid sugar. Ever since the kids brought an insane amount of candy home from trick-or-treating (with follow-ups at Christmas and Valentine’s), I have found it all too easy to make a quick grab of a Tootsie Roll or Hershey’s Kiss without thinking about it. So, sugar it was to be, but my heart wasn’t really in it.

Ash Wednesday morning, I came across an idea on Facebook that resonated with me in a way that giving up peanut M&Ms just didn’t: the 40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge ( The idea is simple: Declutter. Pick a spot each day in your house and clear it out. Sort the items in that drawer/closet/toy box/laundry room and get rid of the things you no longer need. Throw them away, give them away, sell them—it doesn’t matter. Nor does it have to be exactly a bag a day—the point is to simplify and declutter, a little bit every day.

Not a new concept, I know, but this year, I found the idea particularly appealing. My brain has been feeling terribly cluttered lately. There’s so much going on in my life and so much to keep up with that I often feel scattered and confused and worn out. I don’t necessarily think cleaning out my medicine cabinet is going to change that, but the symbolism is helpful. There’s something about the physical act of throwing out the junk that’s therapeutic. Add to that the visually calming effect of a mostly empty, organized drawer? Ahhh.

The physiological effect really is similar to that of a cleansing breath. Opening my pantry and seeing everything lined up and sorted out, the floor no longer littered with all those plastic containers and lids overflowing their box… I’m not sure an hour of yoga can compete with that.

As of this writing, I am 16 days into the challenge. I’ve tackled four (yes, I admit it, four) junk drawers—and wondered why all four had marbles rolling around in them when my children have never played with nor collected marbles. I found four dried-up tubes of super glue and the plumber’s receipt from when we built this house eight years ago. I discovered an oddly large quantity of D-cell batteries, child-sized sunglasses, and empty jewelry boxes.

I’ve cleaned out the linen closet, the coat closet, and my bedroom closet, prompting deep questions: How did we accumulate so many pillowcases? In the donation bag. What sort of sentiment compelled me to keep for 19 years the wedding-gift sheets that my husband hated because the lace was scratchy? In the bag. How many baby blankets do my children really want as mementoes? In the bag. How many unmatched gloves is it possible for a family to have? In the (trash) bag.

Of course, my primary emotion as I attempt this challenge is guilt. Guilt that my family’s needless stuff is so excessive as to merit such an exercise. In the back of a closet, I discovered a coat that I’ve had since 1997, but haven’t worn in years because it makes me look pregnant. Why have I kept it? Well, it’s classic black wool, and it was expensive. I’m deeply ashamed at such a selfish justification for hording an item that could have kept someone warm this winter. It’s in a bag now.

My hope is that this house cleansing will also be soul cleansing. That I will retain the sense of lightness that increases with each trip to the thrift store (to deliver, I promise!), and that I will carefully evaluate future purchases for their ultimate junk potential. If only my unnecessary preoccupations and worries were as easy to dispose of as all those dried-up magic markers… and there were a lot of markers…

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Posted 4/3/2014 7:00:00 AM

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