My kids looked up from their game of Oregon Trail and asked, “Mom, how did the whole family fit all their stuff into one wagon when they moved?”
This was in stark contrast to our recent move: a whole van full of our furniture, toys, clothes, books (so many books!), gadgets – and then some.
How do we accumulate so much stuff?
And, how do we treat the stuff we accumulate?
So much of what we possess is expendable. And some of what’s necessary, we deem as expendable because it’s so easily replaceable.
The more things we have, the less we appreciate the value and goodness of those things.
I sat down the other day to write a list of all the things I have – all the gifts of this life. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and it was only the beginning. The more I wrote, the more I realized just how incredibly wealthy I am – in physical gifts, as well as in the more intangible gifts.
And I was determined to have better stewardship of my things. To take care of what I own. To own only what I find value in. To guard my precious but intangible commodities – like time, quiet, and freedom.
I can tell you, it’s going to be a process. A journey.
There’s a lot of purging to be done in my house and in my heart. But I’m excited to get started. And I’m blessed to have you with me.
Adjust Your Attitude About Things
Before we dive in to talking about how to care about what we have, we should pause to remember the purpose of virtue.
Growing in virtue is not only about self-betterment.
If we’re only seeking stewardship to improve our homes, bodies, schedules, and things, then we have a very selfish view of what stewardship means.
Stewardship, like all the virtues, is not about us. It’s not about what we do and don’t do.
It involves us. It involves our decisions about what to do and not to do.
But ultimately, virtue is about God.
It’s about his great love for us, and his desire to be loved by us in return.
Virtue is about training ourselves to seek God for his sake, and to practice doing the things that show our love for him.
Even though we’ll talk about strategies like minimalism, decluttering, budgeting, and scheduling, these things aren’t virtuous on their own.
These strategies are different tools we may use to help our hearts seek God above all, and to lead us to proper use of the gifts he’s given us.
The virtue of stewardship starts with the heart.
It begins with the desire to detach ourselves from all worldly goods, to attach ourselves more surely to God.
It focuses on building up our treasure in heaven, and letting go of the earthly treasures that distract us from this goal.
It recognizes that gratitude is the proper attitude to have towards our possessions – both physical and abstract.
Before you jump into any of the strategies below, first reflect on the state of your heart.
Don’t lose sight of the ultimate reason for practicing good stewardship. Remember to do it all for the greater love and glory of God.
More about detachment and a healthy attitude toward things:
- Saddle Up that Camel – Be Good Stewards – Kendra Tierney
Be Intentional About the Things You Buy
Our hearts are bottomless pits. They have a great desire for love, beauty, truth, and goodness.
We see these qualities reflected in the world around us, and we seek to possess those things in an attempt to satisfy the longings of our hearts.
But the only thing that can satisfy our hearts is the infinite goodness of God himself.
We need to curb the desire to find our worth in outward things. We need to fight that temptation to possess every good that comes across our paths.
God created us to seek beauty.
As a woman, I feel the stirring whenever I see a new style dress, the next season’s lineup of shoes, a gorgeous color palette in the makeup aisle.
I see this beauty and I want to possess it. Money seems to be an acceptable sacrifice to make to acquire the happiness that beauty will bring. But that happiness won’t last, and soon I’ll feel that ache again.
It’s okay to buy the things I need, and even some of the things that I want.
But when I buy each thing I come across which promises to fill the ache and desire in my heart that only God can fill, I lose sight of my inherent worth.
Things don’t define our worth, and they don’t provide us lasting happiness.
We need to let go of the things that promise to make us beautiful. That promise entertainment.
These things try to own us by playing on our emotions, tightening our grasp on them, our need for them, our dependence on them.
The one we can depend on is God. From him, we get our worth, our beauty, our happiness, our joy, our true success. He is the source of our value.
What purchases have a hold on you?
Is it the makeup aisle? Fast food? Netflix? Toys?
Before you buy any non-necessities, take some time to pray and evaluate your motive.
Are you seeking these things to validate your worth and fill the holes in your heart?
Or are you seeking to glorify God through the use of these things in your life?
Check out these resources that can help you practice good stewardship over the things you bring into your life:
Value and Respect the Things You Have
I slipped off my everywhere shoes and put them back in my shoe bin. I figured the kids would probably walk off with them later on, chew on them, slip their tiny feet in them, wear them outside, or leave them in the rain.
I have some work to do with them. But for myself, I will model taking good care of my shoes.
They’re my favorite Crocs. They’re cute. They’re durable. I got them at the thrift shop for $8. But their worth isn’t reduced to a monetary value.
They’re valuable because they serve me.
They protect my feet from the road and the rain.
They make me feel confident and secure.
They’re good for traveling, since they’re appropriate for almost any occasion, I rarely have to pack extra shoes.
True, I only spent a few dollars to buy them – but if they got lost or ruined, I’d have to spend much more to replace them. And the memories that go with them will be gone with them.
We live in a throwaway culture. We expect things to be cheap, and when they inevitably fall apart, we think nothing about tossing them and “getting a new one.”
When we read stories of our history, we see accounts of people mending shoes, jackets, and even socks. Today, we will throw away a short because of one lost button or ripped seam.
I’m not saying those days were “the golden days,” or that I wish we would go back to darning our socks (I don’t). But our whole attitude towards the value of material possessions is skewed.
We either spend an inordinate amount of money and energy to get our hands on the latest smart gadget. Or we have a blatant disregard for the upkeep of the necessities of daily life.
Good stewardship challenges us to take care of our material possessions.
Value your shoes, and your socks, and your jacket, because they serve the needs of your body.
Value your car, and your bike, and your baby stroller, because they serve your transportation needs.
Value your pen, and your notebook, and your computer, because they serve your work and your intellect.
Value them enough to take care of them, and keep them in good repair.
But don’t value them so much that they distract you from the most important things.
Don’t be provoked to anger when your kids lose your left shoe, drop cereal in your car, or draw all over your favorite notebook.
Those things are important as long as they serve you, but not so important to be allowed to get in the way of our relationships.
Reflect on the way you care for your things. Do you honor their value – both monetary, and for the way they serve you?
Love the Space You Live in
Ever walk into a college boy’s dorm room?
It’s usually the perfect picture of the opposite of good stewardship.
Some days I wonder if my toddlers are aspiring for this level of stewardship in our home.
It’s where you live and (if you’re a stay at home mom like me) where you spend most of your time.
We can practice good stewardship of our homes by taking care of it – cleaning, sweeping, vacuuming, washing the dishes and the laundry.
Sometimes, even these basic tasks feel like a monumental challenge.
Our homes may start to resemble a college dorm room more than we wish it did. And that’s when it’s time to dig in and make a change.
I used to spend a lot of time complaining about how hard it was for me to take care of the entire household all by myself.
I had to make everyone’s meals. Wash everyone’s dishes. Fold everyone’s laundry. Pick up everyone’s toys.
I hated it. I didn’t feel loved, honored, or appreciated. I felt used.
But then I realized I didn’t actually have to do all these things by myself. And I didn’t have to ignore that these things needed to be done and resign myself to living in a pigpen either.
I made a checklist.
These were not my chores, or my tasks, or my jobs.
These were household duties that needed to be taken care of. And since the entire family lives in this house, the entire family would contribute to completing these basic duties, every single day.
(Husband included – yes, he was on board with this).
We don’t talk about “chores” or “helping mom” when it comes to taking care of the house.
We talk about our combined responsibility. The fact that we work together as a family. That we love each other enough to make sure the house is in livable shape before we go to bed at night.
Now, I get to go to sleep knowing I’ll wake up to a clean floor, clear table, empty sink, and couch cushions on the couch where they’re supposed to be.
It has been so good, not just for me, but for the entire family.
In the evening, when I used to be working up until and even past bedtime on housekeeping tasks, now I actually have time to hang out with my husband and my kids.
When we all work together, we all get time to relax together, play together, and talk together.
I learned that it is possible to take care of myself and take care of the household.
Now, I’m not a slave or the maid, but more like the manager of the household (don’t worry, my husband is still the head of the household). My family is the team.
And it’s so rewarding to see everyone chipping in to make our living space better for all of us.
Another thing that has helped me take better care of the space we live in is diving into the practice of minimalism.
Obviously, as an American, and with a growing family, I’m not about to live in a one room house with one outfit to wash and one to wear, and only the bare minimum needed to survive.
But I’ve been trying to focus on detachment and simplicity.
Toys are a challenge.
When birthdays and Christmas come around, there are some gift-givers in our family that love to treat our kids. Each event brings a round of clutter.
And while I’m very grateful for the generosity and show of love, I also allow myself to place our family’s need for order above the sentimental attachment to past gifts. I encourage our family to let go of old gifts and toys, cleaning out to make room for the new.
I may not be able to fully control what comes in to our house (even with my minimal spending attitude) but I can control what stays.
Clutter is a challenge.
I am a very visual person, and I love to have clear surfaces in the house – counters, tabletops, and cabinets.
But, with lots of kids, homeschool, and busyness, things get dropped in places here and there, and then I turn around one day and have no clean surfaces for cooking, writing, lesson planning, or other necessary daily tasks.
Practicing minimalism has helped me recognize the importance of having designated spaces for our possessions, as well as the importance of routine de-cluttering.
Books are a challenge.
But I’m a book hoarder, so move on.
Buy another bookshelf.
Nothing to see here.
Home Décor is a challenge.
In my case, this is mostly because I want to make sure my art doesn’t make it feel like the walls of the room are encroaching on our living space.
I lean toward functionality over decoration.
But I’ve realized that it’s also important for our home to feel welcoming rather than stark. So I have slowly begun to decorate our walls.
Mostly I tend toward religious art and my own original art. But I’ve also created a jewelry board to display my (mostly) religious jewelry in a way that adds beauty to the room as well as makes it easier for me to wear.
I would caution against a stark, unwelcoming décor, as well as an overly busy, cluttered décor
In my mind, the one conveys a sort of lifelessness and lack of appreciation for God’s design for beauty in our lives. And the other conveys an unhealthy attachment to material possessions.
Try to strike the balance to create a lovely, welcoming living space.
Here are some helpful articles about taking care of your home space, and practicing minimalism as a part of good stewardship:
- Catholic Minimalism Challenge: Sterling Jaquith
- Minimalism: Style or Lifestyle?
- Catholicism and Minimalism: 9 Ways Two -isms Can Exist in Your Large Family
- Too Much Stuff: An All-American Problem
- Minimalism: The Cure for Gluttony?
Manage Your Money Better
Beware of poor stewardship on both ends of the money spectrum.
On the one end, there’s careless spending of money. Racking up debt, getting into financial trouble, and still spending on and on. With this attitude, we can endanger our families.
On the other end, there’s the obsessive hoarding of money. Refusing to spend even the smallest amounts on any unnecessary good. Valuing money as an end in itself, rather than as a tool to serve us. This extreme is just as dangerous as overspending.
When it comes to money, good stewardship allows us to see money as a resource to be used to attain the things we need in this life. Money is for spending on necessities.
Bills happen. And using our hard earned money to pay them is a good thing.
If there’s extra, it’s good to save, in case unexpected expenses rear their head in the future (and they will).
And it’s good to spend, if there’s something we discern would make life easier, better, or increase our joy and happiness in some way.
Money should always be handled with prudence and discernment.
Check out these articles that can help you begin your journey to practicing good stewardship with your money:
- When There is No Money Tree: Stewardship in a Large Family
- The Beginner’s Guide to Budgeting
- Am I poor? – Use All Your Resources
- Six On a Budget
Use Your Time With No Regrets
Time is a valuable resource that is one of the hardest to use well.
I often get the question, “How do you find time to do all the things you do?” The answer is: I don’t “find” time.
We all are given the same amount of minutes in an hour, hours in a day, days in a week.
I have the same amount of time as the lady next door and the stranger across the world and you. We don’t magically find time to do the things that are important to us.
Rather, we make decisions every day about how to use the allotted amount of time given to us.
We choose whether to spend time scrolling social media or reading a book.
We choose whether to take the extra 30 seconds to put our things away when we’re done using them, or spend an hour cleaning up all the accumulated mess later.
We choose whether to turn on a movie and zone out for the evening, or spend that time pursuing and developing a hobby that’s dear to us.
I’m a scheduler.
I love to have a plan for each day (with free time scheduled in, too). Flexibility is something I’m learning, but I’ve found that choosing to roll with an impulsive playdate can be a better use of my time than completing my planned Tupperware reorganization.
Are you being intentional about using your time?
Or are you letting your time be stolen from you in the chaos of life?
Here are some more ideas to help practice good stewardship of your time:
Guard Your Atmosphere to Keep Your Peace
Not just your physical surroundings, but the entire atmosphere surrounding you.
Mood. Emotion. Feel. Vibe. Whatever name you want to call it.
Your atmosphere is an important resource.
We can disturb our atmosphere through our own decisions.
If we create a chaos-filled life with more activities than we can keep up with, artificial noise filling every moment, and a constant stream of criticism and negative attitudes in our conversations and interactions, we’re going to be surrounded by a very unhealthy attitude.
We can’t live that way.
That will disturb our peace and lead us to anxiety, depression, and other challenges.
We have to be good stewards of our atmosphere to preserve our joy.
This doesn’t mean we will live in a bubble. Challenges, suffering, and the evil of the world will cross our paths. But even through all of these things, we can seek the peace and joy of Christ, and let that reign in our hearts and in our lives.
We can seek solace in silence, in prayer, in visits to Mass and Adoration chapels.
We can seek out faithful friends who encourage us to stay strong in our faith through the ups and downs of life.
Sometimes we may have to turn off social media for a while, to regain our peace. Sometimes, we may have to say no to ladies night or other social gatherings, to spend more time with our family.
We may need to say no to good things in order to help us say yes to better things.
I love listening to Catholic podcasts. I make it a point to feed my mind with them every day (or, most days anyways). They help me be more grounded in my faith. But some days, I turn on a podcast when I should be listening to my children.
And the disharmony is immediately evident. I get grumpy, huffy, and impatient. The atmosphere of our home deteriorates into fights and bickering.
Guard your atmosphere. Discern the activities and attitudes that surround you, setting the tone for your life and interactions.
Keep your peace and your joy.
They’re some of your greatest resources on this road to heaven.
Some great reads to help you regain your peace:
- Why You Should Be a Quitter to Regain Your Health
- Executive Decisions: Cut the Clutter, Quit the Nagging, and Replace Chaos with Peace
- Creating an Eden in Your Home
Begin the Good Stewardship Virtue Challenge Today!
Remember, you don’t have to do it all.
Take these ideas to prayerful discernment. Identify one, or maybe two, that are tugging on your heart. Ask God to show him how you can grow closer to him and to your destination in heaven by practicing good stewardship, and taking better care of your things this month.
Check out the rest of the Challenge, where we will dive into the other aspects of good stewardship:
- Take Care of Your Self
- Take Care of the World (coming soon)
- Take Care of Your Faith (coming soon)
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