We all have it – clutter.
It’s the stuff that’s overflowing from our closets, falling out of our cabinets and rendering our attics and garages unusable. It’s the clothes, books, movies, knick knacks and “things” that tell the stories of our lives. The stuff that we’re afraid to get rid of and the stuff we’re sure we can’t live without.
It usually accumulates slowly over time, often without us even noticing. Until one day, we realize we don’t have enough room for all our stuff, so we move into a bigger place. But then, before we know it, that space becomes filled too… and the cycle goes on and on.
It’s the message that we’re all bombarded with 24 hours a day – buy more, have more, get more. We’re made to feel like we’re missing out if we don’t have the latest phone or electronic device and we’re told the evidence of our success is based on what our possessions look like and how many of them we have.
But what if all that clutter – all that stuff – is actually standing in the way of you becoming the person that God created you to be?
You may think that sounds a little crazy… after all, it’s just “stuff,” right?
First off, clutter tends to happen when we “hoard” stuff. We continue to buy new things without getting rid of the old and eventually we end up with too much. That’s why you can barely reach into your closet anymore or your garage looks more like a storage unit than a place to park your car
But instead of getting rid of some of the things we know we don’t use, we hold on to them out of fear or the idea that we might need them at some point. So in and of itself, clutter is a representation of fear and the attempt to find satisfaction and contentment in “things” rather than in God.
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13
But for me, the most surprising revelation about clutter came when I went through my own de-cluttering and downsizingprocess a couple years ago.
I had never really been into designer labels and didn’t even own an iPhone or iPad, much less need to have the latest version as soon it hit the market. My clutter seemed to have just accumulated over time without me even realizing it. So, I wasn’t too concerned about getting rid of a lot of it; I was actually pretty excited.
But what I realized as I went through my “stuff,” was that going through my physical clutter, was actually going to force me to address a lot of emotional and spiritual clutter as well.
See, I, like many people, tended to just push down my feelings and hold them inside. Part of it was conscious and part of it, I’m sure, was just my body’s natural defensive mechanism to get through all of the stressful events that had taken place.
But either way, I had ended up with a lot of pent-up emotions and unresolved feelings that were beginning to take a toll on my physical well-being. And as God was beginning to show me, on my spiritual well-being too.
As I began to wade through piles of pictures, mementos, books, letters and even clothing, a whole spectrum of emotions came up, from sadness and anger to happiness and joy. There were feelings about relationships that had ended, loved ones who had passed away, stages of life that were over and even dreams that never came to be.
Which is why clutter is about so much more than just stuff.
It is a representation of who we’ve been, where we’ve been, who we hoped we’d be, who we thought we could’ve been or should’ve been, things that once were, things that will never be again, and everything in between.
But the cool thing is, that as you actually allow yourself to feel those emotions and really sit in those feelings… as you really let yourself process those things and LET GO of them, the items themselves lose their power over you.
For instance, I had originally held onto many of my mother’s things after she passed away simply because they were hers. But as I actually went through the grieving process and let myself feel the different emotions and eventually heal, I could then look at many of the items for what they really were – just things.
And the more clutter I got rid of, the freer I felt! As I began to look at my belongings in a whole new way, God kept the momentum going and began “cleaning me up” in other areas as well.
Following His lead, I began to cut out all the toxins from my diet and the products I use on my body and around my house,and began focusing on using whole, natural products and foods instead. I stopped using over-the-counter and prescription medications and began looking at my health from a more natural perspective.
And the more I simplified my life… the more I “cleaned up and stripped down”… the more I felt my real self, my authentic self, start to emerge. I began to hear from God more clearly, I wasn’t as distracted by worldly things and I now had the energy and the focus to follow through on what He was showing me.
It was like the blinders had been pulled off and I could finally see some big secret that was being kept from all of us – that life really is so much simpler than we tend to make it. That the more we strip down, the more we simplify and get back to basics, in all ways, the easier it becomes to be the person that God created us to be.
After all, it only makes sense.
God didn’t create all of those gadgets and things, we did.
God didn’t create all of those toxic foods and products, we did.
And God doesn’t tell us to keep striving for more, more, more. We do.
The secret is actually in having less and doing less… so you can live more.
Ready to start simplifying your life? My new book, Live a F.a.s.t. Life: How Stripping Down & Cleaning Up Gave Me My Life Back, will help you get on your way! Check it out now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my website. And follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Jenn Baxter is an accomplished writer in Charlotte, NC, who has been published in numerous print and online publications, as well as featured as a columnist on Beliefnet.com. In 2015, she launched her website, Live a F.a.s.t. Life, based on her own experiences with clean living, emotional health and downsizing into a 160 sq. ft. tiny house. She released her first book, “Tiny Abundance: My Journey to a Simple, Yet Fabulously Abundant Life in 160 Square Feet” that same year and her new book, Live a F.a.s.t. Life: How Stripping Down & Cleaning Up Gave Me My Life Back, was released in December 2017. She also helps others learn to clean up their homes, their bodies and their lives in her e-course collection, “De-Clutter, De-Tox, De-Stress.” Watch video devotionals from Jenn Baxter with the FREE RefocusApp
Affiliate disclosure: Womens Bible Cafe is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com
People often ask me how I read 100 books in a year, so I’m sharing my tips to encourage you to read inspirational books. Even though I work full time, have two busy teenagers at home, I’m finishing my Biblical Studies degree at Liberty University, and I lead a large online ministry…I’ve continued to pursue my passion of reading. Our Book Club Director Heather C. King read TWICE as many books in 2015!
10 Tips to Read 100 Books in a Year
Tip #1 Never waste time!
Using my smartphone or iPad, I carry Kindle ebooks everywhere I go. The books synchronize to my last page read. When I find myself waiting at a doctor’s appointment or car repair shop, I’ll thumb through my book collection and find something to read. Waiting room magazines are typically outdated and gossip-centered, so I carry healthy books in electronic format.
Tip #2 Lower the Cost!
Just as I don’t like wasting time, I also don’t like wasting money. So each morning I jump on Amazon and look for free and discounted Kindle ebook deals. I share these deals with others via http://lifeversebooks.com/newsletter
Tip 3# Free is Good!
After searching free books on Amazon each day, I then search NetGallery for pre-published books. I’m able to download these to my iPad (or Kindle device) and read prior to their actual release date. In exchange for the free book I’ll write an honest review on my blog at LifeVerseBooks and also on consumer sites such as Amazon. My local library doesn’t carry many Christian books so borrowing is not available to me. With free Kindle books I never have a due date!
Tip #4 Join a Book Club!
My local leadership group reads one Christian book per month, and we meet the first Saturday of each month to discuss the book. It’s exciting to read with like-minded people and then discuss key concepts from your books. At WBC we have an online book club with more than 11,000+ women at http://www.facebook.com/groups/WBCbooks/
Tip #5 Turn off the car engine and read during carpool!
If you’re a parent like me then you’re carpooling kids all over town. Arrive early for pick-up, turn off the engine and wait in the carpool line with other parents who arrive early and read books. Watch the clock and before the kids are released, close your book and pay attention to the traffic and kids. I typically arrive 20 minutes early and read for 15 minutes, twice a day. Some people listen to audiobooks on long car rides or commuter trains, just make sure you’re not listening as you drive.
Tip #6 Turn off the television!
While television is relaxing entertainment, it often fills my mind with negative images and thoughts. I’ll limit my viewing time, especially before bed at night. When I read an inspirational book before falling asleep, I’m more rested and relaxed for the next day. I’d rather spend five hours a week reading books than five hours watching television- but that’s because I enjoy reading books. Set a goal to read 20 minutes a day and soon you’ll have less television and more books. Rarely do we see articles “How to Watch 365 Hours of Television in a Year” but I think it’s easy to do! One hour a day, 365 days a year… it adds up over time!
Tip #7 Set a timer on social media!
It’s easy to get online and lose track of time, so I set a countdown timer on my phone and when it rings I get offline. To be more productive, twice a year I record all of my activities for two weeks. Using a calendar format, I write down everything I’m doing and after two weeks I add the minutes into time blocks. Then I limit the unproductive activities (social media, electronic games) and increase my productivity (reading books).
Tip #8 Read more than one book at a time!
I get bored easily, so reading multiple books keeps me entertained and encouraged (like channel surfing with the television remote control). I’ll read one chapter from each book, switching between topics and expanding my knowledge. When a book is really good, I’ll put the other two books aside for a few days and plow through the five-star book instead!
Tip #9 Explore different authors and topics!
I learn fast so when I read the same author or topic repeatedly, I get bored and can even predict the next chapter or ending. To offset this conditioning I explore different authors and topics. The books I read are non-denominational. The Holy Bible English Standard Version is my plumb line and when I disagree with the theology or teaching of a book author, I fact-check with the Bible itself.
Tip #10 Read in front of others!
Books are conversation starters! Reading is healthy and expands your vocabulary. Since kids learn from our behavior, we model habits they’ll adopt later in life. After reading 100 books in front of my kids and husband…my husband who reads “one book a year” is now reading beside me, discussing with his local small group, and sharing what he’s learned. My teenagers are reading too! Read for yourself and others will follow.
Bonus Tip: Store your books in the free Kindle Cloud Reader instead of your device. Only download the books you’re currently reading to save memory on the device.
Bonus Tip: When I finish a book, I copy my book highlights into a document file so I can retrieve them later. You can find your book highlights at http://kindle.amazon.com
Now it’s your turn! Post a comment below and share your tips too!
Resources for Reading 100 Books in 2016
Many women have been asking about my Simple Prayer Box and sharing my photos with their friends. I started this a few years ago when my I selected “simplicity” as my one focus word for the year. I wanted a simple method to organize my prayers and remind myself to interceded for family and friends. I’ve made a few changes since then and here is the prayer box I’m using today.
How to Create a Simple Prayer Box
You’ll need these items for your prayer box:
- Index card file box with key
- Index card blank tabs
- Index card 1-31 tabs (optional)
- Index cards
I found my file box at Walmart and another one at the local office supply store. You can also find them at Amazon in pretty colors: pink, white or silver and black. I was not able to find the index blank tabs locally so I bought them online. See resources below if you cannot find the items where you live.
How to Use Your Simple Prayer Box
Organize your box using the index tabs. Here’s how I have organized my box using these tabs:
- Ministry leaders at Womens Bible Cafe
- Ministry Leaders in other ministries
- Scripture Verses- (Beth Moore SSMT my memory verses)
- My Bible study small groups
- Church- my local church, other churches, pastors
- Fasting- when I am fasting I keep cards on my prayers and answered prayers
- Prayer Room- these are the women who post prayer requests online
- Country and Government
- Daily tabs 1-31
Behind each tab I keep the names in alphabetical order, it’s easier for me to find the name of a friend and add her prayer to her card. If someone has a scheduled surgery, mammogram, doctor’s appointment, job interview, etc.- I use the numbered tabs and move her card there so I remember to pray for her on a specific date. I also use the numbered tabs to remember birthdays. Under monthly tabs I keep a record of the dates to celebrate the life of a loved one, anniversaries, or special events.
During my quiet time with the Lord, I pull a stack of cards and pray through them. If I am convicted of a Scripture verse, I write it on the prayer card including the date. Several of my friends have breast cancer, so I keep all their names on a single card and set aside time to pray for them as a group. When prayers are answered, I write this on my card.
You could write the address, phone number and email of your friends on the top or back of the card. Then as you are praying send them a text message, or if you have the time, a handwritten card. Don’t complicate this…as you create your own prayer box pray and ask the Lord how to keep it simple so that you will use it.
I’d love to see photos and ideas from your own prayer boxes, so please post them on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. These are wonderful gifts ideas for your girlfriends and Bible study leaders. It’s also a good activity for local small groups to create their boxes together.
As promised, these are the resources if you can’t find the items locally.
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Do not buy index cards at Walmart, I discovered the paper is really thin and doesn’t hold up well. If you want to save money, split the cost of the blank tabs with a friend, or don’t use the 1-31 tabs. Keep in mind this is something you’ll use for years, so the initial cost is small compared to the long-term use!
Much love to you,
Throughout biblical history we see 40 days of testing, waiting and drawing closer to God. Ash Wednesday and Lent typically mark a spiritual quest for Christians, though it’s often recognized as a Catholic tradition. It’s a time of prayer, service, sacrifice and self-examination. Look beyond the face of religion and into the heart …and see if God is calling you for the next 40 days. Does He want your attention and your heart focused on Him?
Forty-day spiritual journeys are well known in the Bible. In Genesis 7 Noah spent 40 days and nights on a boat while God destroyed everything he had created. In Exodus 34 Moses was on the mountain with God 40 days without eating bread or drinking water, while God wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 16:35 the Israelites ate manna 40 days until they arrived in the promised land. They then suffered 40 years in the wilderness for disobeying God. In Deut 2:7 we’re reminded “The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything. ”
Jesus was called by God and immediately a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. Mark 1:11-13 NIV
Below are some ideas about spending 40 days with God.
Fasting 40 Days
Financial Fast- One year my husband and I decided to give up (fast from) all luxury expenses. Since we use budgeting software, we were able to look at 12 months of luxury expenses (pizza, movies, coffee drinks, dining out, etc) and estimate the daily cost. We multiplied the cost by 40 days and then gave up these luxuries with a promise to God to give the money saved to charity. In the final two weeks my husband lost his job and we were tempted to keep the money. By faith, we donated the money and trusted God with our finances. By blessing others we were blessed by God. We learned how to live on less and continued to give up luxuries until he found new employment. It was truly amazing!
Food- Another year, we practiced traditional fasting by giving up specific foods or eating at specific times of the day. You can learn more about this in the popular book Fasting by Jentezen Franklin. The concept is refraining from food for a spiritual purpose. One word of caution when fasting: watch your blood sugar! I ended up hospitalized after 40 days of liquids until 5pm and light meals in the evening. Know your threshold and guard your health.
Events- My children are making decisions about their own level of participation. They might fast from television, texting, Facebook or specific foods such as sweets, pizza or fast food. I’ve been fasting from technology each week, filling my day with scripture, fellowship and prayer. Unplug from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social sites… and plug in to Jesus. Finish a Bible study you never completed. Devote some time to Him…and be richly blessed.
40 Days of Prayer
Devotionals- Now is a good time to start reading a devotional and praying each day. One of the popular devotionals is Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, where each day you read a sample of what Jesus might write to you. The Life Application Study Bible Devotional is more scripture based and focuses on Jesus’ life as seen through scripture. My Utmost for His Highest is a classic devotional with powerful words. I enjoy reading the Henry Blackaby devotional Experiencing God Day-by-Day and the Christine Caine devotional Living Life Undaunted.
Psalms- Pick up your bible and pray through the Psalms each day or read the book Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan C Merrill. As you read the verses, focus your mind on how you can apply the verses to your life today. Select a few favorites and memorize them.
Prayer Walk- Each day when you exercise (or just driving the car to work and carpool) go on a “prayer walk.” Notice your surroundings and pray for those people around you. Pray for your neighbors as you walk past their homes, pray for the person parked at the stoplight beside you, pray for those people in your path. Read the book PrayerWalk: Becoming a Woman of Prayer, Strength, and Discipline by Janet Holm McHenry.
Body Prayer- During the next 40 days, pray through your body. Start at your feet and toes and pray something similar to this “Lord, examine my toes and feet. Search for anything that is not pleasing to you, find anything that is toxic and does not honor you. Wash over my feet and toes with the blood of Jesus and allow my feet and toes to honor Him.” Repeat for each body part, from toes to head as you lie in bed and prepare to fall asleep.
Read-The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? by Rick Warren. The book has 40 chapters and is designed to be read one chapter, one day at a time for 40 days.
Memorize Scripture- Get some index cards and write out scripture verses to memorize. I use a spiral notebook, small enough for my handbag so I can carry it with me. There are also apps for your smartphone or computer which help memorize scripture. Make sure the verse is visible so you can read it often during the week. To help you better understand scripture, read Rick Warren’s 40 Days in the Word
Pray For a Child- If you are a parent or grandparent, pray for your children each day for the next 40 days. Pray for your nieces and nephews. If you sponsor a child through Compassion International, Gospel of Asia or World Vision then spend the next 40 days praying for your child. Pray for children who are waiting to be adopted. For the next 40 days, find children you can pray for.
Pray For a Relationship- Pray for your spouse, friend, boyfriend or a relationship. Focus each day on the same person and spend 40 days covering this person with your prayers.
Pray for Your Coworkers- Print a copy of the company directory or write a few names down on paper and pray for these people during the next 40 days. Pray for them to know Jesus, for peace and hope in their lives and for God to reveal Himself to them. Pray with expectation for goodness, peace, joy and hope in their lives.
Pray the Names of God- In the Experiencing God workbook, there is a long list of the names of God in scripture. Print this list and pray daily on His name and character. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal Him through His name. You can also find a book on this by Ann Springer called Praying the Names of God: A Daily Guide
40 Days of Praise
Worship Music– Change the radio station in your car or on your computer to Christian music and listen exclusively for the next 40 days. Scan YouTube for Christian songs and save your favorites in your profile. Listen to www.KLOVE.com on your computer or in the car. When I’m carpooling my kids will say “Just to warn you, my Mom likes to listen to this stuff!” Often their friends reply “Don’t worry, my Mom does it too!” We also play Christian music on our television when we’re at home… you can find it on satellite or cable if you search around the channels.
Journal- Get a fresh notebook and journal your gratitude to God. Read the popular book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and make a decision to start noticing the gifts God has bestowed upon you. This is especially wise if you are under a cloud of unemployment, financial worries, health problems or relationship troubles. Count your blessings for the next 40 days. You can find a FREE app for your smartphone or iPad and record your gratitude via Ann Voscamp. Create a Spiritual Journal by listing prayer requests and Bible study notes during the next 40 days. I’m using the Markings by C.R. Gibson Brown Ruled Paper Bonded Leather Journal and I put tabs at the top to divide it into Daily Study, Weekly Study, Small Group and Prayer. I carry this to my church group and use at home for my Bible study.
Beauty Treatments- When is the last time you used your body as praise to God? Created in His image…when you look in the mirror do you see the child He loves or something less beautiful in your own eyes? Explore opportunities to honor your body and treat yourself as a son or daughter of the King. What would you eat as His child? How would you dress? What would you do to maintain the body He created for you? Put this thought into your heart, pray over it and see if you need “40 days of beauty treatments” in the name of the Lord. Start praying on Psalm 139 each day and make a commitment to be fearfully and wonderfully made. Exercise, eat right and take care of the body God designed for you.
40 Days of Giving
Giving Letters- In our modern day it’s rare to receive a letter or even a Christmas letter. Most people use the speed of text messages, email and Facebook posts. Why not break tradition and mail a handwritten letter, once a day, for 40 days. Mail to a prison ministry, a senior home, the teachers at your child’s school, or a network of friends.
Giving Joy- Read the book Spreading Joy Daily by Marie Wikle and find ways to share the love of Christ with others. The book is filled with simple ways to make a difference.
Cooking- If you are making a family meal, double the batch of spaghetti, soup, stew or lasagna. Package this with a loaf of bread and deliver it to your neighbors, family member or a coworker. Use the element of surprise and make their day special when you bring an unexpected meal. Make a batch of cookies, brownies or cupcakes and each day during the week find someone you can share them with.
Giving Your Time- Spend 40 days giving your time and attention to your friend, spouse, children or family members. Pull yourself away from Facebook and social media, from the distractions of the television or internet…and center your time on someone else. Make a list with the number 1-40 and each day write a name of someone you are going to give time to. You can make a phone call, send an email, mail a card, or visit in person. Take the focus off yourself and your needs and give time to someone else.
These are just a few ideas to start you thinking about your own 40-day spiritual journey. The decision to spend 40 days focused on God is yours alone. Pray over this and see if you are led to do something or possibly wait for another time. Know that during your 40 days with God you will attract the attention of the enemy and he will throw flaming arrows your way. Stand firm with the shield of faith and keep your eyes and heart on God.
We’d like to hear your ideas. Post a comment below and share your ideas for a 40 day journey.