Contemplating selling a house and moving thousands of miles has a way of helping you rethink your possessions. I’ve always kind of flirted with minimalism, but lately, I’m all about it. I know that the home we will move to will be much smaller than the home we’re in now and I also know that we will have to be very discerning in what we choose to move. As a result, I’ve been slowly going through things, culling our herd of possessions down to a more manageable size.
But what does all this have to do with Elul?
I realized this morning as I pondered the beginning of the Jewish month before the High Holidays how the spirit of this month of reflection and repentance really fit well with my fall downsizing. In Elul, Jews look over the year that has passed and seek to release all the burdens we’ve carried through teshuva. There is much reflecting on what we could have done better, apologising to those we may have wronged even if it wasn’t on purpose, and looking to how we could be better people for the upcoming year, how we could let go of the things that have kept us from observing the mitzvahs we should. It really does feel like a spiritual housecleaning that we undertake to prepare to stand before our creator, to be judged but also to receive a clean slate and a fresh start for the year to come.
I know, after services on Yom Kippur, I’m usually tired from the fast, but I also somehow feel lighter, as if I’ve let go of a lot of emotional and spiritual weight.
It is so easy to let things accumulate over the year, things that get in the way of my observance. Doubts, fears, discouragement, they all begin to pile up just like clutter on a table, taking up space that I really could use better for the work of being a good Jew. I feel like Elul is the perfect time to begin sorting through it all, deciding what is useful and what isn’t and finally paying those bills I have been avoiding opening, dealing with the things that I otherwise find myself too busy to work on. There is a lightness that comes after apologising, either to Hashem or my fellow person, as if I’ve finally been able to throw away a pile of clutter.
I’ve always enjoyed paring down my things, donating what I can, mostly because of all the free space it opens up. With less stuff in the way, it’s easier to focus my time and energy where it matters most to me. Priorities become clearer. In Elul, I think it’s a good time to focus on the priorities that might have gotten lost in all the clutter. What do I want to put most of my time and energy into this year?
I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to my goal of having so little stuff that there’s no clutter in our house. I’m not sure that we’d function in some of the clean, sparse homes I see pictures of. Still, I feel like there is some benefit to attempting to simplify our environment and by extension our lives. In Elul, I feel the call to simplify my spiritual life and refocus on what is most important.
And so, it’s time to begin cleaning…