Sifting and Sorting

I discovered a box in my basement closet that had been there since we moved in more than eight years ago. At the very end of unpacking and finding homes for all of our things, I put a handful of odd items in a box and shoved it into a dark corner of our home: laundry basket covers, an unused hammock, a nylon lunch bag, a paint roller with an unusual texture and still in the wrapper.

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It was our first home and my husband and I had a baby with another on the way. It felt like we would spend the rest of our lives in that house. I needed to fill up the empty spaces, to collect and grow the physical substance of our family life. Anything that might be useful must be saved and stored. It seemed like the practical waste-not-want-not thing to do.

My family moved this past week. It now seems silly that I didn’t drop those items off at the thrift store long ago. Eventually, they were just more things in the way of transitioning from one house to another.

Over the years, I have collected many beliefs in my personal house of faith. Some were mine, some gifted to me, some of unknown origin that I kept anyway. Some I encountered and never wanted, but they latched on and would not go. This assortment of beliefs made up the flavor of my spiritual life. I had my relationship with God at the core and all of these other mismatched ideas swirled around that, influencing and distorting my perception of God.

I am also in the middle of moving house, faith-wise. It isn’t a process that is completed in a week or a month, and there are no movers to help you get from the old dwelling to the new one. Like a lifetime’s worth of saved Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society handouts, I have a lot of religion junk, junk religion to throw away or recycle.

In this painful-yet-liberating season of sifting and sorting, I am prizing my agency to choose and reject and to not know. I’m not sure where I’m moving to, but I think I am becoming a spiritual minimalist. I will live in a tiny house of belief, where only the basics surround me, the essential tools of God, the goodness of Jesus, and compassion. It will be enough.

Nancy Ross

Nancy Ross is an art history professor by day and a sociologist of religion by night. She lives in St. George, Utah with her husband and two daughters and co-hosts the Faith Transitions podcast.

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16 Responses

  1. Liz says:

    I love this, Nancy. I love the idea of going through the boxes, examining what is there and whether it’s still useful. It completely embodies the idea of being engaged with our faith.

  2. I love this analogy, Nancy. And I am so excited to have you join our blogging team.

  3. Shanae says:

    I love the idea of spiritual minimalism and learning to embrace not- knowing.

  4. CatherineWO says:

    This is so well said and echoes much of my spiritual path right now. Thank you.

  5. Olivia says:

    Oh my goodness I LOVE THIS SO MUCH.

  6. Heather says:

    Wonderful analogy. Beautifully written.

  7. Melody says:

    A tiny house of belief! Yes. We need no more, no less than this. What a lovely story. Thank you for your words.

  8. Ziff says:

    Great analogy, Nancy. I really like the idea of sifting through beliefs that have been handed to us to see if they still fit us (or if they ever did at all).

    Also, I *love* that you’re blogging here! I love the Exponent, and I love your work, so this is a wonderful combination!

  9. Caroline says:

    I think I’ve done pretty well at throwing out the religious baggage that I find unhelpful. But recently, as I’ve contemplated what to do after I finish my program and I’ve wrestled with whether or not I want to pursue a full time career, I’ve wondered if maybe that baggage is so ingrained that it’s not as easy to jettison as I thought it was. Have religious messages that I should be home for my kids infiltrated my being so much that I feel like I shouldn’t try to get a real tenure track job? Does that explain my ambivalence when I think of going on the job market? I don’t know, but I think I have some real work to do to figure out that ambivalence.

    Thanks for this great post, Nancy.

    • Nancy Ross says:

      Yes, yes, yes. I find that I am still sorting through a lot of internalized misogyny and messaging about gender. Even though I have a full-time job that I love, I can see how I made choices in order to conform to gender expectations all along the way. Ultimately, those choices have lead to less pay (definitely) and fewer opportunities (probably). *shakes fists at the sky*

  10. EmilyCC says:

    So excited to have you as a perma here, Nancy! I think a lot about the beliefs (cultural and doctrinal) that I’ve discarded and sometimes, I worry that I’ve thrown too much away, but I love the idea of using our agency to determine what we keep and what we leave. It’s careful, hard work. Isn’t that how we progress? And, to use the very Mormon idea, isn’t that how we become more like God?

  11. Emily U says:

    I like that you get to decide what your new home will be. Part of the baggage we accumulate is other people’s beliefs about what makes a home, for instance it’s not a complete home without a new sofa or a welcome mat at the front door. A parallel being its not a faithful life without temple attendance or listening to General Conference. The hardest thing about deciding what my own faithful life looks like is giving myself permission to be the decider.

  12. Smile83 says:

    I have been going through all of my stuff using the KonMari method, only keeping what brings me joy. This idea resonates with me, but I am kinda scared to do it…

  13. Rachel says:

    This is beautiful. Thank you.

  14. Catherine Stricklan says:

    This is the best articulation of what I’ve been feeling lately. Thanks for this–and now I definitely need to check out your podcast!

  15. Jenny says:

    Beautiful post! I love this analogy and I relate to it in my own life.

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