Have you ever noticed that your home often reflects your spiritual and mental state? Why is this? Is our soul’s health really manifested in the space we live in? In her new book, The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower, Laraine Bennett reflects on and answers these questions, urging readers to declutter and refocus their lives on God. With a loving reliance on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, Bennett proposes a wonderful response to the issue of clutter, in the world and within our souls.
Bennett’s book is centered on the home, but the implications of her work extend far beyond the making of a tidy living space. This book is meant for all who desire a calmness of the soul, “those who seek the peace and tranquility that comes with letting go of stuff that encumbers us and makes us weary and sad.” Beginning with the Introduction, Bennett establishes a familiarity with her readers that draws you in. Moving from California to Germany, Bennett and her family embarked on a pilgrimage of sorts, one that led to a complete overhaul of their way of life. After reconsidering how one should live, Bennett realized that “when our hearts are filled with our earthly loves, our creature comforts and our material possessions, we have less room for God. Jesus tells us that to attain eternal life we must love God with our whole hearts, our minds, our souls, and all our strength.”
Bennett divides her book into 11 chapters, with tips from professional organizer and interior designer Jacquelyn Dupuy and lessons to be gleaned at the end of each. At the end of chapter one, Dupuy ends her advice with the claim that “Clutter is just a visual representation of delayed decisions.” In a world of chaos and hectic schedules, clutter can invade the mind and overwhelm the heart. At the root of clutter truly is an inability to decide to focus and manage our tasks. Distractions are everywhere and often disguised as things we should engage with. Bennett remarks on the lulling pastime of scrolling on Instagram, calling out not only its distraction but also its adverse effects on the mind: “We begin by wishing our lives were different, better, more like our Instagram friends’ lives. We allow resentment and mean-spirited thoughts to enter in.” When we lose focus on our own end, God’s love, and we focus on things not meant for us, we develop an “anxiety that cripples us and steals our joy and our peace.”
So how do we refocus and declutter our lives and souls? How do we attain that peace we should so fervently be seeking in God? Bennett argues that love and simplicity are the answer. But in order to adopt an attitude of simplicity, we must first be humble. Recognizing that our lives, busy and chaotic as they are, are truly meant to glorify God is the first step. For instance, Bennett says that “the less noisy we are in our prayer, the less we demand that our will be done, the less attached we are to our own goals, desires, and comforts, the more we can hear in our hearts the voice of God, who will give us His very peace.” It can be so easy to fall into the anxiety and stress of daily life, resorting to a negative attitude and allowing the torrent of reality to overwhelm us. It can be so easy to reject the present moment and always look ahead at the next task or goal with worry or fear. However, “The present moment is reality—where God is present, where grace is to be had. The future is only imagined reality, the past is gone, and the present moment is the only one we can sanctify. God is the eternal present. If we accept His will in this very moment, we will be at peace. And this will set us free.”
Though Bennett’s book focuses primarily on the decluttering of the home, her ideas can also be applied to struggles outside of the home as well. As a college student, managing the ever-changing current of life’s ebb and flow can become increasingly challenging. When trying to maintain academic success, a fruitful spiritual life, and healthy relationships, it is easy to lose sight of what is truly important and necessary for these things. Bennett notes that “sometimes in our efforts to achieve perfection we can lose sight of the simple beauties that are within our reach and that will afford us pleasure in a way that more grandiose efforts do not — and, even worse, may be counterproductive.” Even simple tasks like completing an assignment or cleaning the apartment hurriedly before your roommate returns from their classes can fill us with an overwhelming feeling that sticks with us. Though those things remain an essential aspect of daily life, how can we approach them with a grace that allows us to do them in order to glorify God rather than placing them above Him?
Bennett’s response is simplification. In every moment, approaching life with the intention of growing closer to God allows us to meet any obstacle with grace and love. In fact, Bennet argues that “to be simple is also to see things with the eyes of God, to distinguish between what is important, what is essential, and what is not — and to be unified within ourselves.” Uniting our goals with what will bring us closer to God fortifies us with the endurance to overcome the anxieties and stresses of a chaotic life and schedule. It is not that chaos and our many goals should be ignored when we become overwhelmed, but “when we approach everything with the purpose in mind, the end goal — like St. Thérèse did, with her single-minded focus on loving God’s perfect will — we actually become more free, more integrated, more uniquely ourselves.”
The Little Way of Living with Less should be read by anyone who struggles with feeling unfocused, cluttered in their mind, and desires to be re-oriented towards God. Bennett’s book reveals the many ways in which only “By letting go and freeing ourselves from the many attachments and distractions of the material world and focusing on the one, good thing, we may bring ourselves, our families, and our communities closer to God.” Especially for young people, prone to the seemingly exciting distractions of the world around them, Bennett’s book can provide a new way of living. Just as she and her family had to embark on a journey that began unpleasantly in order to see how they could better focus on God, so too must we all begin the task of redirection towards our good in the glory of Him who gives us peace.
The Little Way of Living with Less: Learning to Let Go with the Little Flower is available now from Sophia Institute Press.