Clear the clutter, cleanse the soul

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Whether you want to do it or not, the time spent clearing the clutter from your house may be good for more than just extra closet space; it can also benefit your soul.

That's the idea behind Project Nazareth, an apostolate formed to help families declutter their homes and simplify their lives to become closer to God.

According to Abby Sasscer, a parishioner of St. John Bosco in Woodstock and the founder of Project Nazareth, the act of living simply gives families an opportunity to love God and practice virtue in their everyday lives, or their "domestic church."

"I try to teach the families that the goal is not to have a perfectly organized house. The goal is heaven," Sasscer said. "We can grow in holiness everyday within our domestic Church by practicing the virtues exemplified by the Holy Family in Nazareth. Every time we declutter, we practice the virtues of simplicity and holy detachment. Every time we manage our time and treasure wisely, we practice the virtues of wise stewardship and trust in divine providence. Every time we plan our menu, we practice the virtue of faithfulness and prudence."

For Sasscer, organization and simple living are second nature.

Growing up in the Philippines, she was exposed to poverty every day on her way to Catholic school. She was impressed with the way those families handled their lives with very few possessions.

"I noticed something beautiful, that the poor families tended to be happier, more content and more thankful for what they had," Sasscer said. "The simpler they were, the happier they were."

After coming to the United States as a teenager, Sasscer spent time visiting a few convents. Again, she was attracted to and impressed by the simple and orderly lives of the nuns.

After receiving her bachelor's in business administration, she parlayed that love of simplicity and order into her career when she got a job systematizing small, and eventually home, offices.

After she left her job to home-school her three children, she couldn't leave her organizational talents behind and kept working to systematize parts of her own house. Eventually, a close friend started asking for tips on how to organize her house as well.

Sasscer wrote a manual, which later grew into an e-book called Simplifying Your Domestic Church - A Spiritual Journal to Help Families Declutter, Organize and Systemize their Home.

The e-book was written originally for home-schooling families, but the information, with sections on organizing vital documents, decluttering, menu planning, time management, tithing and Christian budgeting, is helpful for all families.

Sasscer compiled advice from other mothers, motivational quotes from saints and the Scriptures, and workshops on topics like budgeting, scheduling and menu planning. The book is organized in easy-to-read sections, with bullet points instead of long paragraphs.

"Most of the books on decluttering and organizing are so cluttered and disorganized," Sasscer said. "I'm not really out to have a best-selling book. I'm out to help people and I don't think they need to spend all their time reading."

After the e-book was published, Sasscer began getting invitations to speak at diocesan parishes and to visit people's homes for private consultations, all of which led her to form Project Nazareth.

"It was almost like an accident, really. Chronologically, it wasn't planned by me," she said. "It was planned by the Guy upstairs."

Today, Project Nazareth has three main parts - "Project Mary" speaking engagements, "Project Elizabeth" home visitations and "Project Martha" phone consultations.

During the "Project Mary" engagements, Sasscer speaks to mothers with young children, teaching them how to instill the values of simplicity at an early age.

For the "Project Elizabeth" home visitations, Sasscer visits families in and around Shenandoah County. Home visitations take a minimum of three hours during which Sasscer will either assess each room in the house and give suggestions, or she will help the family focus on totally decluttering and organizing one room.

"Most of my visits are with home-schooling families and we really work together to prepare their classrooms for the next year," she said.

The last part of Project Nazareth is the "Project Martha" phone consultations, which use a 24/7 hotline families can call if they need guidance.

Because Project Nazareth is an apostolate, all services are provided free of charge, with Sasscer only accepting offerings to cover her own costs for gas, meals and supplies.

For families looking to simplify and organize their own homes, Sasscer said the most important thing is to get rid of as much clutter as possible.

"On a practical level, the less stuff you have, the less stuff you have to organize," she said.

She encouraged families to declutter twice a year, ideally during Advent and Lent. She also discouraged families from keeping things for future use.

"By excessively storing things for future use, you're possibly depriving other people from using them right now," she said. "Keep the gifts coming."

During home visits, Sasscer encourages families to fill at least one big black garbage bag with stuff to give away. She jokingly calls these "body bags."

"Consider it a body bag, like you just went to war and that's the collateral damage," she said. "You don't keep body bags in your home because they stink on the spiritual level. It's not alive, but it sucks all this energy out of you."

When families are having a hard time getting rid of things, Sasscer often challenges them to think ahead in their lives to what they will really need.

"I encourage the person to constantly fast forward to the last two hours of life and ask, 'Do I need this 20-year-old fondue set to get to heaven?'"

By clearing the clutter, families can redirect more of their attention to God.

"Picture yourself walking into a church," Sasscer said. "You don't have a lot of crazy clutter. Everything is simple, Christ-centered, uncluttered and light. You can focus on God. Simplifying the domestic church is like creating that same atmosphere within your home, and not just treating it as a giant storage shed."

Find out more

For more information, visit projectnazareth.info.

24 hour voicemail service: 800/382-0859 ext. 6498.

Buy the e-book at chcweb.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2009