House in disarray? Family stressed by the mess? Catholics call on Abby Sasscer, a professional organizer, wife, and mother of three, to combat their clutter from a spiritual perspective. Sasscer’s ministry, Project Nazareth, has three facets: speaking engagements (in her area of Virginia), home visitations (also local), and phone and email consultations. Catholic Digest recently spoke to Sasscer about her ministry; her e-book, Simplifying Your Domestic Church: A Spiritual Journal to Help Declutter, Organize, and Systemize the Home (targeted at homeschoolers but applicable to a wider readership); ad how she keeps her own house under control.
Below are excerpts from this interview that did not appear in the print edition. To read the print interview, which includes three quick and practical tips from Abby on “simplifying for busy people,” check out the July/August issue of Catholic Digest.
How is your book different from a secular book on organizing?
The journal itself, Simplifying Your Domestic Church, is different (from a secular book on organizing) in three ways. The first is that there’s a section there called “Meditation Matters,” and that’s where I put saints and Scripture writing to really help, encourage, motivate, and inspire the readers to simplify and get closer to God and family. The saints are like family; they are there to help you.
The second is a section called “Points to Consider,” and it starts with a type of examination of conscience questions. For example, “What do I accumulate?” “How often do I accumulate?” “Why do I accumulate?” It gives the readers a chance to look inside like a tool for self-knowledge — look at their habits and the why behind the habits. And also there are spaces for reflection so that readers can actually write their response down. I think writing helps them realize that a change has to happen.
Lastly, the journal is also different in that it is in workbook form. I wanted the format extremely simple, very light, and very doable for busy families. I wanted families to really spend more time decluttering than reading.
You talk a lot in your book about the spiritual concept of detachment and how it applies to one’s home. Can you give a brief overview?
Most organizational or self-help books have a section on decluttering. But I prefer to use the word “detaching” because there is a sense of mortification when you get detached from the things of this world. Decluttering then becomes an opportunity to exercise virtue, an opportunity to love God, an opportunity to give basic hospitality to your family, to your loved ones, rather than like a task a chore or a goal that you have to achieve.
When you say that decluttering is a way to love God, can you explain that a little bit more in terms of what you mean?
You can offer it for love of God. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. It’s going back to that higher purpose.
You help people both locally and long-distance in your ministry. Can you give a couple of examples of how the principles that you teach have helped people with their homes and spiritual lives?
There’s a mom who said that her home is now less chaotic and her attitude toward her domestic tasks is one of service. She has not only decluttered her home but her heart as well, and finds that through simplicity, it’s easier to find God.
The title of your book is Simplifying Your Domestic Church. What does that concept of domestic church mean to you?
If you picture yourself walking inside a church, it’s very simple, very centered, very uncluttered, very orderly. It’s that same sacredness that I strive for in our domestic church. But more importantly, I think the domestic church to me is trying to create an atmosphere in our home similar to the home in Nazareth. That’s why my ministry name is Project Nazareth. It’s going back to the life of the Holy Family in their humble home in Nazareth, living in a spirit of simplicity, a spirit of holy detachment, wise stewardship, and unconditional love. Christ was the center of their home.
How can thinking of the home — and our care for the home — as sacred make a difference in a family’s life, and how has this been true for your own family?
I think it truly makes a major difference in one’s family life whether or not one is aware of it. Home becomes a haven instead of a place of chaos and disarray.
The second thing is when we live a very simple lifestyle in our home, there is a very deep freedom involved in knowing that we could afford to have so many things in this life but we choose not to get carried away. And with that freedom there’s a realization that everything is pure gift from our heavenly Father and that we are simply stewards. It changes our family. It gives us a very strong stewardship mentality. And when we keep things simple and orderly, our family can really focus on what’s important, which is our relationship with God and each other.
Martha or Mary?
Abby on how to find balance in your housework
Martha was extremely busy all the time with her housework. She started getting upset at Mary for not helping her when Jesus was there. And Jesus told her, “Well, Mary has chosen the better part.” Jesus wasn’t really telling Martha, “Don’t do your chores.” But I think he wanted to let Martha know that she was losing sight of what was more important. There was a disconnect between Martha’s ritual and her relationship with Jesus. We are called to be both a Martha and a Mary. We need to do our household chores as part of our vocation with the same vigor as Martha did and at the same time have a deep, deep love for Jesus as Mary did.
An island of “stuff”
There are more than 78 square miles of rentable self-storage space in the United States — three times the size of Manhattan Island. Nearly one in 10 U.S. households rents a storage space, a figure that’s increased 65 percent in the past 15 years.
— Self Storage Association
Bless this mess!
Whether your house is spic-and-span or has seen better days, it’s a sacred space where your family grows in love for God and for each other. In the 32-page booklet Home Blessings: Honoring God’s Presence in Every Room, Catholic Digest editor-in-chief Dan Connors offers simple and beautiful reflections about the spaces in our homes and how what we do in them are a startling reminder of how graced we are to have and share these spaces. For more information, click here.