40 BAGS IN 40 DAYS

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During my college years, 20s, and early 30s, I gave up chocolate, candy, coffee, soda, or the like in observance of Lent. Recently, however, I have gravitated away from “giving up” in favor of “adding in”. I have also looked for opportunities to broaden my and my family’s horizons, simplify our lives, and/or improve the lives of those in our community. Along these lines, a few years ago I decided to take on the “40 Bags in 40 Days Challenge”.

The challenge was originally created to coincide with Lent – however there is no reason it must – and involves cleaning out the clutter that keeps us from being able to truly enjoy and appreciate our lives. The focus is on letting go of stuff, but also on making small sacrifices. According to the Simply Catholic blog, “it should hurt – not a lot, but a bit. There should be some small sense of having to sacrifice or maybe some small bit of contrition at how much we hold onto things” (when we could redirect that time and energy elsewhere). An added benefit to the Challenge is that at the end of the 40 days you should have 40 or so bags of clothing, toys, books, and household items to donate to a family in need or a local nonprofit organization.

If you visit the Mama Bear Dares blog regularly, you may recall a post I wrote a few months back about making New Month’s Resolutions rather than New Year’s Resolutions. I made this shift back in September, and since then have tackled quite a few different kinds of resolutions, from setting a reasonable bedtime for myself and reading aloud to my children every night to drinking more water and writing daily in my gratitude journal.

In January I resolved to clean out all of the closets in my house, and in February I added cleaning out all of my cupboards. As I tackled these projects, I flashed back to the 40 Bags Challenge. I recalled how empowered and refreshed I felt when I completed it the first time, and an online search for why I felt this way led me to an article on the website Bustle. In a way that helped me better understand the benefits of decluttering, this short but informative piece summarized the results of a number of scientific studies and advice from professionals in related fields:

  • Better concentration. A study by Princeton University neuroscientists found that whether we realize it or not, clutter forces our brains to multitask. “Physical clutter…competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress."
  • Increased creativity. This one seems up for debate as some creative types swear by a messy desk or workspace, but the same idea as above applies: for most people, “dividing attention between multiple stimuli…often results in increased stress and decreased creativity and productivity”.
  • Better sleep. A sleep study out of St. Lawrence University found a connection between messy bedrooms and sleeping problems; cluttered bedrooms can contribute to sleeping problems like “trouble falling asleep at night and experiencing rest disturbances”.
  • Improved mood. Researchers at UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives and Families found that “clutter has a profound effect on mood and self-esteem, especially for women”. They discovered a direct relationship between the density of household objects and the stress hormone cortisol: higher density of objects translates to higher levels of stress.
  • Ability to let go of the past. I found this benefit particularly interesting. Feng Shui experts explain that determining an item’s status as clutter has to do with how it feels – or makes you feel – rather than how it looks. “…Get rid of anything that drags you down” to avoid unpleasant memories or becoming dragged down by emotional baggage.
  • Clearer focus. This one is most relevant to me personally. “We hang onto far more objects than we need, and, instead of motivating us, they become talismans of guilt and shame.” The article suggests keeping only items that bring inspiration or motivation.

I won’t necessarily complete the 40 Bags in 40 Day Challenge during Lent, but in search of the benefits list above, I will take on the Challenge this spring. If you would like to join me, check out the printables and instructions on White House Black Shutters. Organizing Moms also shared a few great links for those who would like more information about decluttering in general and/or a simpler, smaller-scale version of the 40 Bags Challenge called 40 Items in 40 Days.

Williams Morris said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” What a beautiful sentiment to help us embrace the idea that sometimes, caring for ourselves is about caring for the spaces in which we exist.


Mama Bear contributor Erin Ferris is a wife, mother, and writer living in College Station, Texas. She loves snow, tulips, donuts, cowboy boots, kittens, musical theater, college football, crime dramas, young adult fiction, and the color red. After working for the American Red Cross for nearly 10 years, she stepped away from the nonprofit world to focus on her favorite part of that job: telling meaningful and impactful stories. She contributes a monthly “Mama Bear Self Care” post to the Mama Bear Dares Blog, and you can find her at Chasing Roots.

#momtheology: Jael the Kenite and the ‘Me Too’ Hashtag

In the days of Jael, caravans ceased

and travelers kept to the byways…

Most blessed of women be Jael …

She put her hand to the tent peg

and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;

she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

~Judges 5:6,24,26

Several years ago, at the suggestion of a spiritual guide, I got back into jogging. I woke early every morning and went out on the Spring Creek bike path near our condo and I ran until I was tired, then came back home. More than just exercise, it was a way to sort through what was in my head; to deal with my anxieties, worries, fears. And it worked. I would say that it turned out to be sound advice to run.

But I noticed something every morning. I’d get about a quarter mile from my front door, accelerate up a berm on the trail, and then, struck with some sense of fear, I’d turn around and look behind me, expecting to find someone there. And not just anyone, but an assailant – someone who might push me down and harm me.

I’d think it was just a fluke deal, except it happened every day, and always at that same spot on the trail. I put the image out of my head each day when I got home figuring I was just paranoid or being too sensitive.

But at some point, after weeks of this sensation, I told a clergy friend. “Am I crazy?” I asked, after telling her my story. No, she affirmed. She, too, had experienced this fear and dread when walking alone.

I’m not going to assume this experience is universal, but it seems common enough. To walk or run alone as a woman is to tango with the risk of harm to one’s well-being.

I hadn’t thought about that visceral experience on the bike trail, nor the scripture from the Old Testament book of Judges that I quoted above, in quite some time. But something triggered those recollections. And it is something that has maybe triggered other women’s memories this week, too.

If you hadn’t guessed it, “me too” is trending on social media. This originated after allegations were made that Harvey Weinstein, cofounder of Miramax, had sexually harassed countless women and raped several others, including prominent actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow.

To further exacerbate this recent news, recorded footage of Weinstein harassing women was released and subsequently denied by the accused.

This possibly could be overlooked, explained away as the everyday debauchery of Hollywood, but unfortunately it is a narrative that sounds eerily familiar to another misogynist harasser with power and money. That’s right, I’m talking about President Donald Trump.

So many of us are raising our voices to say it is not okay. It wasn’t then, it isn’t now, and it should not be a part of our narrative in my daughter’s future.

Some of us, you might say, are praying for a reversal.

And for me, all day yesterday, as I read my friends’ "me toos" I thought of a lesser known scripture from the Old Testament.

If you aren’t familiar, during the time of ancient Israel when a Prophetess named Deborah served as judge, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites in Hazor. Deborah learned that King Jabin’s men, led by a soldier named Sisera, would be heading her way, so she alerted Barak from Kedesh to be ready with more arms, more men, more horses. Sisera was surprised when he advanced Mount Tabor and found his enemy prepared for his arrival. His fleet was destroyed, and the mighty oppressor fled the battlefield on foot, hoping for safety with a neutral family of peasants in the tribe of Heber. Instead, he met his end. Asking Jael, the wife of Heber, for water, instead he was given a warm cocktail. Hoping to rest on his sojourn back home, instead he meets a swift death, his brain penetrated by a humble tent peg. Who could have seen that coming?

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I’m not a man-hater. It’s probably silly that I even have to make that disclaimer. Because highlighting unacceptable behavior on the behalf of some men does not indict all. But it does open eyes that might deny that such a reality exists. I mean, what would cause millions of women to share the two words “me too” publicly, in a flood of Facebook posts?

Here’s what I recall from my own historical narrative of compromised safety and sexual harassment.

I remember hanging around a campfire at the Lake of the Ozarks with my boy cousins and my grandparents’ hired hand, a man who went by the name ‘Dody.’ I thought nothing of it. We kicked logs into the fire and he told a few jokes. But later, when I went into the house, my grandmother was overly concerned. “I don’t want you alone with him,” she said firmly. “He’s not family, he works for us.” I puzzled at her fear. Why were my boy cousins allowed at the fire and I wasn’t? Why was an untrustworthy man allowed to be around the house – if his presence around her granddaughters scared my grandma so much?

I was maybe eleven years old then.

I remember my first supervisor, or one of them, when I was in high school. He was a middle-aged pool salesman, who jokingly suggested one day that I wear something more “low cut” to work.

I was fifteen.

I remember a peer my junior year in high school calling me over to the lockers so he could make a lewd comment about what I was wearing. That day, as per my punky-usual attire, I was dressed in thrift store Levis and a vintage polo shirt. I remember feeling like no matter what you do, as a young woman, you are at the mercy of objectification. I fell to tears in my classroom across the hall.

I was sixteen.

There are other stories, too. In my early twenties, I left an iconic bar in Austin where I had anticipated seeing a quintessential Austin performer, Toni Price, because an overly intoxicated man was squeezing through the crowd simply to brush up against all the women gathered there. I sacrificed that fun night out because I did not want to be harassed.

We may not live in a world of ancient Prophetesses, desert tent-dwellers, and songs heralding the deadly tent peg of a peasant woman.  But I do think for some of us when we proclaim “me too” we are actually praying for a reversal of power. We are tired of expecting compromised safety is the norm, and like Jael’s tent peg, our enumerated “me toos” say: it’s time to listen - we mean it this time.

Meeting Mama Bear: Liz Josie

Liz Josie is a busy, stay-at-home mom of four young kids. She’s a native of Utah, teaches piano lessons, and tries to put one foot in front of the other while managing her family. Liz recently discovered the full power of her Mama Bear.

Liz saw a local doctor give a troubling talk about the Syrian refugees crisis. He spoke about the millions of Syrian refugees who have had to flee their country with nothing. What struck Liz was how the people he spoke of her so much like herself and the people she knew: they worked, they had homes, they had prized possessions, and they didn’t ask to have to flee everything they had known. Liz left the community forum feeling overwhelmed and was unsure how she could make an impact. She was physically ill and prayed for an inspiration to propel her forward.

Liz’s former neighbor, the head of her area's Kids Against Hunger Chapter, was mentioned in the presentation for a meal packaging event that had recently sent meals to Iraq. When the two connected shortly after the presentation, Liz felt the nudge of her activated Mama Bear. She decided to take a leap of faith and put together a start-to-finish packaging event to help the refugees who weighed so heavily on her mind.

Through some connections on Facebook, Liz reached out to Helping Hands of Relief and Development (HHRD) who helped her locate a refugee camp in Lebanon that desperately needed the meals Liz knew she could deliver. HHRD let Liz know that all aid is required to be shipped in a 40-foot crate. This crate would need to be filled entirely with meals—enough to feed the entire camp for a month.

At that point, all numbers became staggering. A 40-foot crate holds 1,188 boxes. Each box holds 36 bags. Therefore, 42,768 bags would be sent. Each bag contains six meals. So while Liz was staring down potentially providing 256,608 meals to people in desperate need, she was unsure of how to make this event come together. She realized she needed to raise $70,000 to fund the project AND then find 800+ volunteers to package the food thing. Mama Bear stirred.

Liz could have stopped as she became overwhelmed by the numbers of such a giant project, but she didn’t. The more Liz thought about it, the more at peace she felt and the more compelled she was to continue. She knew these meals would help very real and very hurting people. Her mantra was simple: “FORGET YOURSELF AND GET TO WORK.” The families in these refugee camps deserve the help, the food, and the support.

In reaching out to local friends, Liz found immediate support. Even with the daunting task of fundraising, people were eager to help. A committee was formed—all moms in varying stages of parenting with kids of all ages. Each woman brought unique talents and gifts and, amazingly, everything started to come together. When a need arose, someone stepped up and the need was filled.

Liz now knows that one person can do more than they ever dream possible … but not everything. It truly takes a team to step up and accomplish big things to make a difference in the world. As Liz and her team worked, the project miraculously fell into place. Local businesses stepped in with donations for the primary fundraiser, the local museum allowed the use of their space, and the local doctor that sent Liz on this initial journey agreed to speak again.

At the end of the fundraising event, Liz, who is not prone to tears, cried freely when it was announced the group’s $70,000 goal was met. What started as a sick feeling and the question “What can I actually do to help?” led to a group of women celebrating what can happen when everyone comes together for good. While Liz’s thoughts have shifted to the packaging event to make this dream come full circle, her heart is at peace knowing that it will all come together.  Thanks to this tribe of Mama Bears, 256,608 meals will be on their way to hungry sisters and brothers in Lebanon.

For those local to the Quad Cities (Iowa/Illinois), visit www.qcrefugeeproject.com for more information on how to volunteer for the packaging event to be held June 3, 2017. Email refugeeprojectqc@gmail.com with any questions.

Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.