As we learn to clear our cluttered tables and souls, we make room for life-giving activities and create space for listening to the voice of God.

Is It Time to Declutter Your Soul?

My friend Joanne was continually clearing off her kitchen table–with little success to show for her valiant efforts. Whenever we talked on the phone, I could hear her moving about, tethered by a 1970’s era phone cord, and I knew what she was doing. She was clearing off the kitchen table. Again. Even so, whenever I visited, the piles had returned, and books, mail, groceries, and newspapers would need to be swept to one side, a vivid, visual image of her hospitable heart making room for me in her full and busy life.

In the decades that have passed since my last visit with Joanne, there have been seasons in which my soul felt like her kitchen table, weighted down with untidy piles that I shuffled and moved around, but never really tended to. The clutter never failed to get in the way of what I was trying to accomplish.

Emily P. Freeman has just such a table in her own backstory, and when she set out to produce a podcast and, eventually to write a book called The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, her goal was to share her own space-making practices. As we learn to clear our cluttered tables and souls, we make room for life-giving activities and create space for listening to the voice of God.

Decisions are Hard

According to Freeman’s research, American adults are privileged to make over 35,000 decisions every day, and over two hundred of these are about food. (14) With that in mind, as we clear away the chaos, priorities and categories become clearer, and we find, among all the daily decisions that there really is “space for our souls to breathe.”

Decisions are hard, and we want to make good ones. I, personally, want divine guidance on the level of sky writing:  “Buy the Silver Honda” in puffy, white lettering against a blue sky of clarity. Since this has never been my experience, I’m in the market for quiet wisdom that will heighten my listening skills for the guidance God does choose to provide, and so I found myself pausing and paying attention to Emily’s gentle suggestions for discovering my Next Right Thing.

“Do the next thing” as a mantra and as marching orders came into its own through the ministry of Elisabeth Elliot, but it actually has its roots in an anonymous poem, assuring believers that “Many a questioning, many a fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, and guidance are given. Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, Trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.  Certainly Jesus held to a “next right thing” mindset in his ministry among people. Whenever he told someone to hold out a hand, pick up a bed, wash in a pool, or go home, he was offering an object lesson in the importance of small acts of faithfulness.

Thoughts on Decluttering

Simple, soulful practices offered in The Next Right Thing bring grace to the reader’s cluttered table. For example, pro/con charts have been toxic for me in the past because I’m intent on (obsessed with) a successful outcome.

These thoughts felt like someone opened a window to the light and the fresh air:

  • “You can only make decisions based on what you know at the time. We live in an outcomes-based culture where the correctness of our choice seems based on the success of the result… Successful outcomes might look great on paper, but we want to build our lives on love, faith, connectedness, redemption, laughter, wholeheartedness, joy, and peace.”
  • “We make our list alongside Jesus and bring these things to him, asking him in every situation what he wants us to do. And then we trust that our desire can be trusted because he isn’t just with us; he lives within us and he’ll let us know what we need to know.”

Doing the next thing in love lightens the decision-making load by fine-tuning our focus. Following Jesus certainly involves multiple and complex choices over the course of a lifetime, but this is accomplished by following Jesus for the next ten minutes. And then the next. He has promised us light for our path, but most of the time my eyes are darting off the path, worried about eventualities that never materialize. By faith, we can clear away the clutter of indecision and walk with confidence and joy in the light that’s given as we do the next right thing.

Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Trusting Jesus for today’s next right thing,

Michele (1)

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate  If you should decide to purchase The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

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53 thoughts on “Is It Time to Declutter Your Soul?”

  1. Thank you, Michele. Emily’s new book sounds wonderful! I will definitely check it out! The phrase “do the next thing” I first heard in Moody radio interview with Elisabeth Elliot, who was talking about her life in Ecuador following the murder of her husband while they were missionaries. As a widow with a young infant, living in the jungles of a foreign land, her world must have felt as though it had been turned upside down. But instead of throwing up her hands and saying, “What’s next?” she asked, “What’s the next thing?” As Elisabeth Elliot said in the interview, “You can imagine how tempted I was to just plunk myself down and say, ‘There is no way I can do this.’ I wanted to sink into despair and helplessness, then I remembered this old Saxon legend, ‘Do the next thing.’ I remembered a verse that God had given to me before I went to Ecuador in Isaiah 50:7: ‘The Lord God will help me; therefore, shall I not be confounded. Therefore, have I set my face like a flint and I know that I shall not be ashamed.”

    Instead of allowing the burdens to stack until they completely blocked out the sun, she dealt with them one at a time. She said you should not sit down and think of all the things you have to do because it can be overwhelming. Instead, just pick the next thing and do it, then move on to the one after that. She said while pushing through them, you’re likely to find that many of the problems will work themselves out.

    Here is the entire poem, “Do The Next Thing,” from which Elisabeth Elliot’s maxim originates:
    Do The Next Thing 
    From an old English parsonage, down by the sea
    There came in the twilight a message to me;
    Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
    Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
    And on through the hours the quiet words ring
    Like a low inspiration—”DO THE NEXT THING.”
    Many a question, many of fear,
    Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
    Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
    Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
    Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
    Trust them with Jesus, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
    Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
    Do it reliantly, casting all care;
    Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand,
    Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
    Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
    Leave all resultings, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
    Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
    (Working or suffering) be thy demeanor,
    In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
    The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
    Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing,
    Then, as He beckons thee, “DO THE NEXT THING.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have heard so many good things about this book but I have never heard it described as a kind of Marie Kondo for the soul. I love that concept! Doing the next thing is love sounds like a wonderful decision-making guide to me. I will have to check out the book. I am not loving the one I am currently reading and life is too short to read books I don’t enjoy!


    1. I hadn’t thought of Marie Kondo, but you’re right, there is certainly a through line there. And one of the great features of Emily’s book for summer reading is that the chapters are really stand-alone, so it can be gulped or savored slowly.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Michele, one of my saying is, just do the next best thing. I could never remember where I got that phrase. Now I know! Thank you! And I really appreciate your writings. I always learn something of value. Susan


    1. That phrase has certainly helped a lot of us in the sorting process. It’s great that it’s come into modern parlance in such a big way. And thank you for reading and encouraging.


  4. Michele, this is so appropos for us right now. We are in the midst of moving and decluttering our stuff. But decluttering the soul is just as important and can make the rest of the chore so much easier.


  5. I REALLY needed to read this today. I love the quote at the top. In the midst of such fiery trials of late, I have often said “If only we could see the next step.” Sometimes God doesn’t tell us the next step until we come to it. Thank you for sharing this. Many blessings to you and yours.


    1. Cheryl, thank you for your testimony of trust in the midst of the unknown. I agree with you: the unknown is so very hard to deal with, and it presses me in all my weak places every single time.


  6. My daughter has this book so I look forward to borrowing it this summer after she reads it! I’ve heard so many good things about it. Doing the next right thing is such a wonderful mantra that can help us out in SO many areas of our lives.


  7. Michele, I think we must be kindred spirits with the things we have in common, the struggles, the adaptings we walk through . . .

    First of all, I was astounded to read that we make 35,000 decisions EACH DAY. Whoa. I so appreciated what you shared about this:

    “You can only make decisions based on what you know at the time.” There is a freeing grace in this truth. Because yes, as we strive for outcomes, sometimes, we just have to be at peace with doing the next thing we know to do. And I love how you brought in our lifetime of seeking Jesus and the way this impacts our decisions and our lives.

    Such a great post, friend.


    1. Thanks, Jeanne. That number floored me, too. In fact I read and re-read it to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding. And that gracious idea that we can only act on what we know sure takes care of some of the regret or self-incrimination I’ve heaped on myself over the years.
      Glad this post resonated for you!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the book review Michele. This book is on my list. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds like I really need to! Need to bump this one up to the top! Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements.


  9. I want the sky writing thing too, Michele! But it’s also wisdom to do the next right thing. Thanks for this reminder. Many blessings to you!


  10. The Next Right Thing. I have two copies of this in the flat and I haven’t read either one of them yet. I believe Emily found the authoress of that poem and it is even more ancient than thought. Go be Jesus with feet on for the next ten days. All will be there when you return and we will hope C keeps up with the dishes! And the Tucker slobber. And the weeds. And…… love you MM. From, SS.


  11. It sounds like there are a number of things in this book that I need to hear! I will analyze things to death and still feel uncertain when making choices. I definitely need the reminder to ask God “in every situation what he wants us to do” and then to trust. That’s the hard part…trusting.


  12. Your example of cleaning off the kitchen table reminded me of a task I was assigned, shortly after being hired to work for a florist. She asked me to clean off her work counter. I had no idea where to put the myriad clippers, pliers, greens, flowers, tapes, sketches, and other bits and pieces of her work. But one item at a time, and careful scrutiny of the area surrounding her counter, I found the home for almost everything. I’m going to keep that image in mind as I tackle each day’s to-do list. Large goals are met when we prayerfully tackle the next right thing. To that end, Lord, guide me, that your goals for me may be met!


  13. I’m so glad you finally got to read and review Emily’s book. I loved her stories and ways to set my heart and soul free from clutter. I smiled when I read your words about a pro/con list. I also approach it with success in mind. I’m not sure if it ends up being as useful when I do that. I hope you feel this book helped you in your own process of making decisions.


  14. Our house is so cluttered and I would love to get it under control. I feel like I keep things for sentimentality rather than purpose and put off decisions. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging


  15. It is a great book, I enjoyed reading it and I am really enjoying her related podcast too! Emily has a soothing voice and I love listening to all she has to share! I love the idea of “decluttering” my soul, I think I am on that journey, and it is a great one. Thanks for sharing this!!


  16. I very much like to focus on the task at hand and not look too far ahead. I married the exact opposite. I end up sleeping peacefully, relaxed with my day while he is stressed thinking of all the ‘next things’ to get to. There’s something to be said for decluttering the soul. #DreamTeam


  17. Doing the next right thing. Such a simple way to declutter but so effective. Honestly I find myself with priorities out of whack so often and as I weed through the list of things (all the yes’es I should have said no to) I can feel stuck. I’m going to try this next time!


  18. Michele, I checked this book out from the library a couple of weeks ago after waiting for quite some time on the hold list. It moved from place to place around my house until the due date, when I had to return it because others were waiting. Ironic, isn’t it, that the next right thing for me was NOT to read Emily’s book right now? I had too many other things needing my attention and just couldn’t do it. I do still want to read it, (and especially now after reading your thoughts) and will get myself back on that hold list when I have a chance. 🙂


    1. Good that you recognize the “next right thing” — and what it was NOT rather than beating yourself up. It sounds to me as if you are already applying the principles from Emily’s book!


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