Fort Valley mother publishes children's book about decluttering
By Josette Keelor -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Growing up in the Philippines, Fort Valley resident Abby Sasscer noticed poverty all around her.
"It's everywhere, you can't ignore it, you can't deny it," she said. "[It] left an indelible mark on me."
That memory has affected much of what Sasscer has accomplished since moving to the United States in 1986. She pursued a career as an organizational consultant and never forgot what it was like growing up among people who appreciated everything they had. Her past inspired her to start Project Nazareth, a free local ministry, and, more recently, to start writing books about decluttering.
This year she published "Sophie's Stuff," which tells the story of a bunny rabbit who notices how overwhelming clutter is for her and her family and learns to give away what she no longer wants or needs.
"She gives away stuff and when she discovers the happiness in their faces, she discovers in the end that there's more joy in loving others than in loving things," Sasscer said.
The 40-year-old mother of three asked the members of her children's home school group what they wanted in the book, and the children chose many of the book's features, from the color of the cover and blue text to the journal pages at the end where readers can list which of their belongings to keep and which to give away.
The book is pink and purple, with pink for reading and purple for writing, and at the end are discussion questions and tips for decluttering.
"They basically told me what to do with the book, and it's a really sweet book in the end," said Sasscer, who's planning a sequel.
"Sophie's Stuff' is geared toward girls, she said, "so that's why we wanted to work on 'Sammy's Stuff.'"
"Sophie's Stuff" is fictional but has its roots in reality. Sasscer said young readers might enjoy knowing there really is a Sophie in Warren County who loves to accumulate stuff -- "It's a little girl, and she lives in Front Royal," Sasscer said. "Lives in a small cottage in the hills. ... And that's how 'Sophie's Stuff' was born. I used literally Sophie."
Sasscer wrote the story in about 15 minutes, she said, but then spent the next two years trying to publish the book, deciding in the end to self-publish.
"It took a lot of prayers and ... a lot of frustration," Sasscer said. "It was a journey." A friend who publishes fiction advised her to take a leap of faith.
"I wanted the power to be able to look for my own illustrator," she said. On an artists' website, she found pictures of bunnies wearing clothes, and she knew she'd found her Sophie.
"I felt like this was it, this was the feel of the book that I want," Sasscer said. She contacted the illustrator, Sophie Cayless, who brainstormed with Sasscer about the book's main character possibly being a chipmunk or even a person, "but she draws nature, her forte is actual animals," Sasscer said.
"Sophie's Stuff" will be on sale in Front Royal at Faithful and True and at Chesterton Press and in Woodstock at St. John Bosco's bookshop and at Guiding Light Christian Books and Gifts. It's also available at Amazon.com.
For many years Sasscer has promoted the idea of decluttering, basing her first book, "Simplifying Your Domestic Church," on that idea. At home she, her husband and three children practice giving away two belongings for every one they receive or purchase.
She said by living simply, she and her family were able to handle the pay cut her husband took when they moved from Northern Virginia to the valley, downsizing to a cottage-style home.
"And we're debt free," Sasscer said. They have a mortgage but live on a budget and don't use credit cards. "The freedom in life is living simply, and if there's any extra that comes about, that's great, you know, thank God."
"Because of my experience in the Philippines ... I've always had that feeling of embracing the simplicity," she said.
Americans in general, she said, "They start big, they dream big, and then everything falls apart. It's hard to go from big to simple, than to just live simply."
"Here," she said, "you have so much, and you're still working 24/7. Where's the freedom; where's the happiness?"
"Living simply helps you prioritize and helps you be a wiser steward of all the gifts that God has given," she said.
"Project Nazareth is a ministry I started in 2008, and you know its mission is to, like, inspire and encourage families to live a life ... in the spirit of Christian ministry."
"It's basically based on the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth, you know Jesus, Mary and Joseph, just the simplicity of the life that they have," she said.
Through Project Nazareth, Sasscer gives workshops on decluttering, and she travels mainly around Shenandoah, Warren and parts of Frederick counties.
"For people who are not local, I do consultancy over the phone," she said. "It's a ministry so all the services are free of charge." She accepts donations.
Some tips she has for those interested in living more simply include decluttering twice a year as a family -- she chooses Advent and Lent -- and practicing the buy one, give two away method.
"I tend not to keep items for future use, because someone else can be using that item," she said. She has found that when she does have need of something, it comes. "God will not be outdone in generosity."
For her children Sasscer uses the imagery of a ship at dock that needs to unload before it can take on a new load. If not, it will sink, she said.
In addition to the Sasscers' buy one, give two practice, "This past spring, we still gave away twenty bags," she said.
"The true joy lives in living simply, so you're able to give more to others."
Contact Abby Sasscer at projectnazareth.info