A few weeks ago, I had the joy of spending some time with my Great Uncle Fred. Though I haven’t spent much time with him in my life, I can safely say he’s a hilarious wealth of stories, travels and a life very well lived. He also happens to read this blog from time to time, for which I am deeply honored!
When we were together at his son Brian’s lake house, he asked me why I want to live a minimalist lifestyle. I said, “Because it helps me focus on what really matters in life.” While this is a true and honest answer, I wish we would have had more time to talk about it. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that someone who isn’t a minimalist can’t focus on what’s important in life, although I think living minimally makes it easier.
I always want to make the disclaimer that minimalism means different things to different
people and I believe it’s helpful to provide my definition of it before I can really flesh out it’s full appeal in my own life. I’d define minimalism as “The pursuit of simple living; keeping just enough possessions, things on my mind and things on my schedule to encourage living in and being thankful for each moment.”
Here are the reasons minimalism is attractive to me…perhaps loosely in order of least to most important.
1. Cleanliness and Order. I struggle with anxiety, people. One of the things that always makes me feel more calm is to be surrounded by clean, clear, open and well-organized spaces. I’ve always been a fairly neat/organized person, but as I began to get rid of physical possessions, I realized my time spent cleaning our house went down a good bit. Since I am the maid around here, that was highly appealing to me. The less crap I have to pick up to wipe down the surfaces in my home, the faster I can speed through cleaning. This is also one of the reasons I like the idea of a smaller home. The less time I spend cleaning these worldly possessions that cannot accompany me to the hereafter, the better, if you ask me. And of course, a less cluttered room = a calmer, more contented Sarah.
2. Financial Freedom. Most folks pursuing minimalism are highly motivated by this one. Interestingly, the more things I give away, the less I want to bring into my home. If something is not needed, or being used, I typically consider it unnecessary clutter. I don’t buy as much stuff now because I just don’t want more stuff; it doesn’t matter to me like it used to. Personally, I have found great blessing in wanting less vs. wanting more. I would much rather use money for things that are more important and more in line with my values as a person – like helping others, traveling and experiences.
3. Rejecting Materialism. Our culture is constantly selling us the idea that we need more, newer, bigger, better things to be happy. Yet, some of the most destitute people in our world are the most content and some of the richest people in our world are the most miserable. I’m not implying that all rich people are miserable. Just that this notion that we’d all be more content if we were richer is a lie. I honestly did not know this deeply and in my soul until I started giving things away. It was only when I consciously decided to get rid of things that I realized how much I actually already had (and how little I really need). This sounds so silly and bratty to me now, but I never considered NOT following a trajectory of bigger and better; apartment to house to bigger house to even bigger house or reasonable car to nicer car to even nicer car. I never would have called myself materialistic before I minimized my belongings; materialism would not have been on a list of my values. And yet, I used to think and behave in a decidedly materialistic way. Minimalism reminds me not to go back to that way of thinking. It teaches me how much is enough for me – and I didn’t know what was “enough” until I gave a bunch of stuff away. I could still give more and not suffer in the least, and knowing that makes me overflow with humility and gratitude.
4. A Personal Response to Global Issues. One of the very first things that led me to pursue minimalism (although I didn’t know that word at the time) was a soul-gripping awareness of how we live here in America as compared to the rest of the world. I’ve always “known” we are mighty fortunate, but after fostering a more global awareness, it finally became real to me. I found myself feeling inauthentic and restless in the face of what others around the world must endure; from extreme poverty to persecution for faith in Jesus. I know I don’t deserve the wonderful life I’m blessed with; I know I “have it better” than so many people in the world. It feels wrong not to respond to that in some way. For me, there’s a fine line between feeling guilty for all God has blessed me with, and being humbly thankful for those blessings. It’s something I must be careful about because ultimately, I desire to live in the moment with a grateful heart. But as I’ve purged belongings, events from my schedule and thoughts from my mind, the clarity I’ve found always leads me back to both generosity and gratitude. I have come to view minimalism as a first step in thoughtfully responding to global issues in my own little ways. It encourages me to continue giving and asking myself and God how else I’m meant to respond.
5. My Faith. For me, this is most important reason to pursue minimalism. I have learned that when I pursue minimalism for calm surroundings, less financial burden, and a deliberate turn from the magnetic pull of materialism, it helps me keep an eternal perspective and see Jesus more clearly. When I begin to strip away my excess, I am more free to pursue the life He wants me to live – not focused on myself or on getting MORE. While we are never in complete control of how much God decides to bless us with monetary riches, we are ALWAYS in control of what we decide to do with whatever money we have. The Bible tells us to be good stewards of what we have (be wise financially!). It tells us to hold loosely to the things of this world and live with an eternal perspective (avoid materialism!). It tells us that the love of money (not money itself) is the root of all evil. It tells us that it is harder for a rich man to get into Heaven. My logic tells me that when I pine for bigger, better things, when I already have more than enough, I am both engaging the root of all evil, and I’m making it harder for myself to live for the Lord. In short – I believe minimalism is a way of living that helps me be consistent with the teachings in the Bible.
Does the minimalist lifestyle appeal to you? What is your own definition of minimalism, and why is it a worthy way to live (or not) in your opinion?