The concept behind minimalism is pretty simple: have/do less of the things you don’t care about, so you can have/do more of the things you do.
Think of it this way. Every individual thing you own is something that needs to be cleaned, kept organized, and takes up space in your brain. You only have a finite amount of space in your closet and in your brain, so the more stuff you shove in there, the closer you are to reaching capacity and the less able you’ll be to live freely.
The saddest part of our culture (in my mind) when it comes to its relationship with things is that we all seem to be extremely aware of this. When I wrote that first sentence was your mind totally blown? Probably not. The concept is pretty straightforward and we hear about it often enough to know the basic ideas behind living a more simple life. So why don’t we do any of it?
Reasons we don’t live a more simple life:
- We’re Afraid of Death.
Yup, I’m just jumping straight there. You know the main time that people get rid of all their things? After they die. There’s something about owning and doing things that makes us feel important, that our life is going somewhere, that we have a place to call our own on this earth. The problem is that living this way makes us more anxious, depressed, and unwilling to face life’s larger realities. The problem is it’s usually all about us, instead of about God. We end up serving our own egos more than God’s kingdom. Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He also said to the rich ruler, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). Now neither of these statements mean you have to be homeless or poor (but maybe that’s God’s calling for you, I don’t know). Luke 8 tells us that Jesus also had a group of wealthy women who provided some of the financial backing for his ministry.
The goal is to live in such a way that you are not tied to your status or wealth or stuff. Learning to live unattached from these things feels like the death of our ego-self, but it helps us live more fully in our truest self. Part of being human is learning to make peace with the fact that you are not the central story on planet earth. As Christians, we believe we’re loved by God and have to trust that that’s enough.
- We Don’t Think We Can.
My life changed at some point in my mid 20s when I realized I was free to do whatever I wanted. Like literally anything. I could become a thief and steal stuff and go to jail. Or I could sell my car and take the bus everywhere. Or I could become a citizen in another country. Or I could work part time the rest of my life in order to pursue something artistic or spiritual. Or I could own one hundred and nine different types of snakes. Literally anything. So I will tell you: You are free to do literally anything you want with your life.
Now a word of caution: that doesn’t mean the chain of cause and effect will break down or that there aren’t better or worse things to do with your life. There will still be consequences to your actions like there are now, but I want you to live more freely because I find that people generally (and Christians specifically) are often so afraid to experiment with how they live their lives. So often we live with so many other people’s sense of “should” over our own lives that we don’t realize we are totally free. I think a lot of it has to do with family upbringing and church; parents tend to ingrain a lot of fear in their children that if you don’t live a successful enough life, everything will fall apart. The problem with this is it’s usually a very narrow, worldly definition of success. The same happens with church, but with whatever their specific view of following Jesus is. Both these entities usually have our best interest at heart, but they can also severely limit us from pursuing our God-given purpose here on earth.
Here’s something from the always wise James Baldwin: “The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white… to ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.” Finally, he goes on to say that “But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around.” This is how we end up living by the gospel according to our society and peers rather than the gospel according to Jesus.
Anyway, so those are a few things that get in the way of our living minimally, here are some how to’s.
- Take Inventory.
In two ways: like seriously sit down and ask yourself what do you want your life to be about? What does God want your life to be about? The second way is more practical: literally go through all your stuff. See what you use and what you don’t. What does that say about the direction your life is going, has gone? I had a professor in college who would say, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” The goal of taking inventory is to distinguish the any so you can stop it with the every.
When my wife and I got our home and moved in together, we discovered we didn’t really care about having a TV, so we didn’t have one. We’ve been gifted one now, but even with it in our house we usually leave it in a closet and we find our life revolves a lot less around television.
- Give Things Away.
After taking inventory, the next step is to start getting rid of things. Your mind and your life will start feeling much less cluttered afterward.
- Shop at Thrift Stores.
You save money; the stuff is usually plenty good; you get to know your local community better; you don’t invest into global, corporate injustices; and when the time comes to get rid of things you are usually far more willing to.
- Live More Freely.
The whole goal of minimalism is to add to your ability to live, not to take away from it. So, once you’ve minimized, spend more time investing in the types of things you really care about.