More and more I am drawn to the concept of minimalism and what it might look like in my life. Several weeks ago, my wife, some friends and I participated in a “possessions fast” as a part of our Lenten experiment to give up excess. My job for that week was simple: to get rid of 42 items, 7 each day of the week. I had been looking forward to this for a while and am pleased to say that not only was I able to give up 42 of my “toys,” but that since then I have potentially doubled (maybe tripled?) that number. There’s something invigorating about letting go of things; every item given away (or trashed or sold) is another burden or obligation lifted off of my shoulder. I no longer have to use or make time to use that item, and I am freer to enjoy the simpler pleasures.Since this time I have been reading the blogs Becoming Minimalist and The Minimalists which, while also giving guides to de-cluttering different parts of your life (because minimalism isn’t just about things, it also involves our time commitments as well as other areas of our lives), offers helpful articles on different aspects of a minimalist lifestyle and provides links to other bloggers and articles.
Along with that, while at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference, I had the chance of running across Joshua Becker’s book Living with Less: An Unexpected Key to Happiness. I was excited to lay my hands on this short primer on the Biblical impetus and benefits of reducing our possessions. Becker, the author of the Becoming Minimalist blog, wrote this book specifically as a guide for teenagers, but I really have found it be a great starting point for anyone interested in beginning this journey.
In the introduction to his book, Becker writes:"Nobody really believes it. Nobody really believes possessions equal joy. In fact, if specifically asked the question, nobody in their right mind would ever say the secret to a joyful, meaningful life is to own a lot of stuff. Deep down in their heart, nobody really thinks it’s true. Yet almost all of us live like it is.” (pg. 1)
Becker spends part one of the book examining Jesus’ story for our lives, a story that is much richer than the riches we are promised will bring us happiness. He explores several Gospel passages in which Jesus deals with the issues of money and possessions. I appreciate his take on the parable of the rich young ruler from Luke 18:18-23. He criticizes the common pastoral response to Jesus’ command for the young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, saying that when we make this a broad application to deal with whatever holds us the most captive from following God, we miss the deep and convicting truth that just maybe Jesus was really talking about money. (pgs. 20-22) Personally, I think Jesus had a definite purpose in that command; He himself modeled a life of poverty and simplicity, if we expect to follow after Jesus, shouldn’t this also be a part of that following?
I wonder, in my own life, how often I have been so consumed with cleaning, organizing and even using my “stuff” that I have missed out on some important time spent with my family. I say “I wonder,” but of course deep down, I know the answer. Absolutely I have allowed the use and upkeep of possessions to interfere with the more enriching family moments. I have been too “tired” to take a walk with my wife and dogs, but not so tired that I don’t end up watching six episodes of “Psych” in a row. I have spent Saturday after Saturday trying to make a dent in the mess that becomes my room upstairs (I have a separate room for my books, music, and desk) when I could have been outside. And, though I fantasize about being a famous author and blogger, the truth is that sometimes I would rather just play video games. So no, I don’t really wonder.In this section too, Becker defines what minimalism means to his family. He breaks it down into four statements:
1) We will intentionally promote the things we most value. (p. 38)2) We will remove all “clutter” from our lives. (p. 38)
3) We will use our money for things more valuable than physical possessions. (p. 39)
*(As a side note, I have been considering what this might look like in my life. I am wondering if, rather than expending money on “things,” I should buy tickets to several Dave Matthews Band concerts in our area this summer. He is one of my favorite artists, and the concerts have been pretty euphoric experiences for me. If you would be interested in a two day stint in Indianapolis, let me know!)
4) We will live a countercultural life that is attractive to others. (p.40)
As I look over this list, I notice that only one of the four deals intentionally with the reduction of possessions. The rest address the way in which we will prioritize our time. Will we allow ourselves to be consumed by consumerism, or will we strive to get the most out of the short time that we have been given?