While I (Sarah) do most of the writing for this blog, my husband (David) is chiming in this month to share the “why” of not only our decision to buy (almost) nothing for a year, but also the general motivations for our pursuing minimalism.
The formation of new habits is largely a matter of forming new loves, new orientations of the heart that recalibrate the course of our lives towards our deepest longings. Put more simply: new habits begin when we answer the question “why?” in a new way and then act on that new answer. When we provide a new, clear, definite, desirable answer to the question “why,” we often find the motivation that had been lacking to undertake new ventures, explore new places, or make lasting changes to our lives. Why run? Why diet? Why read? Why travel? Why own less? Answer these questions in a new way and you will be forced to explore new ways of living, and these new ways of living are the beginning of new habits.
Joshua Becker assigns some simple homework to participants in the first week of his Uncluttered course: know your why. Beginning a journey of minimalism demands establishing true north, identifying Polaris so that travellers can stay on course. During the first week of the course, Sarah and I dutifully sat down to finish our homework. We agreed to work individually first, and then come back together to share what came to mind in answering the “why” of our pursuing minimalism. After our conversation we then condensed and consolidated our reasons and posted them on our bathroom mirror where they still hang, an ever-present reminder at the start and close of each day for why we are choosing to live in a new way.
I want to share our why on this blog, or at least a part of it. For some of you our why may be so predictable and well worn that that it hardly seems worth repeating, but I hope that for others our why provides new questions or new motivations for your own lives.
The reality is our minimalism journey was a long time coming. Sarah and I would both list Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline as one of our favorite and most impactful books. What Foster sets out to do in Celebration of Discipline is to reintroduce time honored spiritual disciplines, one of which being simplicity. Foster calls our materialism “the modern psychosis that defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn” (Foster, 101). He goes on to state:
This psychosis permeates even our mythology. The modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl could do either!) Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry (Foster, 101).
While minimalism may be a new movement garnering a lot of attention over the past few years, its criticisms of a materialistic culture are nothing new; Celebration of Discipline was originally published in 1978.
For Sarah and I, minimalism is deeply connected to our faith in Jesus Christ, because we believe that God cares about how we relate to possessions. For us seeking to live minimally is part and parcel of learning to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt 6:33). Foster states, “The central point for the Discipline of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first and then everything necessary will come in its proper order” (Foster, 106). For the Christian “the inward reality of simplicity involves a life of joyful unconcern for possessions” (Foster, 106).
There are two dangers to minimalism and minimalism-type lifestyles. One can be found in Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (another motivating force in moving us towards minimalism). While there are some great practical tips in her book, the Konmari method does not involve shifting the location of our joy or meaning; it merely attempts to refine it. For Kondo joy is still found in possessions; indeed her whole approach is essentially stripping away the non-joyful possessions so that those material things that are joy inducing can shine all the brighter. One danger in minimalism is that we still seek joy materialistically. We just seek to do so qualitatively instead of quantitatively.
The other slightly more insidious danger is for minimalism to become a badge of honor marking the one who lives most minimally as the winner in a lifestyle of game of limbo. The bar is continually lowered, and participants own less and less proving just “how low they can go.” But this can easily become an exhausting, legalistic, joy-sucking game of judgment (and indeed five minutes poking around Amazon or the blogosphere will take you to some of these stories).
But for Foster and for the Christian, the point isn’t in what you own, rather a lot or a little. The point is the pursuit of the kingdom of God, for “simplicity itself becomes idolatry when it takes precedence over seeking the kingdom” (Foster 107). This in no way invalidates the very good reasons for living minimally because “when the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, ecological concerns, the poor, the equitable distribution of wealth, and many other things will be given their proper attention” (Foster 107).
So why do we week to live minimally? We seek to live minimally because “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). We seek to live minimally because we have been given the kingdom (Luke 12:32). We seek to live minimally so that we can “learn the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil 4:12). Most of all we seek to live minimally as a way of seeking God’s kingdom, being transformed, asking that God “turn our taking into giving…giving as he gave himself up for us all” (from Walter Brueggemann’s prayer, “We are takers,” in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth).