Tag Archives: Simplicity

Coming Clean: How We’ve Cheated on Our Buy (Almost) Nothing Year

We only have two months left in “Our Year of Living Minimally,” aka the Buy (Almost) Nothing Year, and it has been both harder and easier than I expected.  I’m sorry to have dropped the blogging ball as I just realized it’s been seven months since the last update … so much for my goal of monthly posts!  We’ll put that one in the harder than I expected category.

As we are fast approaching the end of this little experiment, I thought it might be a good time to come clean on how we’ve “cheated.”  If anything, this project has exposed and emphasized both the rebel and rule follower in me.  There are ways that we enforced the “letter of the law” but obviously broke the spirit, and there have been times we really felt in keeping with the spirit of our law while blatantly breaking the letter.  We haven’t followed our self-imposed guidelines perfectly, but I’m really proud of how well we’ve done on the whole, and our slip-ups have provided opportunity for reflection and growth.

So here’s where I share some (actually, all that I can remember) of those slip ups.

IMG_1566Clementine: This is very much so a spirit and not letter breaking.  I initially wrote out an exception to our shopping ban for clothes and toys for our daughter, which I would do again.  However, because I left a bit of latitude in that guideline, I honestly bought her more than she needed, especially with regard to clothes.  It’s really the first time that I’ve had to shop for her clothes as much of her wardrobe her first year consisted of hand-me-downs, so I’m still learning what all accouterments a two year old actually needs.  I was able shop economically, though, and found several cute dresses (more than she needed, I am learning) at a second hand shop while visiting friends in Austin.  Honestly, shopping for Clementine has often been guided by want instead of need, and this is an area in which I desire to exercise more discernment.

Pens & Notebooks: I bought some pens this summer.  Some pretty, pretty pens.  And a couple of notebooks.  Blatant rule breaking, but I don’t care.  These things keep my life together, and I’m 10x more likely to keep my life together when I’m using pens and notebooks I love.  Plus, I had some birthday money to spend …

Glass Food Storage Containers: I didn’t write out an exception for replacing broken items, but I should have.  This would count as a spirit keeping if not letter.  I dropped one of our lunch bags last spring and shattered the rectangle container I pack my lunch in every day.  We went ahead and sprung for a complete set with locking lids because eating at home practically every meal increases your food storage needs.

Shorts (for me & David): My only pair of khaki shorts developed a hole in them, and I found another pair for $14 at Sam’s.  I did get some new athletic socks and sports bras, but I knew that was a need and exempted that purchase from our ban ahead of time.  I should have investigated David’s wardrobe a bit more before making our exemptions, however, because he was in need of more athletic shorts.  I found a couple pair at TJ Maxx for around $10 each, and it was a good thing because he lost another pair to the wind while airing them out on our balcony a few weeks ago …

Digital Bible Resources: Each month Logos offers a free ebook and often a few super cheap ($1-$3 range) options as well.  David makes these purchases unabashedly because 1) they don’t take up physical space in our home and 2) they will serve him well in the future.

IMG_1692 copyA Basket: Last spring I found the. cutest. basket at a children’s shop near our school.  I wanted it for our living room to help corral Clementine’s toys, but I didn’t get it because I felt like it was veering too far from our established guidelines.  Over the summer, however, I talked myself into the purchase.  It was for Clementine!  I’ve already hashed out how purchases relating to my daughter are a weakness for me, so there’s that.  When we returned home to Jakarta in July, I was devastated to find the basket no longer for sale.  I really wished I had just made the purchase back in May.  For months I kept my eye out for that basket and finally found one very similar (although not as big, unfortunately) and sprang for the purchase.

A Wallet and Purse: After the basket debacle, I determined I would not become victim to a similar fate again.  Things change on the daily in Jakarta, so when I found the perfect leather purse that I’ve been dreaming of for years at a temporary pop-up shop in the mall, I bought it.  My current purse is developing holes, and while my crafty mother-in-law helped salvage it this summer, the purse is looking pretty pitiful.  No, I don’t actually need a new purse right now, but I will soon, and I knew that the shop wouldn’t be there in January.  So while I did break our rules to make the purchase, I am at least hiding it in the top of my closet where it will wait for me until January 1st.  🙂  I also bought a wallet from the same shop for David because we were in danger of losing debit and insurance cards due to its developing holes.

Delivery Pizza: As I have written before, breaking our eating out habit was by far the hardest change initially.  It soon became the new normal, however, and we both found ourselves enjoying eating at home at lot more than we expected.  We did eat out over the summer, but again, that was pre-planned.  Outside of book dates, our birthdays, friend/group gatherings uninitiated by us, and our trip home over the summer, we have eaten out/ordered in exactly twice.  Once was a 3:00 AM McDonald’s run the night we got in from the States (still on Central Standard Time …), and the other was a Domino’s delivery order after the gas ran out on our stove as I was getting ready to make dinner.  We weren’t able to order more gas until the next morning, so we opted for pizza over eating the leftover beans we’d had for lunch that day.

Hmm, I just remembered two more … I did get new tennis shoes this summer after using my (three year) old ones on a family whitewater rafting trip, and we did eat out on our actual anniversary in addition to our pre-planned summer celebration.  I may even remember a few more before I finish typing this post, but the point for me is not how much or little we have strayed from our initial guidelines.  The point is how far we’ve come.  I appreciate things like eating out so much more now that it’s the exception and not the rule.  I’m truly grateful for everything we have and am more and more cognizant of all the things we don’t really need.  I don’t expect next year to look a whole lot different from this one, surprisingly, and that feels amazing.  I thought this year would be this huge sacrifice, but it’s just become our life.  A very joyful one at that.

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OYoLM February Edition – The Why

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.

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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.

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Everyone should read this book!

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).