I’ve long been fascinated with people who live a “Minimalist” lifestyle. That is, they live life with the motto, “less is more.” Minimalists aim to minimize the excess “stuff” (literal or figurative) in their lives in order to focus on and enjoy the things in life that are most important to them, such as family, community, or faith.
I’ve been an aspiring minimalist for about seven years now, ever since I got married and consequently had to downsize my childhood bedroom, my college apartment, my husband’s childhood bedroom and living space, and all of our wedding presents into our new one bedroom apartment. I’d been something of a hoarder as a child, and found myself having to shift through, garage sale, donate, and organize basically every possession I’d ever owned from birth through age 22.
Just when I thought I was “done” with this minimizing process, my mom located seven rubbermaid bins full of my childhood “memories” in her attic. It took a solid week of my time to sort through those bins; I thankfully learned to let go of many sentimental material things in the process. I didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy my ordered home, however, before my first child was born, and the entire contents of Babies R Us began to leak in through the back door. Now, with four kids, a husband, and a dog, that leak is more of a tidal wave. A continuous current of well-meaning stuff entering my home and overwhelming my time and space, threatening to bury us alive if I don’t do something about it.
I think most Americans can relate to the overwhelming tidal wave of stuff that enters our homes. We live in a time of cheap abundance, where manufacturing practices have made most material possessions available and affordable. We shop, not always out of necessity, but for fun. We purchase things on impulse. We find an endless array of unwanted stuff at garage sales or thrift stores, and take it home with us. We give material gifts out of obligation and keep these gifts in our homes out of similar obligation. Then, we sigh over the work of keeping up with and caring for all of this stuff in our homes. With our closets overflowing and our kitchen counters cluttered, many of us feel crowded, stifled, and unable to breathe in our own homes. After awhile, we reach a tipping point. We cannot live comfortably in our current space with all of our stuff crowding in around us. To solve this problem, we can either purchase more space in which to store and acquire our stuff (which requires more of our daily time and money), or we can get rid of much of our stuff and be content with the space we have. Since becoming an aspiring minimalist, I have been attempting to do the latter often.
One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve started this minimalist journey is how often minimalism and Christianity intersect. In fact, the Bible has a lot to say about stuff and our relationship to it as Christians. How are we supposed to interact with our stuff? Is it ok to own stuff? Is it ok to own stuff in abundance? Why is it good to avoid getting attached to our possessions? What should be the focus of our lives?
Here’s what the Bible has to say about these things:
1. It’s ok to have stuff. God created the earth for us and he wants us to enjoy its blessings.
Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
1 Timothy 6:17 “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”
It’s ok to enjoy the things God richly provides us with. However, note the warning given in this verse: If you are blessed with a LOT (as most of us living in the first world are), do not be arrogant nor put your HOPE in your abundance. Which brings us to...
2. But our stuff is not our life. “Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
Luke 12:15-21 “Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘what shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘this is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will storemy surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
We can have stuff, but it should not be our ultimate life purpose to acquire it. It will not save us from death nor give us eternal life. How can we tell what our ultimate life purpose is? By the way we spend our time on a daily basis. If our ultimate goal is the acquisition of stuff, we may find ourselves spending much of our time working to earn money to pay for that stuff. If we find ourselves sacrificing time with family and opportunities to serve God for the sake of money, while our “warehouse” sits full, then it may be time to reassess our lives and their priorities.
3. God tell us to be content.
Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
This message contradicts the worldly message of “the American dream”, which says “acquire bigger and better until you are happy.” God doesn’t say “be content once you get what you’re after.” He says “Be content with what you have.” Often, the biggest thing keeping us from letting go of our material possessions is fear that we will need them some day or will be unable to get by without them. Why should we fear this when God promises never to leave nor forsake us?
4. Because our stuff does not follow us past the grave.
1 Timothy 6:7-10 “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Have you ever attended an estate sale or helped parents or grandparents move into a nursing home? If so, then you know what happens to possessions at the end of life. They are sold, given away, thrown away, or fought over by heirs. Often, this downsizing at the end of life is a painful process, requiring a lot of time of the loved ones who end up dealing with the stuff. If we realize this early on and keep our possessions to a minimum, we can save our families a lot of grief at the end of our lives when they inevitably have to deal with the stuff we are unable to take with us to heaven.
5. We can look to Jesus and his followers for an example of a truly minimalist lifestyle. You never hear about Jesus and his closest disciples returning to their mansions after a long trip. In fact, you never hear about Jesus or his followers having a permanent home filled with possessions at all. In order to focus on the important work of their mission, Jesus and his followers left everything behind, minimizing their lives to just the clothes on their backs. They remained nomads throughout their ministry, carrying all they owned with them as they travelled from city to city, staying with host families or camping along the way.
Matthew 19:21-30 “Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
So what does all of this mean? Do you have to be a textbook “minimalist” or live as a nomad to be a Christian? Of course not. It’s ok to own and enjoy our stuff, and the amount of stuff owned will look different for everyone. However, we need to be aware of God’s commands to be content and to not let our money or our stuff become the driving purpose of our lives. If we find ourselves living in a spirit of greed or discontentment, unable to devote our time and brain power to our faith and mission because of the attachments and devotion we have to our clutter, then it may be time to let go of our stuff and minimize distracting areas in our lives to make room for God.
Dear God, please help me to hold the things of this world loosely, knowing that they are only temporary. Help me to minimize the things in life that distract from you and my mission to serve you and others, sharing You with them through love. Thank you for the stuff you have blessed me with and allow me to put it to good use and to share it freely with others when the need arises. Amen.