My husband and I watched the “Minimalism” documentary on Netflix recently and it definitely made an impact. I immediately started looking around my house for things I could get rid of and briefly considered setting fire to the small piles of paper accumulating on my desk. I naturally tend to want clutter-free spaces and don’t get sentimentally attached to things, so the purging process is always a fun one for me. But I realize this isn’t true for everybody.
There was a lot of language in the documentary that painted minimalism as not just an option for people who want to be less burdened by their things, but as a morally superior choice for everybody. This made me a little twitchy.
I can fully agree that consumerism is a problem and minimalism seems to be an answer. Our desire for things like fast fashion may come at a cost to the people who actually make our clothes. Cheap, replaceable, disposable clothing comes at a high cost to somebody and we’re naive if we don’t make those connections.
Striving to live beyond our means in order to have the same nice stuff as the neighbors (or so our kids can have the same nice stuff as the neighbor kids) can put incredible stress on a family. Minimalism can be a step off the hamster wheel of having to be overworked and up to your eyeballs in debt in order to have Things that will never make you happy. These are real problems. I think they’re even spiritual problems.
I do believe you can find scriptural support for living a life of less worry about what you will wear and eat. (Matt. 6:25) There are beautiful Biblical principles about the importance of taking an intentional rest from your labor, which I think also support the idea of a minimalist life that values people and experiences over things. (Gen. 2:3)
I think you can also look to Jesus as an example of a minimalist. He didn’t have a home. He asked his disciples to leave their things, leave their jobs, leave EVERYTHING behind to follow him. (Luke 18:28-30) He needed to have the ability to be transient, to live what we would now consider a missionary’s life– mobile enough to be where he needed to be to get his message out. He had a mission to fulfill and it didn’t involve mowing the lawn or working a 40 hour work week to pay the mortgage.
I think that makes it easy to idealize the minimalist life. If we were to ask “What Would Jesus Do” we might assume the most moral choice we can make is to ditch all our stuff. I do think that is the calling for some of us, but it’s been interesting to me to consider the support structure Jesus utilized in order to accomplish his mission.
There are many instances in the Bible where Jesus stops in someone’s home and shares a meal with a group. He seems to have repeatedly visited the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. That means even if Jesus didn’t own a full set of Fiestaware, he did utilize the resources of people who had the necessary THINGS required to host a dinner where relationships could be built, community could be established and hospitality was offered.
So I don’t think minimalism in its strictest form is the answer for everyone. As Christians, we function best as a body, a community. That may mean some of us travel light in order to be able to do the work we’re called to. And some of us will spend our resources creating beauty in our homes in order that they can be shared and enjoyed. When we respect the individual gifting and callings we’ve been given, we develop a healthy interdependence on each other. . . and even on each other’s Things.
There is a proper place for Stuff in the work of the Kingdom. The early church seemed to often be sharing meals together and doing life together and we are told that they had all things in common. (Acts 2:42-47) Our possessions are tools we use, but what needs to matter most to us are the people we serve and the God we’re leading them towards. It’s great if my things “spark joy” in me, but what’s better is if they do Kingdom work in the process. The beautiful wreath on the front door that creates a feeling of welcome to those who stop on my porch. The coffee table where we set our drinks (and occasionally rest our feet) when a friend is over, in need of comfort. The fancy soap we buy just for the guest bathroom because we want people to feel loved even in that private moment of hand washing. Even the things we do for self-care that allow us to be refreshed and better able to pour into the lives of others. I don’t think these are things we’re meant to feel guilty about.
I love the extravagance of Jesus. He turned water into wine, he didn’t tell people that water should be good enough and shame them for putting value on celebratory wine. He allowed expensive perfume to be put on his feet. He multiplied loves and fishes to the point that people weren’t just satisfied, but there were leftovers. While his personal choices may seem to make a case for minimalism, he also seemed to place a value on the gifts and needs of others when it came to issues of hospitality. Jesus loved people and used things instead of what many of us are tempted to do– love our things and use people.
We see that even in his interactions with Martha over her hostessing duties. He reminded her about the priority decision she was making. (Luke 10:41-42) It’s a struggle I continue to have as I try to work out the appropriate priorities when it comes to expressing love by being fully present to those around me without letting my home spiral into being featured on the next episode of “Hoarders.” The dishes will always be with me, but I may not always have a toddler standing at my knee, begging for a hug. I need to place value on the right things. Throwing out all my dishes may not be the answer. Taking time to value people over things probably is.
When it comes to my minimalist tendencies, I am learning to go beyond asking “What Would Jesus Do” and instead wondering, “What Would Jesus Have ME Do.” My husband insists this is just semantics, but for a woman who loves words, this subtle change matters to me. As I evaluate the things I own, I want to have an intentionality that goes beyond formulas for what someone else thinks I should own. I don’t want to be a slave to my things, but see them as tools I can use to show love to others, whether those tools are few or plenty, expensive or hand-me-downs. I want to be intentional in what I buy and where I shop, using my money for good. I want to be extravagant in moments I’m tempted to be stingy or minimal– in giving of my love, my time and my things.