04 March, 2017
“For me, I think of minimalism as the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s most important things – which actually aren’t things, physical things, at all.”
I heard this said in a podcast interview a few weeks ago, and it grabbed my attention. I looked up the speaker, Joshua Fields Mliburn, a guy who, with his friend Ryan Nicodemus, ran a website called The Minimalists. I dug into their podcast, their books, and their absolutely KILLER documentary on Netflix, and I was hooked.
According to these guys, minimalism is not about owning the least amount of stuff. It is about focussing on the most meaningful things in life by removing the excess stuff, which often gets in the way of what we really value. And for many of us, our stuff can get in the way. In our culture driven by excess consumption, things can often distract us from “life’s most important things”.
I never considered myself a lavish person, but I knew that I had a lot of junk. This junk was taking up space, both physically and mentally. So, I decided to give this minimalism thing a crack.
Over the next week or so, I began to slowly go through my possessions and ask myself the simple questions that Josh and Ryan encourage you to ask: Does this possession truly add value to my life? Or, is it just here “because”? Is it an item that I keep “just in case?” Have I even touched this item in the last year? 5 years? 10 years?
I went through my clothes first. I opened my storage cupboard and found old clothes covered in dust. Winter clothes that I didn’t wear in winter, spare T shirts, hoodies, jeans, scarves, beanies, shorts, and socks that were either too old, or were just spares because I had too many clothes in my “actual” wardrobe.
I quickly realised that at least 25% of the clothes I owned I had not touched over the last 3 or so years. Well, was I going to use them in the next 3 years? If not, why keep them gathering dust and taking up valuable space?
So, if the clothes were in poor condition, I threw them out. If they were in relatively good condition, I bagged them to donate.
Next was the rest of my junk – old gadgets and gizmos, many of which were broken, old trophies, documents that I didn’t need to keep, sentimental items that I hadn’t touched in years, and more.
As I gathered momentum, I gained a strange feeling – relief, and excitement. I no longer needed to keep account of this stuff. What also surprised me is that although I felt a little guilty at letting go of some stuff at first, I did not really regret letting go of anything. In fact, there were a few positive benefits I didn’t expect:
1. Tremendous joy and relief at letting go of old crap
I think the stuff that we own takes up a place in our mind on a subconscious level. Our brains ask us, “Does this item need to be accounted for? Does it need to be maintained? How much is it worth? Have you remembered to use it?” etc. When you don’t have it, your brain doesn’t need to keep track of it. (This is at least my theory…)
2. A new appreciation and gratitude for the fewer possessions I own
I gained much more gratitude for the possessions I intentionally decided to keep. The clothes I kept were my favourite clothes, and I wear them more often (I still have more than enough). The books I kept were my favourite books, which I plan to reread. The unread books did not pile up, mocking my laziness in not reading them, but instead they were a smaller, more achievable amount (more on books later).
3. A renewed awareness of the extraordinary luxury around me
Growing up in the Sutherland Shire in Sydney, surrounded by extraordinary wealth and high standards of living, it is so easy to grow accustomed to luxury that was outrageously excessive to most people throughout human history. Why is it that we in Australia have some of the largest homes in the world, yet still can’t find enough space for our crap? This is not a guilt trip (you should know by now I’m not a real fan of guilt trips), but a sober reminder that, despite my poor health and low income, I’ve still got it pretty good. So, I’m grateful.
4. A fresh understanding of Jesus’ words to trust in him, and not in my stuff
Jesus’ words on possessions are not anti-ownership, pro-poverty. Instead, they are a call to not rely on my possessions to bring me ultimate meaning, security, or fulfilment – that only comes from God.
Jesus said so clearly to trust in God, not in stuff, in Matthew 6:
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)
Releasing most of the unhelpful excess in my life has brought me tremendous joy and peace. The possessions that I own are intentional and meaningful, and not a burden. It frees up my mind to find my security, identity and fulfilment in Jesus, and not in stuff.
Next time, I’ll share the hardest part of minimalism for me (so far) – what I found the most difficult things to get rid of. It might surprise you.
Later on, because I’m interested in the topic now, I’ll also write a little bit about what I think the Bible says about minimalism, and whether or not Jesus was a minimalist.
More posts coming soon!
Have you had a similar experience with decluttering, or minimising stuff? I’d love to hear your story.
Grace for Failures is the blog of Carlin Doyle to encourage and inspire people who have gotten life wrong for a long time, and want to try and do things a little differently. Click here for more info, and here for more posts.