The most unexpected thing has happened to me.
I have begun the process of stripping away every single material possession in my life that doesn’t add value. In fact, I’ve dedicated the next year and a half to selling, donating, or pitching every material possession that doesn’t serve a specific purpose in my life.
This isn’t just about reorganizing. This is about wholesale rejection.
I’m rejecting the boilerplate instruction manual handed to me by our culture for how to live a happy life (i.e. “things will make you happy”), and have instead started paying attention to what actually does.
Let me share the strange way this came to the forefront for me.
Our Choices Affect Others
Since our church is a passionate defender of oppressed children around the world, I felt convicted about the way I was contributing to the very things that caused the children we support to be displaced in the first place.
I was so moved by my discussions with Dr. Hayhoe that we went home as a family and committed ourselves to make a concerted effort as disciples of Jesus to reduce our carbon footprint on behalf of the poor.
The first thing I did was buy energy saving lightbulbs for the entire house.
Then I unplugged all the wires that were plugged into electrical sockets simply sitting there wasting energy.
This embarrasses me to say this, but for the very first time, I’ve become serious about recycling. We bought a recycling “trashcan” for each room in our house.
Before our recycling efforts became serious, we would produce, on average, around four bags of trash each week and one bag of recycling. After the switch, we now produce four bags of recycling and one bag of trash.
This led me to lead our staff to take a challenge to eliminate any plastic bottles in the office, reduce our dependency on paper, and to become meticulous about recycling.
Once I had put a human face to climate change, everything changed for me.
Reflecting On The Choices You Make
This led me to ask an even larger question:
Why am I using so much stuff that needs recycling in the first place?
If I get up in the morning and eat a cup of blueberries, why am I putting them into a paper cup, which I turn around and recycle, which I have done every single day for the past 365 days? Why not use a plastic bowl? (Which I now do).
This led me to an even bigger question:
What if we could NEVER throw our stuff “away?”
What if we had to live with everything that we bought and consumed?
What if we couldn’t throw our trash into a landfill somewhere for future generations to build houses on top of? What would happen?
Things would start piling up in your garage and smell.
We’d start running out of room and force ourselves to become creative at disposing of things, wouldn’t we?
Ultimately, we’d stop consuming so much stuff because we couldn’t throw it away.
Here’s the thing: there is no “away.” It goes somewhere, and that “somewhere” is almost always in the backyards of the rural poor who can’t afford to mount a legal defense to keep our waste out of their communities.
This led me to another question:
What portion of my home don’t we need?
If we took a heat map and monitored how frequently certain areas of our homes are used, exactly how much space do we need?
Do we need to kill ourselves to maintain homes that are 2-3 times the size of our grandparents?
We work and kill ourselves to pay for areas of our homes that we never use, and to store things that serve no real purpose.
I quickly discovered there’s an underground movement of people asking similar questions.
That movement has been called “minimalism.”
Defining Minimalism For Christians
Minimalism is consciously stripping away the extraneous things in my life to make room for God’s best for me, my family, my church, and my community.
Two things strike me as odd about this underground movement.
First, I find it odd that many think this is something that has been “discovered” recently. Rejecting the culture’s drive towards materialism and overconsumption and responsibly acting on behalf of the poor is at the heart of Jesus’ teachings.
Second, knowing the freedom and joy that eliminating debt, excess weight, superfluous clutter, and unneeded trash brings, I find it odd how few Christians are embracing it.
As Richard Foster points out, for the Christian there’s tremendous “freedom in simplicity.”
I am finding that out.