The fad today, especially among millennials, is minimalism, described in Forbes as a “decluttering lifestyle trend.” Thousands are getting rid of possessions or exchanging their current living space for tiny homes.
Is minimalism the spiritual discipline of simplicity? I suppose it’s one aspect of simplicity if it’s purposed for the sake of seeking God’s kingdom over our own. Making life simpler without a greater eternal purpose lacks an element of Christian simplicity.
Adele Calhoun describes the desire behind the spiritual discipline of simplicity: “To uncomplicate and untangle my life so I can focus on what really matters.” (1)
Minimalism is one part of obeying God’s mandate to steward the earth (Genesis 1:27-28). Caring for Earth does really matter, but as Christians it matters for different reasons than it may for many minimalists.
I take pride in my willingness to give away my unused and unneeded excess so that it can help others who need it–which shows how far I have to go. But stretching beyond that by ridding my life of stuff that makes me happy is the real challenge. It’s a deeper level of simplicity driven by loving my neighbor as myself. God calls for more sacrifice than simply keeping all those things that spark joy, the factor suggested by one minimalist.
I’ve found it true that freedom from our sins and idols is aided by incorporating an opposite spiritual discipline. Simplicity helps free us from materialism. My guess is that most of us worship stuff to one extent or the other, whether we own a lot or not. Do we envy those who have more than we do? Do we give generously or use extra funds or even credit to purchase things we don’t really need? How much do we give away compared to what we keep? Is our money too tied up on ourselves to give generously? God continues to convict me about my materialism.
Years ago as Director of a church’s women’s ministry, I planned an event focused on materialism. Our format involved my sharing some scriptures and thoughts followed by discussion at tables with guided questions. A few days out I found myself thinking that I needed to shop for something to wear to the event. With horror, it hit me that I would be violating the very principles I hoped to encourage in Christ-followers. (And I did confess to the group.)
I so need to grow in simplicity, not because minimalism is popular or because I like the look of homes less cluttered, but because I’m attached to things. I don’t want to give away what I love. But I want to grow in unselfishness and generosity by finding ways to give more stuff, more support, more of myself to others than ever before. To be like Christ.
(1) Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us (Downers Grove: IVP Books) 75.