I have been thinking a lot about minimalism lately. Partly because I watched this documentary about it on Netflix, partly because I read this article about a woman who didn't buy anything for a year, partly because I have been reading about the Desert Fathers and Orthodox Christianity and lastly because...well...wasn't Jesus a minimalist? And didn't he ask us to be minimalist too? Still trying to work this out this last one.
I know for a lot of people the term minimalism brings about ideas of living with 100 things or having to give up every possession you hold dear to you. But I have found that there are at least some minimalist bloggers who are talking about something very different than living without anything or extremely little to your name. Joshua Beck calls it "Rational Minimalism" which he describes as "the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it." In other words, only owning your favorite things. That's a least the basis behind the 3/33 challenge, where for 3 months you can only wear 33 items of clothing and accessories (there are some exceptions, like underwear; for more info follow the link). And if you only own your favorite things then maybe you have freed up more...time? space? money? A head that's not chocka?
Perhaps this speaks to you, and perhaps not: but as I went through my wardrobe here in Liverpool, even I found a few items that could go. And this despite having only brought two suitcases worth of stuff with me. I also stumbled across this quote from St. Basil while I was looking for inspiration for Lent this year:
“When someone strips a man of his clothes, we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not – should he not be given the same name? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute.”
And because I was already thinking about minimalism and excessive consumption, a quote from a Doctor of the Church condemning the over-consumption and storing up of clothes, food, & money helped push me over the edge of my unease about riding myself of excess. So I have decided to first give up eating out for Lent. (I'll admit I have already slid a little on this one because our new roommate had moved in. Emily and I thought it was a hospitable and welcoming thing to go out for new roommate dinner and a movie.) But I have also been slowly going through some of my belongings in the house and asking some questions
1 How does it bring glory to God in my life?
2 What is its utility?
3 Is there something I already own that serves this purpose?
4 Is this one my favorite?
5 Does it bring me joy?
An example for you: I packed 4 beanie style hats with me to Liverpool because I assumed, and rightly so, that England is more consistently cold than Texas and Oklahoma. The problem is I only wear one. My favorite one. I even put off washing it till I am sure I have enough time to dry it before I need to wear it again. The only time I have touched the other three is to move them because they're in the way of something I am trying to get to. I am afraid I might be a thief.
Now I think it has to be said that there is an enormous privilege in choosing to consume less in our current culture. Many people do not get to choose to own very many if any of their favorite things. It could also be said that those who are able to have a duty and an obligation to consume more, for by doing so they provide jobs to others who would not otherwise have them. I am reluctant to believe this is true because it feels like trickle down economics to me. I do not see many people in my communities earning a living wage because of excessive consumption practices. Instead, I see a lot of human toil for little money in my country, excessive human and wage exploitation in other countries, and huge environmental impacts across the globe all to provide cheap goods to an insulated public.
Some of us do not have a choice in where or what we can consume but for those of us who do I think it is time to reevaluate what and how much we truly need. Are you a thief? I am willing to say I might be.