The internet is a funny place. More often than not, blogs and sites like this are filled with experts, or at least people who think they are experts, dolling out advice on how to fix your problems. Often the impression that is give in that the person writing the post has it all together, all figured out, all worked out, and from an abundance of kindness has decided to let you in on some of the secrets.
Not this post!
Or this series of posts I should say. I’ve been experimenting with something called Minimalism lately, and before I get in to how I found it and what I’ve changed in my life, I think we should make it very clear from the outset that I am in no way an expert at minimalism. I still fall into a lot of the traps of a consumer driven society, and more frequently than I would like. I am going to stumble, fall, and screw this up. But knowing me and my writing style, that will be both instructive and hilarious, so you’re getting some pretty serious bang for your buck!
I first got tuned in to the idea of minimalism by learning of a couple of guys who call themselves (creatively) the minimalists. They were on Rob Bell’s podcast, and everything they were saying was hitting all the right notes for me. They spoke about how driven we are to buy, use, and throw away in our culture, and how bad that is not just for the environment, but also for us as humans. It turns out that they have their own podcast, and a movie called (creatively) Minimalism. It’s on Netflix, if you want to check it out.
And all of that really hit the right notes for me. As Ryan and Josh kept talking about how we were buying buying buying and not getting anywhere, I realized more and more and more they were describing the lifestyle that I wanted to lead, but I just wasn’t leading that lifestyle. This video by Matt D’Avella (who produced the Minimalism documentary) summarizes this well:
But as much as I want to fight the urge, and have since I was a teenager, I did live the lie that having more stuff would make me happier. I lived it so much that our house was just constantly a mess, stuff that we never used piling up in our guest room, our basement, and pretty much every where else that we didn’t live in on a daily basis. It was ugly. A change needed to come.
So I started some place that felt pretty easy for me. The idea came to me when I was traveling in Vietnam last spring. For the entire trip I tried to only take one backpack worth of stuff. So I had 3 or 4 button up shirts, 3 or 4 black undershirts, and two pairs of pants. I also kept a full compliment of socks and underwear, lest you think me some kind of gross person. All of that fit pretty handily into my travel backpack, and with a few trips to the laundry service included, I was able to go a full two weeks with just that. On the plane on the way home, I thought “Why can’t I just live like that all the time?”
So I started to work out of my closet to get rid of just about everything I owned. I had a handful of black or grey t-shirts, a few pair of jeans, and some dress shirts for when I had to be a bit fancier at work. I tried to get down to as small a wardrobe as I possibly could and still be presentable. What was remarkable the whole way through was how many pieces of clothing I would hold in my hand and say to myself “Wow. I don’t really like this.” Why was I holding on to so many pieces of clothing that I don’t really like? I packed everything I was thinking about giving away into a box, and put the box in an out of the way place in the basement. My plan was to not give everything away right away, in case I changed my mind. I would hold on to stuff for three months, and if the minimalist thing stuck I would donate all my old clothes to charity.
(On that note: I read somewhere that minimalism is something that only wealthy people can afford to do, because if we change our mind, we have the means to just go out and buy more stuff. I totally recommend the three month waiting period for just about any of this, because we’d actually be farther behind to buy everything twice than we would be to just be happy with what we have.)
That was in summer. I am realizing that even though I haven’t gone out to purchase any clothing since then, things keep piling up anyway. The number of free t-shirts you get as a youth pastor is almost embarrassing. So this requires a bit of maintenance. But the benefits are wild! For one thing, as someone who never really knows how to dress, this is super easy. Everything goes with everything, so just walk over to the closet and pull out whatever’s closest, and you’ll be in pretty good shape. Though I’m still a slob, my room has been cluttering up less and less, because there are fewer and fewer things that can clutter it up. And there’s this hard to explain benefit, the best way I can put it is that I just feel, lighter. Like the burden was actually lifted from my shoulders a bit.
That said, the wardrobe was a good place to start, but there are other places in my life that could use a minimalist flair. So while this is the first experiment I’ve done and feel pretty good about, there are more to come, including minimizing our entertainment, our diet, and some other specific places. I invite you to join me every week for a deep dive on this, as I try (and likely fail) and then try again to be a minimalist.