Minimalism. It’s all the rage now…. probably one of the biggest words out there in cyberspace, at least in some circles. There is the KonMari method with a book, and now even a mini-series on how-to, the 40 Days 40 Bags Challenge, and countless articles, videos, blog posts, and opinions out there. There is some goodness to it all, isn’t there? Minimalism can be such a wonderful thing, provided we have some balance to it.
I would say that I have always been a minimalist to a degree. It may have to do with moving a lot (we have lived in 12 houses these 16 years of marriage… this fact I still can’t believe), but it stems back earlier. When I went out to do missionary work in Oregon, I just wanted to take my guitar and a backpack. Seriously. That was it. However, I couldn’t put the rest of my life in storage, so my childhood treasure box came, a box of clothes, and books. Books are the only real thing I have a hard time parting with, as I have this secret dream of one day having a real library, like the one in Beauty and the Beast. So 3 or 4 totes squeezed into my little Ford wagon and off I went. If it weren’t for the books, the car would have been fairly empty and the car much lighter. The struts might not have broken either, come to think of it.
But I think my desire to be a balanced minimalist goes a little deeper. It does have a spiritual component, no? Jesus told us to be “in” this world, but not “of” this world. He told us we “cannot serve both God and mammon.” He also told us to not be attached to the things of this world, as they are passing, but to “store up treasure in Heaven.” Why have attachments to the things of this world? We sure can’t take them to Heaven with us. And when, by God’s grace, we do, we will see clearly that they are such little importance and Heaven is filled with a beauty beyond our imaginations, and being in God’s presence is better than anything we could desire.
And things are just things. The less we are attached to the things of this world, the more we can cling to God. The more we cling to God here on earth, the more ready will be to be forever happy with Him in Heaven.
I know there is a balance to this though. For someone whose love language is gifts, things are special. They bring meaning to that person’s life. That person’s love language might primarily be gifts. I am learning how to balance this concept as some of my children’s love language is in fact gifts… whereas that is not mine. Learning how to understand what they appreciate and why, while also teaching them to balance that love language (i.e. we do not have to save every scrap of paper or schoolwork, but let’s pick some special ones to save in this folder; or these shells and rocks are pretty, but they are overtaking the room – let’s fill this glass jar with your favorites and bring the rest out to a spot in the yard; etc…) Clutter drives me bananas, but their emotions are important too; trying to figure out how to best deal with these situations has been helpful.
Also, being a minimalist doesn’t mean you don’t ever buy anything. I tend to not splurge on things too much, which helps our budget. A friend of mine loves going shopping with me because I help her sort through and end up putting back half of her cart… which her wallet appreciates. Generally, I ask myself if I really need this or that before getting to the register. Do I need another mug, or new socks right now, a purse or wallet, or another shirt that doesn’t fit me perfectly but is on sale, etc…? However, I might go out and decide that picking out a little candle for the coffee table might be a nice splurge, as it will bring some joy during this cold winter season.
As far as minimalism in our house goes, I do like a lightly decorated feel to the home. Now that we are settling into our new home, there is more artwork on the walls, and a little more design I suppose to the way things are set up. But, I still really, really enjoy empty surfaces…. tables, counters, bookshelf tops, desks, etc.. Not having clutter, but maybe just what is absolutely necessary on the surface, and maybe a decoration or two, but not just stuff. It gives it a clean feel and clears the mind, at least for me. I would rather the stack of bills and mail in a container inside the kitchen drawer rather than on the counter. But the counter still needs the coffee pot, the container for the spoons and spatulas, the knife block. It might have a family photo or a little cute knick-knack, but the less the better, for me. If stuff starts to pile up, it is time to go through it. I find it helpful to move everything off the counter and give it a good clean, then only put back what I truly want/need on the counter, and find homes for everything else. It is very easy for the counters to get cluttered with 8 kids running around and the schedule that that reality demands. (I actually just did this… and it felt so good!) Again though, everyone is different. I have another friend who prayer cards/pictures on her kitchen walls and quotes from the saints she finds and writes out taped to her cabinets. These inspire her and keep her focused, and I see great beauty in that. She has inspired me to tape a couple of love notes from one particular child here up by my kitchen window so that I remember what’s important on the hard days.
“Everything has a place, and everything is in its place.” This has been a very helpful attitude, but again with balance. Because moving. Or because babies. Or because sick children. The list goes on. In one year’s time … we lived in 5 houses. And so, I couldn’t honestly go through everything and minimalize. I didn’t have time to throw away or donate the extra clothes or school work, or other things. Sometimes I had to just pack it all up and wait for the time to sort to come. Or those seasons of holding a precious little baby. To me, holding that little one, while still keeping up with the basic needs of the home and family was enough. The counters might be cluttered, but the children are loved. Or the glorious time of toddlers – there is not really a time during the day our house will be in order, as they are constantly discovering and pulling things out and moving on to the next thing. They want to help with the laundry; they discover the tupperware drawer; or we decide to pull out the finger paints when we know there will be a mess. But the wonder we can see when we look in their eyes, and the very best hugs that only a toddler can give, makes it all worth it. And there is the season of teenagers, which I suppose is much like the time of toddlers, but we can hold them more accountable to clean up after themselves. However, we need more actively present time to listen and talk with them. Going out for that milkshake or having a cup of tea on the couch and chatting about life and what’s important to them is more important than dishes in the sink needing cleaning or the laundry needing folding. Because THEY need us.
But, when there is time for me, organizing the house so that “everything has a place” makes our home run smoother. If I can set things up so that everything has a place, and show the children where those places are, then together we can help keep everything “in” its place. Then there is more order, and for me at least, less stress. I can also see that it is less stress for our children too. If they have a certain place to put their shoes and backpack in when they come home from school, then they can put them there. They may have to be reminded, but good habits can form. And then, there is less stress the next morning because they don’t need to search for that missing shoe or backpack, because it is in its place.
And so, those are some beginning thoughts on minimalism. More to come!