Like a lot of other people, I spent January 2017 diving deep into the world of minimalism. I watched the documentary, I read the blogs, I listened to the podcasts, I asked if my belongings ‘sparked joy’ and I decluttered.
The movement seems to have had its real moment in the sun. But is it just a fad? Is everyone happily back to buying lots after their brief break from it?
In this first article of a two-part series, I want to explore these questions by asking, ‘is minimalism something that complements a Christian faith? Does it bring obedience and glory to Jesus?’
What Is Minimalism?
Though the movement has many names and the word ‘minimalism’ has many definitions, at its core, minimalism is a lifestyle where people intentionally live with only the things they really need. It makes space for the things we most value and actively removes the distractions – primarily physical clutter, but also packed calendars and financial and personal habits.
What Are We Creating Space For?
If minimalism is defined as an intentional simplification to make space for what we value, then we ought to ask ourselves what it is that we want to honour most. Jesus calls us to a life of humble devotion to loving him by loving others. He modelled this by spending slow and valuable time with his community, showing selfless generosity, praying, advocating for the marginalised, and resting. Our lives are intended to look much the same!
In our own contexts and stages of life, this expression will look different. Perhaps we glorify God as we commit to our studies, soak up time with our kids, or dive into a project that provides joy and purpose. When we fill our lives with clutter, it can be difficult to focus on what we truly value, and ensure we are devoting our lives to Jesus.
Often, we can be tempted to pursue minimalism to make space for self-serving values, only reducing spending to fund more holidays and personal saving goals, only decluttering the calendar to make space for more me-time. But by reflecting and praying on what we value at the beginning and throughout our minimalist journey, we can keep our focus on Jesus in the way we balance our priorities.
Does Minimalism Help Us Follow Jesus?
Jesus teaches that ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ (Luke 12:15) and the author of Hebrews urges us to ‘keep our lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have’ (Hebrews 13:5). A minimalist approach could encourage us to hold onto our wealth and possessions more loosely. It could help us become more obedient to Jesus’ call to depend on him above all things, leading to true contentment and generosity towards others.
As we remove the clutter from our homes, calendars and mental loads, we make space for worship and contemplation, hospitality and fellowship. But this redirection of our focus and capacity requires our effort. By removing distractions, minimalism can highlight the object of our hearts, and we need the Spirit to help us direct this devotion towards Jesus.
For me, trying to adopt a more minimalist approach to my wardrobe has meant letting go of keeping up with the latest trends. As I repeat to myself that I do not need to keep up with the Jones’s each time I am tempted by a new trend, I am reminded that Jesus calls me to be distinct from the world for his glory in far more ways than my wardrobe.
Have We Missed The Mark?
As is our human tendency, it’s possible to take the positives of a minimalist lifestyle, twist it, and take it too far. As our culture strives for more, it’s possible to strive for more of ‘less’–more decluttering, more streamlining, more harsh boundaries–minimalism then becoming more of our identity.
A minimalist life is not the end goal here, a Christlike life is.
Minimalism can also become a kind of idol, or marker of success or failure – ‘Jesus teaches me to turn from materialism to contentment in Him. That means I must declutter more, I must vow to use my clothes until I wear them out completely.’ But Jesus has redeemed us from a life of guilt and ‘not-good-enough’ and brought us into a community of grace and peace. This is good to remember if you notice that you’re beating yourself up for breaking a self-imposed minimalist rule.
We can use the practices and ideas of minimalism as a tool to support our pursuit of Jesus and his kingdom, but we must take care to keep these principles as the means and not the end.