Monday, March 25, 2013

Minimalism


I have been following a lot of blogs lately that are "minimalist" blogs. It's quite fun and quite inspiring. But what I loved best was the blog I stumbled upon from a gal who previously wrote a minimalism blog and now writes a blog just about life--because she realized that there is good to comfort just as there is to sparsity, and she has decided to appreciate and enjoy both.

By nature I fall pretty heavily on the ascetic side of people. I have always been strictly organized. As a child, my mother always had "ten minute tidy" before bed, but it was a rough tidy, meant to get things off the floor and as close to their rightful places as possible. When I didn't get to organize things perfectly, I would wait until my parents had put me to bed and I could hear them talking in the kitchen or living room; then I would creep out of bed and finish tidying. I couldn't sleep unless the room was clean.

Likewise, spring cleaning is something I do every few months. I go through things as I see them, but I also go through big clean-outs where I do a massive overhaul of all my stuff.

But I have learned that frugality can balance sparsity nicely by keeping a few things. I've learned what things often come in handy to save, and I have designated spots for those items. Sometimes I'm not sure, and a potentially useful object will avoid my donation piles for six months or so until I've made sure that it isn't going to come in handy. With clothes, I try to wait through one or two seasons of the item (i.e. one or two summers for tank-tops and shorts) to make sure I don't use them. Though usually I'm on the tailing edge of fashion, I occasionally obtain an item that comes INTO style. It's always a pity when I've already gotten rid of it.

But I've also learned to balance frugality and asceticism with enjoyment. I would almost call it a Sabbath attitude. God gave us a day of rest in order to enjoy the fruits of our labor and praise God for all that he has made. There is so much good to enjoy in the world. Sometimes it's worth it to skip going to the thrift stores and go to a real store and buy a completely new pair of pants, or swiffer mop, or desired book. If you spend wisely, it can be an investment in something that will last longer and will bring you more enjoyment than half-assing it with a used item. In fact, you can end up having *more* stuff in your life if you're always getting things you only kind of like or which you bought second-hand and so can only fill one function. Maybe it's worth it to invest in that really cool blender that has twelve food-processing settings that you know you'll use and has good reviews about lasting a while.

But why all this fuss about balancing frugality, asceticism, and enjoyment?

The frugality is because we don't have a ton of money, duh. But that's actually not the whole story. I also believe in saving money where possible in order to put it to good use elsewhere. I like the idea of, for instance, saving money aside for our future kids, having a fund of money that we always have on hand to help someone who is in need, and putting aside money to dedicate to causes like that of Courage Worldwide and Heifer International. We think it's a better use of our money to do that rather than have awesome stuff--and you feel better about it, too. Enjoyment isn't just about WHAT you spend the money on; it's about WHO you spend the money on.

Asceticism may have a lot to do with my personality; but I have ethical grounds for that too. I want to help save the environment, and I also want to stop supporting slavery with my dollars. When I reuse things, do without (there are so many things that one doesn't really need), or buy from thrift stores, it means we're not putting our financial vote towards the supply chains that somewhere along the line almost certainly violate the earth and/or have people working for nothing. Slavery and the environment are pressing issues. They are important. I think as humans we are called to action, and as Christians we are called to action. That's a double reason to live minimally.

And lastly, enjoyment. Believe it or not, I think there are good grounds for living, yes frugally and sparsely, but also with the ability to "splurge" here and there and be able to spoil oneself. Firstly, it teaches you wisdom in knowing what you truly want; if you have to pick one thing to spend money on, it really helps you prioritize. It also teaches you wisdom in your spending, because if you're trying to balance quality against frugality, you have to do a lot of research to do so responsibly.

Secondly, a person who knows how to break out and have fun is able to help others and have fun with them as well. People who stick to regimented budgets that take fun completely off the table are not the sort of people you want to be around. They often desperately wish they could have fun, and feel trapped; but they have morally justified their tight-fistedness and use pride to shield themselves from jealousy and the pain of feeling left-out and unloved (even when it's they themselves who have keep themselves from participating in community-building events). When we go out and have some fun every now and then--buying a new book, going out dancing with friends, what have you--we learn to be more generous, more kind, and more happy to be around.

And that is the other important thing: you can go out with your minimalist lifestyle, your "Reduce--Reuse--Recycle!" signs all you want, but eventually you have to ask yourselves what kind of a life your are saving the planet for. So you're helping free people from slavery--to what? So they can live on practically nothing and have no fun--just like they did when enslaved? And why are you saving the earth? So that your children can live in the dirt and not know how to type on a computer? We need to stay relevant to our day and age so that we can keep these movement relevant. We save the earth so that it can be used responsibly, so that we can enjoy our technological resources without fear of running out of something or being dependent on our enemies. We cordon off sections of wild nature so that we can go in and study it, or hike in and camp, experiencing the natural world in all its beautiful, God-glorifying strength. We work to rescue people from bondage so that they can work at a job they love and earn a living so that they can enjoy life and the fruits of their labors.

Learn to enjoy yourself. And learn to enjoy minimalism. There is so much to enjoy in a life of simplicity. It's hard to make a mess when there's not as much stuff to make a mess with. It's hard to lose something when there's not many places to lose it. And it's easy to replace lost items when you don't have much stuff to begin with. It helps us love our stuff less and love people more. It helps us spend less time cleaning, searching, filing, touching, sifting, looking at, perusing, listing, coveting, grooming, fixing, framing, and watching useless stuff so we can spend time working on what matters.

It can be fun. It can be simple. It can help save lives, save the planet, and save you money. Yes, there are more complicated aspects to the three-way balance of cheapism, minimalism, and Sabbath-ism. For instance, do you buy the locally grown food that's environmentally better or the supermarket food that's cheaper? These might just need to be left up to your choice and a careful examination of heart and checkbook. But this lifestyle is rewarding and I encourage anyone to try it.

More posts are most definitely forthcoming about the details of how I do it and more ideas on what minimalism can look like. For now, I leave you this Passion week challenge: consider attempting one of these three things, according to your lifestyle.
1) Try simplifying: down-size what you have (maybe start with one room in your home).
2) Try saving money/people/ecosystems on your next commodity purchase and try the local resale shops first.
3) If you're good at the other two and, like me, have had more trouble with enjoying yourself, try breaking out of your mental trap and doing something small you've always wanted to do but haven't for money reasons. Don't count the cost, just do it.

Have fun!