My Road to Minimalism

The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need. Psalm 23:1

 

I know that not every person who calls himself a minimalist also identifies himself as Christian. I don’t believe that in order to be a Christian a person must also be a minimalist.  I want to be very clear about those two things before we go further today.  Throughout the month I have shared mostly how-to’s and observations about minimalism that could be applied to most people in most life situations.  Today, I am sharing the more personal story of how my faith and minimalism are bound together.

As I mentioned earlier this month, we came to Georgia from Florida unexpectedly.  This move is what finally spurred us down the road to minimalism.  But even before that, we made two decisions that would forever change the way we handled money and possessions.  In the spring of 1998, I became pregnant with my second child. My oldest child was two months old.  We joke now that we prayed for God to make it possible for me to stay home one day,  but we didn’t enunciate and God thought we said MONday. At the time I was a high school teacher. We crunched the numbers a thousand ways, but there was no way to arrange them that made returning to work after the birth of our second child a wise financial option. Honestly, I never wanted to return to work after our first child was born, so I was ecstatic that the math only proved what I already knew: it was time to come home.  Our family of four soon grew to a family of five living on one income.  We lived more simply than many we knew, but we still hung on to the American ideal, and lived well beyond our means.  Leaving the workforce was a step, but a tiny one, and we still had far to go.

About three years after the birth of our youngest daughter, my Hunky made the decision to leave his position as head athletic trainer at the same high school I left three years earlier.  That year we entered ministry for better and for worse.  We were part of a very mission minded congregation, which slowly began to change our thinking.  Over our six years there, we began to look at the world and our place in it quite differently.  However we still tried to reconcile what we knew of a world in need with what we wanted from the American Dream.  We overextended in buying our first home while attempting to live generously in other ways.  I certainly don’t think it is wrong to own a home, but I know for us, it was not one of our wisest choices.  Yet, I believe it was all part of God’s plan to teach us what lifestyle He intended for us.  I do not regret the time we spent in that house, in fact I have many wonderful memories of our time there and even today would love to live in a smaller space as that house was.

When it was time for us to leave Florida, the decision was sudden and shocking. We had not prepared for a drastic life change nor had we expected to leave the state. Our little house which we bought at the very top of the real estate bubble was next to impossible to sell from the market basement, add some catastrophic flooding to the area three months prior, and we were stuck.  The house foreclosed and the financial consequences were beyond our ability to absorb.  From a cultural standpoint, we were ruined. From God’s viewpoint, we were finally ready to get started.  When you’re standing in the rubble of a life, about the only thing you can do is reevaluate everything.  You know there is going to be rebuilding, but it’s time to decide if the same blueprint is what you want any more.  For us, it wasn’t, and it still isn’t.  As we packed…and packed….and packed….and packed our possessions in preparation to move, I began to question the contents of every box.  As we considered places to live from the viewpoint of everything being temporary, we found our needs had drastically changed.  The family that came to Georgia four years ago, bears little resemblance to the family that resides here today.  Every thing we thought we wanted, every marker of success, every physical possession we have retained has been through a refining fire.  We have new eyes and new hearts to go with our new lives.

We lost everything, but it wasn’t until we willingly let it go that we were truly free.
We have gone from financial devastation to being more fiscally stable than we have ever been.
We no longer view possessions with permanence but place our priorities in eternal pursuits.
We’re living more prosperously with less than when we let culture define prosperity for us.
The road to get here is one I would never have embarked on voluntarily, but I am grateful to have been set on it all the same.

Some days are like that, even for a Minimalist

This morning I experienced my first minimalist fail in two years: I threw away our extra coffee pot. I don’t know when I did it, though I know it was sometime during the moving process. I don’t know why I did it, possibly some form of moving delusion or purging euphoria. What I do know is that I wanted coffee and thirty seconds prior to discovering my purging error, the bottom cracked out of what I now know to be the only coffee pot in the house. . Fortunately I had not disposed of the camping coffee cups my brother purchased for us the year four hurricanes marched through Florida and we went weeks without power. Eventually, a lovely friend came to the rescue with a spare coffee pot, the result of a very recent marriage and the joining of two households.

Then my power when out.
Then my internet went out once the power came back on.

I looked outside to see if the sun had turned red or a black hole was forming but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Oh, and right now, I’m blogging from my phone.

Normally I would simply grab my things and head to Starbucks for a few minutes of wi-fi and maybe a bagel. Instead I’ll be taking my daughter to chemistry lab in a few moments. After which my mom is arriving from Tennessee.  This is why going to Starbucks is out.

It also means that once again, I am delaying the “kids stuff” post. But I do have a few observations in the midst of my first world crisis. Often times we, yes even me, hold on to things “just in case.” It’s why I kept a spare coffee pot for two years.  But there comes a tipping point in our lives where we have to decide if we are to continue to rely on the accumulation of stuff and money as wards against just in case, to keep life constantly convenient, or are we going to stop grasping so tightly to everything but the one thing that will keep us from drowning?  Let it go. We cannot be prepared for every blip, bump and eventuality. We sure can’t guard against real catastrophe with stuff and money.  When chaos strikes, and it will, it won’t be our stuff that saves us. It is entirely possible we won’t be saved at all but will have to walk right through the fire from beginning to end. When that happens, it will be what we’ve gained  in the letting go that carries us: the relationships, the family, the friends that have taken root and flourished in the open spaces of our lives.  We weren’t meant to get through life on our own, but we keep building these imaginary castles of self sufficiency on foundations of a greedy American dream at the expense of the people who are simply waiting for us to need…something.

I’m not at all saying that today was a catastrophe. It has been particularly frustrating.  Take it from me, home school becomes exponentially challenging when there is no power on a heavy technology day.  Frustration, catastrophe, these things happen no matter how many coffee pots we store in the closets.   But had I only needed to reach for a spare, I would have missed out on the pleasure of allowing someone to touch my life in the simplest of ways.   I’m glad I threw my old junk away after all.

***Edited to add: after I typed this with my thumbs on my phone, I couldn’t get it to post no matter what I did.  It took the Hunky man coming home and unsnarling all the technology to finally be able to say anything at all.

The Imperfect Minimalist

Why am I blogging about minimalism? Find out HERE


PicMonkey Collage a
I’ve talked a great deal this week about the reasons to clean out, pare down and dispose of our belongings. Today I wanted to share the things that I haven’t and don’t plan to dispose any time soon. Yes, I am absolutely a minimalist, but I do still have things I love. Today I am sharing the not-so-minimal areas of my home.

Starting at the top left and moving clockwise:

1. Hunky and I share one desk which means I have to be a little bit creative. Also, I have a bit of a pen and sharpie addiction. The shadow boxes and baskets hold some of my treasures, my pens, a few gifts from friends, and those odd papers that don’t fit anywhere but that you absolutely cannot throw away.  I do know what is there and where to find it, but it’s not a spartan desk top by any means.

2.  The Christmas shelf. A few years ago I decided not to put much effort into seasonal decorating anymore. In fact, other than the tree, stockings and ornaments, we don’t do really do any Christmas decorating,  though we all love Christmas. Enter, the Christmas shelf. The set of carolers and my tins, which say “Peace”,  “Joy”, and “Love” are some of my very favorite things, even when it isn’t Christmas.  I have them sitting in my kitchen window where I work every day, and where I enjoy them every day.  Even in June.

3.  This is my bedside ‘table’  It isn’t actually a table; it’s an antique crate (pictured) set atop two yarn bins (not pictured). On it you can see my stack of library books and my chapstick. I will always have chapstick by the bed. In it are various books I reference frequently, my kindle charger, some lotion for my rough ole’ runner feet, a book light and a flashlight.  I do use all the items all the time.  But it certainly doesn’t look minimal, and I love it.

4.  The picture wall. We’ve had these in our last four homes. We change the photos once a year to more recent shots to be displayed where everyone can see. It’s the happiest place in my home. I don’t ever plan to be with out it.

So there you have it. Being minimalist means making room for the things that work most effectively for me, not getting rid of things simply to do without.  I’ve shared with you a few things that work perfectly in my own home, but that seemingly defy what many would call minimalist.

31 days

10 Reasons You can’t be a Minimalist Pt. 1

I haven’t been a minimalist for very long, but I have heard a lot of reasons why people can’t be minimalists themselves. The funny thing is I’m not asking anyone to change how they live.  Yet it seems the knee jerk reaction to a going-against-the-grain life style is a defensive position.  I don’t think non-minimalists are evil hoarders intent on undoing the world. I do think that at the very least, we could all benefit from examining why we live the style of life we live. This goes for everyone. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Minimalism is my way of examining my life, continually.  You don’t have to be a minimalist to do so, but I do want to help dispel some of the lies telling us, “you can’t.”  We’re going to tackle this in three parts so it isn’t overwhelming.

1) I don’t have time to be a minimalist.
This is one that I actually agree with at the outset. Time is our most valuable commodity and it’s being used by the minute and the hour, day after day.  All of us struggle to find time for the many things demanded of us.  I’ve been actively pursuing this lifestyle for two years now, and I am still making loaded trips to the thrift store with our stuff.  If you want to start minimizing, all you need is 5 minutes and a place to start: a drawer, a room, a closet, a junk box. No one is timing you; it isn’t a contest. Set aside five minutes a day and work on that space for all of the five minutes. Today…tomorrow…the next day, until it’s done. Then pick the next space and do it again.  If you can do more than five minutes, awesome! If you miss a day or three, who cares? Start where you were and keep moving forward. The key is to not let things re-gather in the space after you have finished.  So what if it takes you a month to do two kitchen drawers?  You still managed two kitchen drawers! The further you go, the more time you have because you won’t be constantly spinning trying to find where you left something or figuring out where this thing goes, or tripping over things in the corners.  Pick a spot. Set a timer. Go for five. We all have five minutes.

2) I don’t know where to start
This excuse pairs well with number one so I won’t reiterate everything. There is no template here, no right place to start. Find an area that is manageable and preferably one that yields fast results. The faster you finish the first task, the more likely you are to start a second. Get started.  I have a few cautions. Do only one area at a time. When we start more than one project, we generally create more chaos and are less inclined to finish. One area, any area, as much as you can each day for as long as it takes. You’re practically an expert already! Be sure you have a place for trash and a box for things you plan to give away or sell. This way you aren’t making more piles as you go.

3) My husband/ wife/ significant other/ parents/ dog/ goldfish is a pack rat
This is not an excuse because being a minimalist is only about you. Yours is the life you are examining, not anyone else. No one around you has to change, only you. You go through your things, your clothes, your desk, your toiletries.  We all have areas that are exclusively our own, more even than we realize. Begin with your things.  It’s very likely that after some time, whoever you share your space with is going to start changing as well.  My own husband recently did a major overhaul on his wardrobe before we moved last summer. I didn’t have to nag or make barbed comments.  Change is a gradual process, and people have to want it for themselves before they will join you.  If you want change, then begin changing you. Don’t let what others won’t do be the roadblock in your journey.

4) I have kids
This may be the most common and most disturbing argument.  When we moved from one state to another four years ago, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the amount of stuff my children had accumulated in eleven years of existence.  There were enough clothes for a village, enough toys for a nursery school and enough trash to cause me concern for the future of our environment. Most kids today are absolutely glutted with stuff.  We throw them birthday parties with forty friends and every single child brings a gift. We want each Christmas to be bigger and more wonderful than the last. They are bombarded constantly through the media with the message that they must have the latest, greatest, biggest, best, newest of everything.  It’s no wonder they can’t even keep their room clean, they don’t know where to start either! Your children don’t know it, and they will fight against it, but what they need more than anything in this world is for us to help unburden them from this load piled upon them, help teach them appreciation for what they have, and how to focus on what really matters.  Later in the month I will devote an entire post sharing how we’ve managed minimalism with our own three teen-age girls.  I truly believe that we continue to do our children an enormous disservice if we allow them to be the reason we won’t minimize.

Part 2: HERE
Part 3: HERE

31 days

Fit

I’ve been reading a lot lately about introverts. I think we’re the newest trend. We like to talk about how we’re misunderstood, made to be uncomfortable, forced to live in ways that don’t fit us. This isn’t me pointing fingers, I’m as guilty as the next introvert.  I love the articles that explain why we act, and react (or hide in the corner) the way we do. I love having parts of my brain defined in real words that people might understand.

Because it means I might fit in, be understood, matter.

I think that’s what we’re all looking for, to a greater or lesser degree. We want to feel heard, and understood. We want to have all our prickly parts, and worn parts, and scars and warts and bruises to be seen to be told, “That’s not so bad. I can still love you.”  We’re all looking for that place that we fit in without being afraid that we’ll be judged for our differences.

For a long time I’ve felt like a fringe girl. I don’t really fit in with this group or that group. Some groups I don’t even really want to fit in with, but I do still want those groups to look at me and think I’m cool.  Admit it, you feel this way too. We may be far removed from high school, but all that means is we’ve learned to be more subtle in our social jostling. We’re not so different from that awkward teen just wanting to be part of whatever group we identify with most.

I’m finding for me lately, that maybe fitting isn’t so much about everyone agreeing with or even liking every thing about me, or vice versa, but more about me being able to embrace people for their uniqueness and value them as a soul, not as cardboard cut-outs of my own way of thinking.  No, I’m not going to be completely comfortable all the time, lets face it, as an introvert, not even most of the time, but sometimes learning another person’s story isn’t about my comfort. Sometimes it’s about me caring enough to stay uncomfortable until the end and then say, “I can still love  you.” Not because we agree, or think alike or live alike, but because fitting in is more about all of us floating around in a great big pool together, some times brushing up against each other and occasionally being drowned in a giant cannon ball, then it is about finding the one puzzle piece whose edges exactly fit my own.

Curses

I made a promise to myself while I was at the beach.

I promised that I wasn’t going to call myself “the girl who got kicked out of church” anymore.  I wasn’t going to keep talking about it. I didn’t want to be that person any longer.

So, of course, here I am writing about it.

 I realize now, finally,  that “the girl who got kicked out of church” ceased to exist the moment that curse was spoken.  Every day and every week and every year since then has been a process of discovering who I was created to be, not what the curse spoke of me.  My life is a precious vase shattered in a gravel pit; it takes awhile to sort the real pieces of me from the stones, and longer still to fit them back together.

A few weeks ago, John Trent held a conference at the church community we are part of now where he spoke of blessings and curses. He referenced this verse:

I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. Duet. 30:19

He also provided the following definitions:
Life/ Blessing – A movement towards someone, to add ( like coins on a scale)
Death/ Curse – to send away; to isolate. To subtract.  To dam up (like a stream)

That was when pieces began sliding into place for me. The first curses mentioned in scripture are in Genesis and they both are enacted by eviction. Adam and Eve are forced to leave the garden.  Cain is forced from his home into the world.  Until this month, it never occurred to me relate that to my own experiences. I never truly understood the power of a curse or that I was under one even though I’ve spent a great deal of time beating my own self up for continuing to carry that curse around.

But then I looked a little deeper at the power of curses and I saw that many of them lasted not days or months or years but  generations.  I don’t want to be that girl either, but at least I can have a little self-grace about the healing process after only a few years.

What’s really important, though,  is what comes  next.

CHOOSE life

There’s a way out from under the curse, and I can choose  it.
I can choose not to be afraid of my words. Choose not to expect to be judged harshly and cast out. Choose not to pass fear and guilt and suspicion on to my children. I can choose to live openly without my guard up all the time. I can choose freedom from imaginary expectations. I can choose to trust what comes from within me and share it with others, and even if it does come back and hurt me again, I can choose to believe that I will survive that too. I can choose to not just say, but really trust that all things work together for good.

But choosing means I have to stop waiting and start BEING. Healing isn’t just going to fall on me and continue to fall on me, I have to actively choose it, and then, I have to live it.

Living it means doing some things that, quite frankly, scare the absolute pants right off of me.
I can’t keep avoiding those things. It’s locked me in a cage that’s shrinking and I can’t keep battering myself to death against the bars.

So
Here goes something.
Again.

And NOW I am done talking about it.

Rewrite

When I change blogs, which I have seemed to do every 3-4 years; I’m hoping to keep this one a good long time, it’s usually because I feel that I have rounded a corner in my life, that some great milestone has been reached. I’ll be the first person to say that there are more than a few rough edges to my personality, and that I have made more than a lifetime’s worth of mistakes in relating to other people and to the world, which is unfortunate since I still have at least half a lifetime to go.  I’ve had a lot of practice in having the last word, being right, driving people away and shutting people out. I’m not proud of that, but I can’t talk about what I want to talk about without admitting that I can be and have been a jerk, and I know it. I’ve hurt others and I’ve hurt myself in being that, and I know it.

I’ve spent the better part of two years working very hard to change these things. It’s slow, and I relapse. It’s hard to unlearn a life time of behavior patterns.  When I get tired or stressed or taken by surprise that ugly me can lash out razor sharp and lightning fast still.

But.  BUT, slowly, painfully, little by little, God is wearing those rough edges smooth.  When I go slowly and listen closely to Him, that need to be right, to be heard, to be important fades a little and my rightful position and response  is easier to find. And love, unconditional love, surprises me sometimes where I expected to find anger, or hurt or a sarcastic quip.  I’d love to say that I’m a completely new person, totally changed, but it’s more honest to say I am changing.  I am working and being remade. It’s sometimes so slow and barely noticeable except that I can feel it, feel my heart is different and pray, pray, pray that my words and actions line up with that feeling.

Sometimes I get frustrated because I have colored the past with my choices, both good and bad, and being a fairly bold person, those colors I have painted with are equally bold. It is hard to cover them over with new, gentler colors. It’s hard for people to see me as I am hopefully becoming rather than as who I was. Nothing prickles more than when someone says, “I know you would never…, I know you think… I know you…” when what they are saying is in fact true of me then, but not so much me, now. You did know me, but that me, she’s gone her way, and I am becoming someone different now.

Even this frustration has its lessons to teach me about assuming and the grace to offer and be given a second chance (or a third, or fourth or fifth), about listening and seeing with present eyes, not through lenses of the past, about redemption and purpose and finding ourselves, or more importantly being found by God.

I believe we all have a life to write, but as a writer, I also believe we have the power to rewrite some of the story. Whether or not anyone chooses to read it is up to them, but it doesn’t mean that you haven’t made changes, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the changes He is making aren’t even more significant.