May 25, 2015

Fifty Shades of Khaki: Biblical Minimalism

by Clint Archer

I like to pack light, even for extended journeys. And I mean really light: one small carry-on backpack no matter how long the trip or how many climate zones I’ll traverse. My wife calls it oddball asceticism, but I call it biblical minimalism.backpack

My penchant for paring down luggage belies my other, contradictory, tendency: hoarding. My overstuffed closets and erupting junk drawers evoke feelings of buyer’s remorse from innumerable impulse purchases.

The one-bag exercise is a therapeutic routine to remind myself that what I need is exponentially less than what I own.

The average American house contains over 300,000 items. The community of modern minimalists I stumbled upon while researching efficient packing strategies strives to prune its inventory of possessions to three digits at most.

Minimalism is a revenant philosophy that was practiced by Spartans, Stoics, Buddhists, Piper, and our own grandparents who still wash their aluminum foil as a holdover from the imposed frugality of the Great Depression.

This quirky community is not into austerity or deprivation for its own sake. A minimalist may own an expensive possession, but only if adds value to his or her life. It’s more about deliberate and intentional purchases versus the unbridled consumerism of keeping up with the Kardashians and getting an iPhone 6 when the 5 still works.

khakisOne minimalist I read confessed that he owns a $100 pair of jeans (label torn off), but notes that it is his only pair of long pants. I, on the other hand, have a stock of jeans that collectively amounts to more than $100, and yet the only one I consistently wear is my favorite (which, ironically is a second hand pair I was given). I also maintain an array of 50 shades of khaki pants like a washed-out rainbow in my crammed closet.

The media thrives on a following. It likes to tell us what is normal, whether that is a movie trying to normalize deviant sexual behavior, or a commercial inciting a craving for conformity to the latest fashion. Minimalism is a way of opting out of what the mass media dictates, and rather making choices intentionally.


However, as much as I enjoy packing and re-packing my travel bag until it reaches its optimal leanness, I’m not ready for a modern minimalist packing party. This is when you box all your possessions, fastidiously labeled, as if you were about to move home. You then unpack only what you need as you need it. They claim that after three weeks 80% of your putative must-haves and 100% of your just-in-case possessions will remain boxed. I guess you are then supposed to re-gift or donate all your useless stuff to someone who is not a minimalist, and make it their problem.

Without TV or other superfluous gadgets to entertain them, they concoct diversions like the 30 day game, where you give away one item on the first day, two on the second, etc. until your life inventory is 465 items lighter.overpacked

As I was blog-hopping and YouTubing about minimalism there was something resonating in me. I kept sensing that what these people were saying sounded familiar and right. And then it was spelled out for me.

A number of these secular sources pointed out that despite the appearance of voluntary simplicity in many cultures, religions, and philosophies in history, it is Christianity that can be credited with spreading the virtue of simple living throughout Europe and America. I was like, “Wait, what?” I thought secular observers would link Christianity with the craving for prosperity, à la Osteen, Jakes, Meyers, Hinn, and yes, Dollar. But the historically au fait minimalist community recognizes modern TBN-ism as being disloyal to, and in fact incompatible with, biblical Christianity.

Here are some verses that came to mind as I pictured the Apostles hosting a packing party or playing the 30 day game or packing their one bag for their annual trip to Jerusalem with Jesus.

  • Luke 12:15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
  • Luke 12:23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.
  • Luke 12:33-34 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
  • Acts 2:44-5 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
  • 1 Timothy 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
  • Hebrews 10:34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.

I could give you way more than just these, but I wanted to be frugal.

Are there any possessions in your life that you could give or toss away and yet have no sense of lost value? I’d encourage you to try pare down even a tiny bit as a way of putting into action the words we just read. You might find that you acquire a taste for simplicity, like Jesus did.

Please share a comment if you have had an experience where less is more. Just keep your comment length to a minimum.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • pearlbaker

    “Just keep your comment length to a minimum.” 🙂 Humor not lost on me, but then again, I am very reluctant to lose anything! And that is the problem. It was a little jarring to read this post, which was quite timely as just yesterday I had a serious discussion (not a euphemism for argument…this time) with my dear husband about how to approach the wretched excess in our lives, a result of nearly 35 years together, years of gathering things. Honestly, I feel burdened by all the “stuff” even when I am not at home. I do not believe that performing a work of down-sizing our stuff is godly in and of itself, but I do believe that this burning desire to pare down is a result of spiritual growth. I covet the time and money spent on procuring, insuring, cleaning, moving, and just plain thinking about my stuff, much of it unused. I want that time freed up for more time with the Lord. I want to be a better steward of my (His) time and money and I want to make some of what I have acquired but don’t use available to someone else who might need the things I don’t need. I think I will start with the things of which I have more than two. I would have said one, but that would be a problem with my socks. The verse you quoted from Acts 2 has long been one of my ideals for my life…time to make it a reality.

    • If you’re looking for some tips, you might venture to check out It’s a secular resource and they guys on the site sometimes use vocabulary I wouldn’t, but their practical hints are helpful.

    • Froggy

      “The burning desire to pare down is a result of spiritual growth.”–This would be true in my life also. The more my life is full of Him, the less I want or need to be burdened with excess things. (But I do like clothes. :))

      • God made clothes (Gen 3) but He didn’t make a back-up pair!

  • I may try this idea, just for the discipline of it. However, one problem with these ideas is that they are really suited for “rich” people. It’s easy for me to throw away “extra” stuff — I don’t NEED to keep a back-up. But when we focus on these ideas so much, we can (at least, I can) make it another source of division and separation.

    • Wise warning. Hoarding and the emotional burden of overabundance are certainly #firstworldproblems In a sense, it’s embarrassing for Christians to have to deal with this at all!

  • Still Waters

    I naturally am a minimalist. Too much clutter, and I feel distracted and unable to concentrate. I am a very light packer – when people pick me up from an airport or bus/train terminal, their question usually is, “Is that all?” One way to reduce clutter is to live in a small space. All my worldly possessions are contained in a hundred square foot room. Storage space is very limited, so if I get a new clothing item, I get rid of an old one. Lack of funds is another excellent way to prevent accumulation. If you can’t buy it, it won’t clutter your life. The one item I do like to collect are books, but even then, I do so slowly, using the library and to determine if this is a book I want to keep (I have an ereader, but prefer real books for those I really like). Technology is a third great help to reducing clutter. Computers have reduced the need to keep paper files, and that is where I struggle, because my computer files do get a bit unwieldy, not in terms of memory size, but in terms of, “Where did I file that quote?” Photos, recordings, and films are also reduced to a few gigabits of memory. I’m still not sure I like that although it is so convenient. I have no confidence, if this civilization collapses, that silicon chips would be readable to the next. They may conclude that modern Westerners had no arts or written records 🙂

    • Let’s not get too radical here! Books aren’t possessions, their friends.

      • Still Waters

        Oh, good! When you talked about reducing one’s possessions to three figures, I was wondering how many books that would allow one 😀

  • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

    My discipline is that I have allowed myself a limited number of hangers. When they are full, I cannot buy anything else unless I get rid of something. This can be incredibly painful since I have a mild addiction to crocheted shirts and leather fringe jackets often found at thrift stores. :/

    • That’s a good way of keeping track of “stuff-creep” in your closets.

      • Jane McCrory Hildebrand

        Yes it is and don’t call me creep. (Can’t pass up “Airplane” humor) 🙂

  • Michele Binienda

    Stuff has always made me feel ‘secure’ for whatever reason. Now, at 62, almost 63, I don’t want all this stuff – I want more of a simple life. God is slowly showing me why through the years, I always felt the need to buy more stuff. Shopping was (and kind of still is, even if it’s just grocery shopping) my hobby and way of relaxing. Saw in another comment that you recommended and will be looking to that for inspiration/advice. Thanks.

    • Thanks for sharing Michele.

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  • Sharon

    I like John MacArthur’s plan, “I’m always looking for the irreducible minimum. I’m always looking for the simplest way to understand anything and everything. I’m a simple guy. Life for me is not particularly complex” (The Believer’s Ambition).

    • I agree, but I’m pretty sure there’s a simpler way of saying that. Less is more.

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  • Barbara

    I don’t want to break anyone’s spiritual bubble, but the desire to downsize after a”certain” age seems to cross over into lives of unbelievers as well as believers.. but, these last 25 years have been an exercise in down sizing. 22 years ago we moved into 200 sq feet. We lived in each other’s back pocket and begged friend and family not to gift us items. After twelve years we up sized to 720 sq ft WITH a huge attic. It was so very overwhelming! My space is full of little gifts from so many loved ones. How do you downsize that?! Clothing, shoes, gadgets. So, every two years we did a huge clean out..but now we have a big box in the attic designated for the thrift store, it makes things easier that way. When I come across something that’s just not being used in the box it goes. I say “I” because my husband is a saver. Even clothes get a good going over each season. We each have four drawers and one wardrobe.. so we don’t let clothing pile up, and we only shop at retail stores once in a blue moon, my favorite clothes are free from friends and family! This was a fun post. I don’t see my desire to be free from clutter and “stuff” as spiritual, but more of an out cropping of aging and seeing the big picture.. who needs “fill in the blank” when contentment is so much more peaceful. OK. Maybe it is spiritual too! Clint, just finished your book on Hell this morning, made me cry and pray for my loved ones, thanks for writing a good book on a tough subject.

    • Good insight. And thanks for reading my book!

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  • Karl Heitman

    Well, I must be a minimalist because I don’t even know who the Kardashians are and I still have an iPhone 4. Not even the 4S!

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