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.
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.
One 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.
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.