This past week Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center hosted an online workshop, “Simplifying Our Lives and Living Spaces,” led by Pastor Becca Ehrlich. Besides writing and teaching about Christian minimalism, Becca genuinely lives it. Her story of choosing simplicity through a variety of practices—e.g., a one-year fast from shopping, reducing her belongings by 60 percent, decreasing her amount of time on TV and social media—is genuinely inspiring.
As I listened to her, I was struck by the paradoxes and promises of simplicity (my word for “Christian minimalism”).
Less is more. When we choose simplicity, we reduce, decrease, minimize, and relinquish our possessions and activities in hopes of increasing our quality of life. Fewer things and less busy-ness give way to greater connection, calm, and joy, and more time and energy for what matters most to us. We enjoy our lives and living spaces. For example, throughout my adulthood, I have lived in a wide range of homes. I have gone from living in a 6000 square foot seminary house to living in a 600 square foot cottage. Suffice it to say that I found the greatest joy in the smaller place, with fewer things, with the people who mattered most to me, and more time to enjoy them all.
Simplicity and abundance go together. Abundant living does not (indeed cannot) come from what we own or consume. It comes from meaningful connections to friends, family, neighbors, and God. It comes from purposeful work, creative expression, and spontaneous play. It includes rest and relaxation and trust that we have enough and, more importantly, we are enough. I think this is the crux of it: trusting that we are enough. Our lives matter and have inherent meaning. We don’t need to accomplish or acquire more in order to be more.
A post on “Contemplative Monk” drives this point home. It reads, in part,
“If you want to do nothing, let yourself do nothing today. Feel the fullness of the emptiness, the vastness of the silence, the sheer life in your unproductive moments. Time does not always need to be filled. You are enough, simply in your being.”Jeff Foster
Simplicity is both gift and task. When we choose simplicity, we recognize that all that we have—time, money, talent, and other resources—is ultimately a gift from above. When we embrace life as a gift, gratitude flows from our hearts. When we recognize that we belong not just to ourselves but also to one another and to God, we exhibit generosity, sharing what we have with others. We also are less likely to become inordinately attached to things. American consumerism presses us to attach and hold on to that which does not really matter. For this reason, we must work at simplicity, little by little, setting aside our attachments to possessions and achievements so that we can enjoy our attachments to that which lasts.
We say ‘no’ in order to say ‘yes’. When we practice simplicity, we might say “no” to buying new things. We might say “no” to clothing in our wardrobe by giving away that which we never wear. We might say “no” to boxes of old items—even some sentimental ones—that do not bring us joy or enrich our lives. We might say “no” to buying certain things for a period of time—jewelry, clothing, household décor, shoes, music, gadgets, tools, and so forth.
But if we focus solely (or even primarily) on saying “no” to habits or possessions, we may start to feel deprived. Simplicity is not about deprivation but rather abundance. For this reason, it’s helpful to place our attention on what we are saying “yes” to. When I say “no” to cluttered spaces, I am saying “yes” to peace, rest, and calm. When I say “no” to particular purchases, I am saying “yes” to care for those in need. When I say “no” to another opportunity to write or preach or teach—now this is getting closer to home—I am saying yes to Sabbath, to time alone with my daughter, to my own wellbeing.
Minimalism is all-encompassing. Christian minimalism, as Ehrlich shares, is not primarily about decluttering, organizing, and minimizing one’s possessions—though that’s all part of it. Christian minimalism—or, simplicity—is a lifestyle rooted in a set of core values. It entails “focusing on what matters most and intentionally removing all else,” bit by bit, from our lives. Consequently, we experience the promises of simplicity by reflecting on these big questions: How do I utilize my time? How do I spend our money? What are my deepest aspirations? What really matters to me? What small step can I take today to live in light of these values?
Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA)