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February 24, 2017

Written by: Cari Phillips

"If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world." - C.S. Lewis

        Minimalism is often a topic of discussion with those who love the outdoors. It seems that so many of us are drawn to this kind of living. It is in this type of existence where we can downsize our lives, live off the land, travel the country in a camper van, or live out of a pack for weeks at a time. This sense of adventure seems to give us purpose, peace, and a sense of satisfaction. But how much validity can be found in this cultural movement?

        Minimalism: A Documentary about the Important Things is the #1 indie documentary of 2016 (largest box-office opening) and is becoming increasingly popular on Netflix. It caught my attention after three different friends in three separate cities encouraged me to watch it. After repeatedly hearing great reviews, I decided to give it a chance. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to view the trailer.

        The documentary highlights the problem of materialism in America today and examines what it looks like to be a minimalist, to intentionally live without excess. The film follows several minimalists from all different walks of life but mostly focuses on the story of best friends Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus as they travel the U.S. sharing their message on minimalism and promoting their book Everything that Remains. These two inspirational speakers tell of their transition from being corporate ladder climbers with well-paying jobs and large houses to world travelers who eliminate the items in their lives that do not bring them a high sense of value. Millburn explains, “Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can make room for life’s most important things—which actually aren’t things at all.” The idea of minimalism is to evaluate your daily life and minimize the inessential, tangible items in order to maximize the time, energy, and money you have to spend on the essential, intangible aspects of your life.

        It’s no secret that Americans have a problem with materialism. As easy as it is to say that money won’t buy us happiness, many of us are living as though it will. As consumers, we gravitate towards anything advertisers can offer us.  We feel unsatisfied unless we have the newest, most updated electronics, clothes, phones, furniture, appliances, and other meaningless stuff. And deep down we all know that these items will never truly satisfy our craving for more. The iPhone 7 is only desirable until Apple comes out with the iPhone 8. Most of us can agree that our quest for happiness and fulfillment will never be satisfied through consumerism.

        So where can we find our happiness? According to The Minimalists, “Happiness, as far as we’re concerned, is achieved through living a meaningful life— a life filled with passion and freedom in which we grow as individuals and contribute beyond ourselves. Growth and contribution: those are the bedrocks of happiness. Not stuff.” It seems as if the Minimalists have correctly identified a growing problem in our society. However, they may have missed the mark with their solution. Don’t get me wrong; minimalism is a great concept to live by, but if we become minimalists in a quest to find happiness, it will lead us astray almost as quickly, deceivingly, and dangerously as materialism has. Getting rid of all our excess stuff will not bring true freedom; it will bring a temporary sense of freedom until we remember this: life is hard. When trials come at us, we can’t rely on a single suitcase full of essentials any more than we could rely on a three-car garage full of boxes. The quantity and quality of stuff have nothing to do with our joy because regardless of what we have, we will always have a desire for something else, a longing to fill an empty void.

        Perhaps identifying that you place too much value on stuff is the first step to bringing fulfilling joy into your life. But getting rid of your stuff will still leave you wanting something else in your life to make you feel whole and to give you a sense of purpose.

Yes, right now we probably care too much about our stuff, but at the root of it all, we care too much about ourselves.

        Deciding to walk with Christ daily is the only life-change that will bring the kind of satisfaction, peace, and freedom we are searching for. Maybe you are already a follower of Christ, but you’re still interested in pursuing the lifestyle of minimalism. Great! Minimalism is a brilliant concept as long as we view it in the light of eternity. Getting rid of the things that don’t bring value to our lives is beneficial as long as we remember what does bring value to our lives. Having the time, space, and money to do what we are passionate about will certainly add some meaning to our lives, but how much more value is there if we are using that extra time, space, and money to glorify God and delight in Him?

If you are interested in getting on board with minimalism, Millburn and Nicodemus have some great tips of where to start. However, I’d like to leave you with three thoughts:

  1. What’s your reason for pursuing minimalism? Be mindful of what you are hoping to gain through your minimizing efforts, and be careful that you are not seeking satisfaction or worth in worldly things. Your worth is found in Christ, not in how much (or how little) you own.
  2. How can you use your excess to serve others? If you are minimizing, go the extra mile to find people who can benefit from your clutter. Don’t just get rid of your stuff simply for the sake of downsizing, but give generously as Christ gave, with an attitude of love, not convenience.
  3. How can you use your newfound time, space, and money to glorify God? Part of the documentary highlights spending less money on material things so that we may steward our resources more towards experiences and doing the things we truly enjoy. This sounds like a good idea, but the focus here is still the individual. How can you use that extra cash to do what you love, and more importantly, point people to Christ? 4 Peter 4:10-11 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

The recent trend of minimalism in the United State has the potential to truly revolutionize our standard of living. Yes, right now we probably care too much about our stuff, but at the root of it all, we care too much about ourselves. By putting the focus on serving God by serving others, we can start a revolution of using our resources to eternally maximize our experience on earth.