Minimalism: An Argument for Simplicity

Courtyard, Chelsea Hospital, James McNeill Whistler. 1888, London. Lithograph with stumping; printed on black ink on grayish white chine mounted on white plate paper   ,    13 7/8” × 9 15/16”, print. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Courtyard, Chelsea Hospital, James McNeill Whistler. 1888, London. Lithograph with stumping; printed on black ink on grayish white chine mounted on white plate paper, 13 7/8” × 9 15/16”, print. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From the earliest reaches of my memory I recall the breathless yearning for things. Whatever my little eyes caught sight of at school, at the mall, or on television, I convinced myself I needed because, although I didn’t know it then, the greedy marketing of such future possessions had seeped its way into my child brain. From toys to clothes to books to gadgets, there never seemed to be an end to my shopping list. Whatever was on trend, I lusted after so that I might be on trend, too, thereby upping my chances to make friends. I didn’t have a lot of those in school, but I did have a lot of things at home, and it made me feel less lonely, to sit among my things. That consumerist train of thought didn’t leave me for many years, not until this past year, in fact, when I grew tired of the clutter around me. I wanted to live a simpler life, filled only with what I needed. It shocked me to find out just how much there was I could live without.

I started first with the biggest culprit in my apartment: the closet. From there, I extended my clear-out to the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, and eventually found myself staring at a to-donate-or-sell pile of over 70 percent of my belongings, half of which I’d never truly used and the entirety of which I’d never needed in the first place. It got me thinking about the minimalism movement picking up speed over the last decade, and I began to do my research. What I found was overwhelming evidence of improved productivity, energy, financial success, and overall mental, spiritual, and emotional health when one chooses to adopt a minimalistic approach to life.

The Environmentalist Perspective

  It’s a simple fact that the less you consume, the less waste you’ll produce for the planet to contend with. Aside from purging your belongings, making sure when you do so to donate, recycle, and repurpose when possible, another crucial adjustment to make on behalf of minimizing is watching your spending habits. Where you shop, what you buy, and how much you buy of it can have a critical impact on the environment. If it’s important to you to not only simplify your home, but the way in which you interact with the world, consider alternatives.

      Eco fashion, for example, has been a major topic of discussion among the fashion industry in recent years. Also known as sustainable fashion, the rapidly popularizing design philosophy is rooted in a conscious understanding of human impact and the upholding of social responsibility. It is often seen as the opposite of “fast” fashion, or collections from retailers that are rapidly produced to the public upon their first catwalk appearance. Consumers can do their part to foster eco fashion by prolonging the lifecycle of their clothing, or any possessions, really, thereby reducing the amount of waste. This practice is minimalistic in nature by challenging the consumer to stop subscribing to every trend and instead form frugal consumerist habits that are founded in eco consciousness: buying vintage clothes, redesigning old clothes, shopping from small producers, making clothes or at least buying garments that last longer. In a world that increasingly feeds toxic consumerist habits with endless streams of marketing, choosing to minimize for the sake of the environment is a worthwhile, not to mention important, cause.

The Christian Perspective

        For those like myself who attempt to look at everything through a spectrum of faith, minimalism aligns well with many of Jesus’ teachings about what believers’ priorities should be. In the Sermon on the Mount, arguably the most famous collection of Jesus’ moral teachings, found in the Gospel of Matthew, Christ explains how we should live among material possessions:“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” —Matthew 6:19-21.

        Regardless of your religious affiliations or lack thereof, Jesus argues a prescient point: whatever you invest the most of your energy, money, and time in, you are inevitably investing your heart in as well. What is so unfortunate is the downfall of material objects—the fact they are material. They will at some point break, expire, rust, or will be lost or stolen. And if they manage to endure the gravity of time, they will only ever serve a very nominal purpose in your life, be that to expound your pride or serve as a small convenience you could likely do without.

        Jesus was urging his pupils to instead spend their energy, money, and time, and thereby their hearts, on the works of something greater than themselves: the betterment of others. If our treasures are not material but stored up in our hearts and in the hearts of other’s, they cannot fail us—they don’t break, expire, or fade. Your selfless kindness to a stranger, your forgiving spirit toward a family member who hurt you without apology, your donation to a charity that needs the money more than you need a new winter wardrobe: those acts live on forever.

How To Start Simplifying

        Picture your living space at its core function—filled only with objects you either love or find functional. Marie Kondo is the reigning supreme on decluttering and tidying, and her best advice in my opinion is to handle each item. Go room by room and put all of the contents on the floor in a pile. Then sit down with a cup of coffee and pick up each item one by one. Ask yourself when the last time you wore or used it was, what your immediate feeling about it is. If you’re hesitating, e.g. if your immediate reaction isn’t a passionate “I have to keep this—I love it!” or “I use this every week—it stays!”, then you need to put it in a pile to either donate, recycle, or sell. Repeat this in each room of your home, most especially the closet, and be ruthless.

        The key to long-lasting simplicity is keeping in mind what priorities and dreams occupy your heart. If you love to travel, think of the plane ticket you could buy, the experience you could afford, if you didn’t buy something every time you see a sale. If you love to cook, forgo expensive restaurants and the doggy bags you always bring home and invest instead in your own abilities to make a delectable three-course meal, portioned wisely. If you love people, take the percentage of your income you usually spend on that morning coffee and give it to a charity each month.

        We all have our reasons for acquiring innumerable belongings, and there’s nothing bad, per se, about owning stuff you bought with money you worked hard to earn. But if we don’t start asking ourselves why we feel the need to buy more than we need, we’ll miss out on an opportunity to grow as individuals. Our needs are often far less than we think, and it’s important to be conscious of what we consume. I challenge you, dear reader, to find simplicity in your life, be it from minimizing your belongings or maximizing your awareness of life’s greater offerings.


LivingAlex Meyer2 Comments