minimalism + a better possession

for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15)

When we moved to our current home, a less-than-1,000 square foot condo, four years ago, we were a family of three. Shortly after the move we became a family of four, and now we're a family of five. We've grown significantly since moving here, and it's worth mentioning that this move was a downsize from our previously larger apartment.

This adding of children in a smaller space again and again has taught me the necessity of being minimal. In everything, we have no choice but to be intentional about having less. We went from two couches and several accent chairs to one (sectional) couch and one chair. We axed the coffee table recently and for the life of me I can't figure out what took me so long. Furniture that doesn't serve a purpose just can't stay.

Every couple months I get the kids involved in choosing several toys and books to give away to neighbours or donate. If they don't play with it regularly, we don't keep it. If it's not a toy they can grow with, we don't keep it. If it's not something we love, we don't keep it. It sounds harsh, but it's survival when you're five people in a city condo.

But what about sentimentality? Beauty? Hospitality? These things are hard to honour and accomplish when minimalist living isn't just valued, but necessary.

I think there are ways to be sentimental while not keeping everything. We store a lot of our memories digitally. Conveniently the most precious memories to date are also the smallest to store - an old worn out wallet of my grandfather's, my grandmother's school-issued Bible from the 20s, the kid's hospital bracelets from when they were born.

Beauty and decor have been the hardest to ration and achieve in a small space. When we moved we had the opportunity to change our home's style significantly since most of our old furniture couldn't fit in our new space. We chose the same colours for the entire home and only kept the decor that worked throughout. Everything was paired down and it made our small space feel bigger.

Hospitality can be hard in a small space if you have it in your mind that being hospitable means offering a guest their own private room, bathroom, or wing of the house. While that would be nice for our out-of-town family, it's not realistic for minimalist, nor city living. If our ability to practice hospitality depends on what we have materially, we may have confused hospitality with entertaining. Hospitality is an attitude of welcoming, a heart that says "be at home with us". I believe we can practice hospitality well with little, and a pull out couch doesn't hurt!

But minimalism is more than dictated by what space allows. It's a heart issue, if you think about it. It's choosing to have less, own less, want less, use less, need less. Not because you don't have room or money for more, but because you don't place value on the material, temporal world as much as you do on the eternal. By that definition, all Christians should be minimalists.

You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:34)

Aesthetically, minimalism suits me. I like clean lines and modern style. But my heart doesn't crave minimalism on all fronts.

Take clothes. I love clothes and I love (online) shopping. I've also had three pregnancies in the last five years so my sizes have gone up and down a fair bit. Having one pair of jeans and a few classic, high quality shirts is French fashion 101 (and totally minimalist!), but wasn't attainable when my body was changing so constantly. But what about now? I could pair down my wardrobe significantly, I could stop shopping altogether. But in this way, I'm not a minimalist, and it's a problem.

Recently I was packing for the five of us to be away for three weeks. Even with enough clothing to last us that long, our drawers were still half full. Now, in Canada we have all four seasons, often in quite extremes, so sure, we need a wide variety of clothes. But I'm talking just summer/spring clothes. Our drawers should have been empty! I consider our kid's possessions to be quite paired down, mainly out of necessity as the three all share a bedroom and closet. But packing was eyeopening.

Consider food. A true minimalist wouldn't have the spice cabinet I have. A true minimalist wouldn't have ten cookbooks and hope to add more. Regarding food, I'm not a minimalist. I might love food too much, such that a failed recipe really gets me down, or a dinner out that isn't amazing ruins my night. Buying whatever cuts of meat I fancy, whatever fruits or vegetables I want, regardless of season or growing practices. See?  Gluttonous, not minimalist.

What does the Bible say to my two minimalistic shortfalls? But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Timothy 6:8). If we merely have these things. Not in the abundance that we do, but just to have them, we should be content. Yes, there is room to grow in minimalism.

It begs the question, why do I have so much? Throughout history, and in most parts of the world today, people in my position would be living in poverty. Unemployed pastor's wives with three children don't have the problem of striving toward minimalism in most places, in most eras. But we live in an abundant time being North American in 2015. We can get university degrees and choose not to use them professionally. We can buy things on a whim. Just last week I was talking about online shopping and megasales. Now more than ever, it's easy to have much.

But we know stuff will disappoint us. It will fade and wear and go out of style. It will break and age and interest us no more. Christians are promised that we have a better possession than our property. Our clothes and toys and books and decor do not abide and will not last. But our hope is not in this world and it's meager things. Our hope and our joy is in a God who left his home to come to a broken world to save it.

Maybe minimalism is so difficult because we do not understand the gospel. We still believe that these things will bring true joy. We still believe consuming more will fill the void in our hearts that only God can fill. As we have less and value material things less, may the eternal shine all the more brightly.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.  - C.S. Lewis


  1. Again, thank you for this, Em. Yesterday, Rony and I had a talk about living within our means; living more simply. It's hard when you're used to having certain things. This morning I was praying about hospitality, and I was telling God (lolz) that I didn't think we could be very hospitable with a 4 month old and a 1+den apartment. This post was a much needed reminder for me that I need to be content, and God has given us what he wants us to have. We can open our hearts and home to people because, truly, we are blessed and have so much more than many in this world. And ultimately, we have eternal life, and that is all we need. Ironically, a song I sang at church this weekend went "If I have You and nothing else, I have everything." I don't need to have a bajillion candles from anthropologie, or have wine a few nights a week. I need to learn to be content with less, because I already have all I need.
    Sorry for leaving a novel in your comments, just wanted to thank you once again for this post!
    Much love!

    1. Yes and amen! Hospitality is something so warped in Christian culture. We justify buying massive cottages and homes because hey, we can open them up to friends from church and practice hospitality! But hello, we can do that ANYWHERE. visiting other cultures quickly reminds us of that. If we don't invite people in because we are ashamed or embarrassed or don't think we have enough, then we really don't get hospitality, do we? If we open our doors happily only because we know we have "lots" to offer, again, we miss the point. I'm sure your one bedroom home is full of love and that people feel the love of Christ when they are in your home, that's what it's about. Love!

  2. This is great and it's along the lines of how we live and parent. One thing I have noticed though is minimalism can become a "gospel" in itself. I don't think having one coffee cup (which is what the minimalist Joshua Becker has) makes you a better or freer person than someone who loves and collects coffee cups. Even if those coffee cups are just for pleasure to look at. As long as that person understands they can't take those coffee cups with them when they die, or they don't put those coffee cups above their family. I know that's a random example. I think our world loves excess EVERYTHING. Some of us only want our coffee cups (I literally have four cups so that's not my issue!) I guess I'm just saying some things are ok to love in abundance. I don't know that having one pair of jeans is a neccesity. We all know our own hearts. I think you're doing pretty great in the minimalism area. My house isn't super minimalist but I personally don't feel like I care about stuff at all. I think that's the true test

    1. Good point. The guy you mentioned who only has one cup in his home obviously doesn't share his home we anyone and that's certainly not my home! Our house is always full of friends, neighbours, people from church, kids... We need cups! Lol! I actually have a huge collection of mugs - probably 15! - but my husband and I planted a church in our living room, and you can bet we used every single one, and still do. I agree that it's about the heart, and if we have things that we don't really care about, then that stuff doesn't have a hold on us, but it also begs the question, then why do we have it? For me, I often buy things if they're on a sale/ a killer price.... BUt do I NEED it?

  3. Anonymous10.6.15

    I totally found that issue with thrift shopping. It's such a good deal, why would I not buy it? But it doesn't really matter if the price tag is 99 cents or 99 dollars so much as it is a question of are we stewarding well what God has given us.
    I've definitely struggled with the high that comes from getting but I'm learning (oh. so. slowly) that it doesn't last and I don't need more.
    We are already so privileged where we live and I never want to take that for granted but rather be thankful in all things for all that we've been blessed with.

    And Brianna is right - stuff isn't an issue for some people. For some it's food or wealth or fear of man. We all have icky spots to work on and it's all part of our journey's. Thanks for a beautiful reminder!

    1. ahhh thrift shopping is totally how I ended up with SO MUCH. and old navy and gap's online shopping deals + free shipping. often cheaper than buying 2nd hand, even!