The legalism of minimalism

I just finished watching the documentary, “The Minimalist.” Since the trajectory of my life seems to be aligning more with a minimalist approach, I thought I would enjoy this documentary. Instead, my friend and I ended up getting into a pretty complex argument.


Because the “Minimalist” goes beyond people sharing stories and describing a minimalist life, to sharing a path of sanctification and salvation. It ends up turning into just another “to do” program with tons of rules that one must follow to “be a minimalist.”

No doubt, it seems reasonable to reason that ridding our lives of our busy schedules or our massive amounts of crap would give us more control over our spirits, hearts, minds, bodies, relationships, and lives. But the questions that must be asked are: Does less stuff or more stuff give us more control? Does more control produce freedom? Does freedom from stuff produce rest? Isn’t that the point? Isn’t freedom and rest what we are all ultimately trying to get?

We have lived in a culture that has taught us that freedom is found in “doing” and just the right amount of doing can produce rest. We believe that doing just the right program, the right information, the right amount of stuff, the right amount of work and the right amount of play can set us free to live happy and enjoyable lives.

There’s no doubt there was a time when daily living and basic tasks controlled our lives. We thought if we had more time, then we could be free to rest. But to get more time, we would need to eliminate, as best we could, our basic tasks. With that we saw the answer to our woes- the era of convenience and we got real busy developing convenience. We developed convenience foods, convenience stores, convenience services and convenience (time saving) machines. We believed that convenience would set free us, give us more control over where we spent our time and energy, and it would give us more time and energy to rest.

Yet, the freedom that these conveniences gave us came at a cost. To afford our new stuff, we needed to spend more time and energy in other places to earn money to buy convenience. The very things that we had bought to set us free and give us rest, actually controlled us, produced less free time and demanded more work. Instead of facing our new reality with truth, we justified our loss of freedom and rest by equating stuff and busyness with identity. Having all this stuff and the ability to manage these crazy lives stuffed with stuff told us who we were (smart, strong, capable, important, busy and valuable) doers. And, we have been doers for quite some time.

But now, we are seeing what convenience and doing have produced. Today, we are suffering the results of having sacrificed our bodies, hearts, minds, relationships, spirits and lives to have stuff. Not only did convenience not set us free, but it did not produce rest. We are not free or rested, even though we are controlling way more things and doing less basic tasks.

Instead of all this control giving us rest, we are completely exhausted. We are stuffed but empty and we are so busy but without purpose. Perhaps, we can see that our lives reflect us. We are experiencing epidemics of loneliness and diet-related disease and sickness in a culture that is completely connected and full of ways, tips, tricks, hacks, information, personal trainers, dietitians, diets, workouts and health technology. What happened to us? We have have more convenience and less time and we have more stuff but less freedom and more talk about rest but no rest?

What do we do next? How do we respond?

Do we become a minimalist? Because we reason that if consuming massive amounts of crap and activities didn’t make us happy, then it seems reasonable to think that not consuming massive amounts of crap and activities can. If doing life as a savvy consumer doesn’t give us peace, love and happiness, then doing life as a savvier consumer will. Right?

Truthfully, I had no idea that being a minimalist required so much instruction. In the movie, it seemed with the minimalist life came a lot of rules about minimalism. Tiny houses, 5 shirts, one suitcase and lots of sacrifices to find freedom, joy, peace, and happiness. I have to ask why the one guy easily gave up his relationship with his girlfriend to promote minimalism.

Doesn’t minimalism mean giving up unimportant things like money, fame and working an angle to have time for the important things in life like yourself and others? Seemed like being a minimalist wasn’t easy nor did it require minimal effort. These guys didn’t seem free or rested. It seemed that minimalism had become a cruel task master.

Why didn’t minimalism set them free and give them rest?

I know this may be hard to swallow because truth often is, but more control and less stuff doesn’t produce real freedom. Likewise, lifestyle changes cannot give us the freedom or the rest that we desperately need and are designed for to experience and enjoy life.

See, freedom isn’t birthed out of control or convenience and it cannot be found in a ton of stuff or a minimal amount of stuff because the stuff isn’t the real problem and it isn’t what’s keeping us from freedom. We are the problem. We are the “who” keeping ourselves from experiencing our freedom by the way we are reacting to our own emptiness, angst, guilt, shame, pain, and fears.

Our reaction to our internal selves has been an attempt to control what ails us through our lifestyles, relationships, programs, eating, not eating, religion, culture, drugs, shopping, sex, schools, education, politics, social agendas, entertainment, hobbies, sports, work, music, vacations, homes, cars, fame, money and a million other things. We have believed that if we can curate just the right circumstances and consume in just the right ways, then we can sanctify and ultimately save ourselves.

There’s no doubt we have a part to play in our becoming and the choices that we make. Yes more than ever, we need space to breathe, listen, think, look and move. Yet, there is no way that we will find that space in a tiny house or a McMansion, if we haven’t found that space in ourselves and if we are not experiencing and enjoying our spirits, hearts, minds, bodies, relationships and lives- regardless of our circumstances or our stuff (or lack thereof).

Perhaps, Minimalism helps to create the time and space to stop and smell the roses. There’s no doubt that you can stop to smell the roses if you don’t have time to smell the roses or if you or someone else didn’t have the time or energy to plant them. But the question is “Can we really stop and smell the roses when we are intentionally trying to smell the roses?” To stop and smell the roses is more than an intentional act, it is being in a place and a posture that has a rhythm and flow that’s begins with who we are and moves us to what we do. The same truth applies to things like freedom, joy, peace, patience, joy, hope, love and rest. We don’t find these things in 20 boxes of shoes or just 1 box of shoes. We don’t find these in moments, cross-country journeys or even lifestyles of intentionality.

Rather, we discover them in ourselves and we discover who we are in love and truth, From that discovery, then we can experience how, what, when and where love and truth have set us free to be who we are in every moment of every day…and we can rest. It is only in being loved that we can find rest from our doing and we can experience the fruit that only love can grow. Hope, joy, wonder, mystery, passion, purpose, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, mercy, truth and self-control aren’t things we can get or control. It is who we are and what comes out of us when we taste, touch, smell and hear love in all of life’s gifts. Especially, in the most amazing of life’s gifts, ourselves and other people.

So, instead of placing faith in stuff or the lack of stuff to set us free to be kinder, happier and gentler people, perhaps we put our faith in love and truth- trusting that love and truth will set us free to spend our time, money and energy loving ourselves and others well. Think about the minimalist of all minimalist, The Grinch who taught us that love doesn’t come from a store where you buy 1 t-shirt or 40 t-shirts and that even a grinch living alone on a mountain can still hoard his most precious gifts of love and truth, and be controlled by fear and hate.

The truth is that we can’t and we won’t find love in a tiny house or a big house if those houses don’t have people who are willing to give their time, talents and truth. When we all look back on the greatest moments of our lives, we will see the people we love and who love us. We’ll remember the love that was shared and the love that filled up the spaces in our homes and our hearts. Maybe, we do need to declutter and spend a lot less time, energy and resources on whatever lifestyle we have chosen and more time creating a space for love and truth to be given and received. I hope if anything, then it is that we won’t be minimalists when it comes to love.

Remember a minimum or maximum lifestyle cannot love us back but love does and when love loves, it is big, bold, obnoxiously ginormous, ridiculously magnificent, grossly undoing and the most beautiful thing we will ever experience. Consumerism at its maximum or minimum doesn’t change us because real change doesn’t happen from the outside in but from the inside out and real change doesn’t come from our doing but from us being undone- by love.

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