Minimalist mama

If you’re a mom like me, I’m willing to bet you spent some part of last week wandering through your home, trying to figure out if there’s anything you can toss, shred, or burn to make room for the bounty of Christmas gifts. My blood pressure rises with the piles of things laying dormant on every flat surface.

On Monday, the dryer, table, and dressers were piled high with stocking stuffers, games, toys, and books that hadn’t found homes yet. To make matters worse, approximately one quarter of our living room was still taken up with a dead Christmas tree. There were stockings hanging from the banister, ribbons on the stair railing, stars hanging from the ceiling, a wreath and paper snowflakes on the windows, and a bell hanging from the front doorknob.

My eyes were beginning to twitch. All I wanted in life, for crying out loud, was to have a place for everything, and everything in its place!

There was a time in my life when I would have labeled myself a minimalist. I used to read a lot of “simple living” blogs. I got a kick out of the tiny house movement, and I still gravitate toward the idea of a capsule wardrobe.

I love getting rid of things. I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from squeezing that last smidgen of toothpaste out and triumphantly throwing the shriveled tube away. I love dropping boxes off at Goodwill. I’m not an early adopter when it comes to fashion or technology.

This “simple living” movement seemed to offer the antidote to American materialism and excess. But over time I’ve grown a little disenchanted with the “simple living” crusade. So many of the so-called solutions are incompatible with my growing family, with practicing hospitality, with having a gracious spirit and thankful heart.

100 Things (oh, and my Mustang too)

My husband Ben used to work with a guy that considered himself a sort of poster-boy of simplicity. One day in the course of conversation, he announced to Ben and an office mate,

“Yeah, well, I only own 100 things. Like, in total.”

When they questioned him a bit about this lifestyle choice, he explained that he kept his possessions at a minimum so he could live a simple, flexible life. He rode public transit. He lived in a co-op so he didn’t have to own furniture, kitchen appliances, and other such frivolities. Ben and his co-worker began teasing him with questions like:

“So, how many pairs of underwear do you own?”

“Do you eat with a spork?”

“Do you buy toilet paper in single rolls?”

A month or so later, this same simple guy mentioned owning a Ford Mustang.

“Oh yeah? I thought you rode public transit because it’s simpler,” said Ben.

“Well my Mustang is in my storage unit, so it doesn’t count toward my 100 items,” he countered.

Simple living at its finest.

Ben and I laughed and laughed about that Mustang. But it helped me put the whole “simple living” movement in perspective. There’s nothing simple about having four kids and a mortgage and a minivan and 18 pairs of shoes in a pile by the front door. There’s nothing inherently superior about having one shelf of educational, wooden eco-toys as opposed to a floor scattered with hand-me-down happy meal toys.

Fruitful living

Somewhere along the line, the Christian subset of the “simple living” realm confused an aesthetic lifestyle for a Christian virtue. Don’t get me wrong—the “simple living” folks have a lot of good things to say about combating materialism in our hearts and homes, choosing to be content with less, and simplifying our jobs and possessions to allow us to focus on what is important.

When you’re living on a budget, paying off debt, raising a growing family in a shrinking space, or all of the above, much of the “simple living” movement can be helpful. To some, it’s a means of putting to death the sins of materialism, vanity, and fear of man. But for others it simply means keeping your Mustang in a storage unit, because simplicity.

“Simple living” isn’t the Christian’s objective. Fruitful living is. “Simple living” isn’t a mark of the godly woman. Contentment is. When we use the word contentment, it helps us understand simplicity in God’s terms, not the world’s.

Simplicity might teach us to reduce the number of toys in our closet by half. Contentment will teach us to be cheerful while cleaning up the Legos for the fiftieth time this week. A desire for simplicity might cause an inward sigh when our mother-in-law buys our daughter yet another fancy dress that she doesn’t need. Contentment will teach us to be grateful for the expression of love those dresses represent.

A simpler home, schedule, and lifestyle is a worthy goal to pursue. Just make sure that what you’re really pursuing is contentment and gratitude, and your mission of raising a family, ministering within a local church, and extending hospitality.

“If you would get a contented life, do not grasp too much of the world, do not take in more of the business of the world than God calls you to.”

Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

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