What Is Your Stuff Costing You?

What Is Your Stuff Costing You?

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Matt D’Avella is a minimalist. He’s also a photographer and film maker. He directed the documentary, MINIMALISM featuring The Minimalists, described in Wikipedia as “The Minimalists are American authors, podcasters, filmmakers, and public speakers Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who promote a minimalist lifestyle.”

My first exposure to this notion of minimalism was reading a blog by Leo Babauta, Zen Habits. I was reading Leo’s stuff about productivity. He was living in Guam with wife and kids and life didn’t seem all that ideal, but somewhere along the way Leo started questioning his lifestyle, including smoking. He began to shift his content into taking better care of himself. That included reducing clutter and things in his life that no longer made sense to him. Prior to his writing, I’d never heard the term “minimalism.”

The lifelong best friends – The Minimalists – took the lifestyle to a whole new level with their content. Somewhere along the way entered a guy named Joshua Becker, On Becoming Minimalist. Then Matt came along. I’ve followed all of them from their beginnings even though I didn’t adhere to the life they were evangelizing. This all goes back to at least 2010 so I clearly wasted a whole bunch of time, but life gets in the way. For all of us. But that’s no excuse!

Part of this movement is steeped in revolution. A revolution against consumerism, sales and marketing, consumption and perhaps capitalism itself. But as a guy who has followed this movement since the beginning, it mostly seems steeped in questioning, “What do I value? What do I value most?” That’s why I continue to follow it more closely than probably any other thing I’ve followed in the past decade. And I’m not coming from a place of sustainability, being green, being eco-friendly, reducing our carbon footprint or some other viewpoint focused on a doomsday perspective.

The documentary shows 2 friends – The Minimalists – who came to this lifestyle through their own independent, yet congruent, paths. Success. Pursuing bigger money and more things. Broken relationships. Short-term pleasure that seemed to only result in longer-term pain, or void.

I’ve personally found the principles espoused by all of these creators based on a pursuit much like mine here at Leaning Toward Wisdom. Growth, improvement, figuring it out and doing it better. Wiser.

That’s why you find all of them talking about things like living with less, eliminating debt, ditching the clutter, contentment, going small, enjoying more freedom, deepening relationships, refusing to be slaves to things. I know their message doesn’t resonate with everybody, but I’ve watched the movement grow exponentially in the past 10-15 years. And it’s not lost on me, as pointed out in the documentary, that is about the time we were just trying to come out of the 2008 crash when this movement began. I’m certain that event had something to do with the discontentment of many people, compelling the question, “What are we doing?”

Questions are good. Questioning ourselves is wise. Well, to be more accurate…answering the questions we ask of ourselves is. For example, we hear this question frequently: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Funny how rarely we ever hear an answer though. That’s where the profit is – in the answer.

What are we buying?


There are other worthwhile questions.

Do we need it?

What’s the utility of it?

Can we do without it?

If we forego buying it, what will we really be missing – if anything?

Since buying a new house and making two moves simultaneously – and juggling two living locations – we’ve experienced greater spending than ever. This is an unprecedented experience for us because we’ve never done anything like this. The spending hasn’t been impulsive or frivolous though. And the overwhelming majority of the expenditures have been in things that will enhance life, enhance enjoyment and last years. Go back to the previous episodes if you’re interested in more about all that.

It also speaks to how far from embracing minimalism we are. 😀

But I never claimed to be converting to the minimalism lifestyle. That’s why some years ago I termed my yearning to declutter and simplify as “practical minimalism.” I know that’s subjective, but people understand it. It’s a focus on less stuff while putting pressure on purchases to fulfill some purpose other than “I want that.”

Shopaholic entered our language in 1983. It means a person addicted to shopping. The implication that people chase feeling better by buying stuff – not just shopping without buying. While the minimalism movement has a heavy focus on stuff – possessions – it has many underlying focuses that deal with our mental state, our emotions, what drives us and much more.

Minimalism attempts to answer the question of fulfillment and purpose. It does that through espousing the notion that our stuff doesn’t define us. The quest for more won’t fill us up.

I’m a Christian so much of what the movement chases I found long ago. Purpose and priority are settled for me. To honor God by submitting to His authority. You won’t hear that in the minimalist movement. I’ve never heard it and I’ve followed this crowd from the beginning. Truth is, many of them are self-described Stoics (stoicism).

As a Christian I know stuff isn’t where my priorities should be. The Bible clearly teaches that the pursuit of temporary things is vanity while the pursuit of spiritual things (eternal things) is wisdom. And because I’ve only experienced this realm so far, I necessarily have to rely on God, who is Eternal and the supreme spirit for guidance. The Bible tells us He is a spirit and our worship to Him must be in truth and in spirit. Now, I’m painfully aware that people don’t think there is any truth, much less that the Bible is that truth – even though the scripture declares itself to be true.

So when the whole minimalism movement waxes philosophical about our purpose and why we’re here and how we exist – I’m out because those questions have been answered for me by the Creator of the Universe, God Jehovah. I don’t need to listen to some folks who preach a message of how we don’t need to clutter our lives with more stuff to fill whatever void may exist in our lives.

The Void

I don’t doubt the void for a second. Billions of people likely feel it. Nor do I doubt my own capacity to fill something in my life incorrectly. That is, selfishness can overtake any of us – and it does. Sometimes. Or a whole lot of the time. Or all the time.

A goal. It’s missing in people who aimlessly roam.

No goal. No mission.

It’s a recipe for a wasted life. Too many people are driven by their circumstances. When we acquiesce our outcome things go south quickly.

There are complexities to “the void.” I propose that God is THE primary fulfillment of that void because He created us. He knows…and He knows best. That doesn’t mean we go about our daily lives, Bible in hand, condemning the world. It means we’re a light. We’re leading by example in our daily lives that integrity, doing the right thing, treating others well, serving and loving each other is the path forward – the filling of the void. Then come all the little details of our lives. What we do to earn a living? What we do with our time? How we choose to pursue accomplishing things? Who we choose to surround us? And countless other things that constitute our lives.

Mostly, it means we take full responsibility for our lives – and whatever outcomes go along with it. That’s where I find the practice of minimalism helpful. It’s a discipline of responsibility. Individual responsibility where culture and others don’t impose on us any notion of fulfillment and happiness in material possessions. That component of the practice is congruent with Christianity, which always places the focus on eternal over earthly, spiritual over material.

Self-Discipline Works

No self-discipline also works, but you don’t want that paycheck.

I view practical minimalism as an act of self-discipline. The closer scrutiny of stuff. It’s an act of self-control.

Control over spending.

Control over possessing.

Control over shopping.

Control over covetousness.

Control over desire.

Control over want.

Control over priorities.

Control over indulgence.

You can check out a few of my audio sermons at InThyPaths.com or watch a much more talented preacher at LetTheBibleSpeak.tv.

Here’s a sermon about gambling, for those who may be interested.

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Randy Cantrell

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