Minimalist Believer

A blog about minimalism and the Christian life

The Gift of Wonder

This Christmas has snuck up on me. I have had a very busy fall: working more than usual, writing (and finishing!) my second novel, and taking on new leadership at church. I feel like I haven’t really had time to reflect on Christmas and the hope that the season brings.

I am currently reading a book, Touching Wonder by John Blase, that includes the story of Christ’s birth from the Message translation along with some dramatized passages written from various perspectives. It’s a short read; only 69 pages. It’s a powerful short read though. The Christmas story is truly extraordinary and sometimes we forget that.

The story that touches me most is the story of Zechariah. It tells the story of a man, diligent in his duties as a priest, that had given up the hope of ever having a son. That hope was so far gone that when Gabriel came to bring him the happy news of John’s birth Zechariah didn’t believe. His heart bad become hard after so many years of disappointment.

Unfortunately, hardness of heart is something that I understand very well. Over the years my own heart has hardened because of difficult circumstances and hopes that have yet to come to fruition. I must admit that for a time I wondered if God had any intentions of delivering on his promises at all. Hardness of heart is something that I understand well.

But once the angel’s words had come to pass, and Elizabeth’s belly began to swell, imagine the hope that must have awakened in Zechariah’s heart. Imagine how the hardness began to melt away and a sense of anticipation began to grow. It was probably all he thought about.

Zechariah’s story, a story of promises fulfilled and hope renewed, gives me great encouragement in this difficult phase of life. God does take notice. He does interrupt human history to being his promises to pass, even if he must do so by very unusual means.

It is good to remember that at Christmas, when we celebrate the great lengths God went to in saving humanity, and how he used a barren woman, a young girl, an aged priest, and an honorable man to change the world.

So as Christmas draws near, I hope that you take a moment to reflect on the wonder of the Christmas story and the God who orchestrated it. I hope that you enjoy time with family, travel, presents, and lots of great food. But I hope that you enjoy the gift of wonder most of all.

Merry Christmas!



It’s Fall!

Today is the official beginning of autumn. There is just something special about the fall, isn’t there? School starts. The weather gets cooler. The leaves change colors. People seem to transition mentally from the carefree days of summer to a more focused mindset as we look toward the end of the year. Fall seems to be a time of change inside and out.

Fall is also a time of simple pleasures. It’s time for warm hoodies and hot drinks. Apples, squash, and pumpkins are in season. It’s time for bolder colors and cute boots. It is a time of change, and change is good.

For many reasons I believe that this fall will be really big for me. I am taking on more leadership at my church. I am making progress with my second book. I am already getting steady work as a substitute teacher. Who knows what else could develop? (You can be sure that I will keep you posted)

So as the weather cools off I thought I’d give some ways to get ready for fall and make the most of it.

  • Now is a good time to take a look at 2014. How are you doing with your goals for the year? If you are doing well, great! Keep it up. If you’re not doing so well there is still time to make progress in 2014. No need to give up on this year and plan to try again next year. The time to act is now.
  • Make plans to enjoy the weather. The sweltering days of summer are over and the deep freeze of winter has not yet come. Get out and enjoy the moderate temperatures. Go for outdoor walks and runs. Take a drive and look at the fall leaves. Make a game out of raking the leaves. You could even go to an orchard and pick your own apples. Just make sure you have fun with the weather because winter is coming… (I couldn’t resist)
  • Evaluate and change your wardrobe. This a good time to put away the lighter fabrics and pull out the sweaters and the long pants. Before you put things away check to make sure that they still fit and that they’re in good condition. If not, don’t bother storing them. Toss them.
  • Take part in things that are uniquely fall: hay rides, fall produce, fresh apple cider, campfires, and roasted marshmallows. This is the perfect time for these things.
  • Take advantage of the harvest. This is the perfect time to can and make jams and jellies. I usually make fresh tomato sauce from the last of summer’s tomatoes and it lasts me all winter. And there is just something about that preparation for the winter that is soothing.

Fall is a great time of year. I am looking forward to the next season with great excitement and anticipation. I hope that you are as well.

Happy Fall!









Going Small

I am a minimalist but I still have a small bit of fashionista in me. The fashionista in me likes to change handbags for different seasons. So today I moved into my fall handbag. It’s black. It’s sleek. It’s sexy. And it’s small.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I moved into a wristlet. It is a full size handbag. It’s just half the size of the one I had been carrying.

I hadn’t been carrying it because it was too small for me to fit all my stuff. But I faced a choice: let this tres chic handbag go to waste or stop carrying so much crap. I took a hard look at what I really need on a daily basis and pared down to just the essentials. Nothing more.

We have been trained to believe that bigger is better. We want bigger homes, cars, and closets. We want bigger phone screens. And apparently, some of us want bigger handbags. Of course, bigger comes with a bigger price tag. There may be other costs as well, like higher costs for heating, cooling, and gas.

Bigger also causes another problem. Bigger usually means fore stuff. I don’t understand. It is a universal law that if I get a larger handbag I will somehow fill it with stuff. An even larger handbag will cause me carry even more stuff. If I started wheeling around a suitcase behind me I am sure that within a week it would be full.

So instead of constantly going bigger to accommodate more stuff, why not go small? Why not consciously choose less space and make conscious decisions about the things that go in that space? Having less space forces you to think carefully about what stays and what goes. You can’t just add it to the rest. You have to choose.

So what did that mean for me? I had to commit to one pack of gum and one box of mints. I had to choose what medication I wanted to carry. It meant that I had to commit to one lipstick look (one liner, one lipstick, and one gloss). It meant that I needed to sort through the miscellaneous papers and receipts and business cards and decide what was important to keep.

Perhaps the biggest change is that I can’t carry my iPad with me everywhere I go. My new handbag simply will not accommodate it. This forced me to think carefully about whether I need my iPad with me everywhere. I’ve decided that I don’t.

I am constantly seeing stories of people wanting bigger homes and bigger cars. Of course, sometimes a larger space is legitimately needed. We have kids and get married and start businesses. But too often more space is not truly needed. More space is desired to hold all our crap.

I think it is time to challenge this notion. It is time to reject the idea of constantly going bigger. I think it’s time to go small.

It can be a challenge to make do with less. You will have to be creative and you may have to go without some things. The reward is less clutter and perhaps lower cost.

Are you ready to go small? Perhaps you could carry a smaller wallet, handbag, or backpack. Could you stay in your current house if it had less stuff? How about getting by on a smaller budget? How can you make do with less?









Observing the Sabbath

I recently wrote a post about getting the most out of your weekend. Weekends are like gold. They’re a chance to relax and recharge. They can also be a chance to do things like home projects, visit family, or catch up on reading. In all the activity it is easy to let the precious weekend slip by without getting any rest. That’s where the Sabbath comes in. It is a period that is set aside for rest, refreshment, and reflection.

Our word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means “to cease.” The Sabbath began as a period of rest. When creating the world God worked six days and rested on the seventh day. He declared the seventh day the Sabbath and commanded Israel to keep it holy.

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” Exodus 20:11

Just as God rested from his labor on the Sabbath, we too should rest from our everyday activities. This is a time to refocus on God and connect with him. Because the Sabbath is also a time for worship, many Christians will attend a church service on the Sabbath. Most Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday while most Jewish people observe it on Saturday.

The Jewish faith places a lot of emphasis on the Sabbath. This is a dedicated time of rest, reflection, and connecting with family. Sabbath activities can include prayers, special meals, and services at the synagogue. While Sabbath activities vary among various populations of Jewish people, it remains an integral part of the Jewish faith.

Growing up in church I was taught the Ten Commandments. I was taught to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, but I did’t really understand what that meant. We went to church, but that was about it.

Now that I am an adult with a job I see the importance of taking time for rest and refreshment. Rest has to be a part of the ordained rhythm of life. God commanded that it be so. While we are not bound by Old Testament statutes for Sabbath observance (Col 2:16-17) we would be wise to observe the Sabbath in some way.

Observing the Sabbath can look different depending on your lifestyle. However, there are some common elements in a Sabbath celebration.

Rest. The Sabbath may not be the best time to clean out the garage or remodel the bathroom. It is a time to cease your activity and get some quality rest. This could mean taking a long nap, reading, or sitting out on the deck appreciating nature. The Sabbath is a time to set aside work and relax your body and mind.

Connect with God. The Sabbath day is to be kept holy. This is our day to recognize and commune with our Creator. One way that we do this is by attending a religious service. This is time that is set aside for God. Some people spend the evening reading the bible or in prayer as well. The main thing is that we spend time that is focused on God.

Reflection. The Sabbath is a great time to let go of the concerns of the week and turn our gaze inward. How are you feeling? What is on your mind? The Sabbath is a great time to journal about how you feel, your thoughts about a particular topic, or the events of the past week

Connect with family. Things today are very different from the way they were even ten years ago. Our schedules are packed. We spend most of our time online. We can be so busy that we find ourselves distanced from those that we love, even if we live with them. The Sabbath is time that everyone can set aside to reconnect. Have dinner with your family. Go for a walk. Or get in the car and pay a relative a visit. Connect with the people that are important to you.

Silence. Our world is loud. We have televisions, tablets, and smartphones constantly spewing forth noise. Depending on where you live there may also be traffic noise or road noise. The constant assault on our ears causes anxiety and stress. The Sabbath is a great time to disconnect from the noise and enjoy some peace and quiet.

Refreshment. What makes you feel refreshed? The workweek can drain us mentally and physically. Do the things on the Sabbath that fill you up. This will look different for everyone. For some, it will involve visiting family or friends. For others it will involve reading or journaling. Some people like to take engage in their hobbies in the Sabbath, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Other find that they are refreshed by taking a walk and appreciating nature. There are many things to help you feel refreshed on the Sabbath.

My Sabbath

As of late, my Sabbath has evolved into a very relaxing routine.

I go to church. Sometimes I have duties at church (I’m on the ministry team, hospitality team, and tech team). Even when I have a job at church I still have a chance to worship and connect with my church family. I am both encouraged and challenged by the teaching and I always feel loved when I leave church.

I eat. It might be something as simple as a bowl of soup, but I have a small meal.

Lately, I’ve been going to Barnes & Noble. Barnes is my happy place. I love the feel of a bookstore and a good drink. I get a caramel macchiato or a white chocolate mocha, grab a seat by the window, and read. I usually take a book or two and my journal. I may also look through some books there at Barnes. Either way, I am dong something life-giving. On the Sabbath I leave my laptop at home on purpose because I relax better without it. If I have my laptop I either feel like I have to be productive in some way or I waste time on the internet and I feel stressed out or guilty for it.

I connect with family. When I get home I check in with my family to see how their Sabbath is going. I usually have dinner with them and relax for Monday.

There is nothing special or magical about my Sabbath routine. This is just a way of making sure to do things that fill me up. The key for me is to make sure that I have an extended period of time for myself. For me, it is best for me to have this is to leave the house. My house is very noisy and very busy. Someone always wants me to go someplace or do something. If I am out, my time is my own and I can relax.

Your Sabbath will most likely look very different. The most important thing is that you take time for rest, refreshment, and worship.




Playa del Carmen 2014

Just a quick thought this afternoon. This afternoon finds me on sitting on my balcony looking at the sunny beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This is my family’s fourth year here and each year has been different. This year, I’m a little busier because I am doing Camp NaNoWiMo, where I am writing the first 50,000 words of my next novel in 31 days. That’s my only planned activity every day. The rest of the day is mine to relax.

This afternoon I am inspired by the people of Playa del Carmen. We see a lot of fellow tourists on the beach but we also see just as many locals on the beach. Their lives aren’t so different from ours. They have to work and go to school just like we do. They have kids to raise and housework to do and meals to cook just like we do. Yet they take time out of their busy schedules to enjoy the beauty that is all around them.

This the opposite of what I do. I live in Chicago but I haven’t taken time to walk or ride my bike along the lakefront in at least two years. I haven’t been to a museum or even on a boat tour in even longer. I live in a popular tourist destination and I don’t even make time to enjoy it.

How many times are we too busy to see and enjoy the beauty around us? How often are we too busy online to be out enjoying life? Shouldn’t we make time to enjoy the people and places around us?

I really like vacation (who doesn’t?) and I will enjoy every moment that I am here. But when I go home I will also make time to enjoy summer in the Windy City. Be sure to take some time to enjoy your summer too.


Shopping Simply

Simplicity changes several aspects of your life: your physical surroundings, your finances, and your schedule. Simplicity has changed so much of what I do, but the biggest change has probably been in the way I shop.

As a minimalist, I try to avoid shopping, but things wear out. I use them up. A new need arises. At some point every minimalist has to go shopping. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind when it’s time to buy:

Know what you need. Before heading off to the mall take inventory of what you already have. Know the styles and colors of your shirts in order to determine if a new shirt is really needed. Know what types of shoes you have. The moment you’re standing in front of the dazzling shirt display of many colors is not the time to try to remember which shirts you already have. Know before you go. If you take inventory before you go you may discover that you need less than you originally thought.

Shop for versatility. When choosing an item try to go for versatile pieces that can be worn with several outfits. A white collared shirt will get more use than a silver top with sequins. Focus on the fundamentals and only get the specialized stuff when necessary.

Buy only what you need. Knowing what you need is half the battle. This should eliminate aimless wandering in the store. It will also help you stay on track when that friendly salesperson comes suggesting things for you to buy. There are some stores where I have to go with a detailed list of what I will buy because I get in trouble when I just go in without a strategy (Teavana anyone?). Have a plan and stick to it. Also beware of the group pricing ploy. If you need one then just buy one. So what if you save a dollar by buying three? Is it worth having two more shirts that you have to store and wash? Only take advantage of the group pricing if you need that many of that particular item.

Buy for quality. I wrote about quality here. I believe that if you’re spending your money you should get the best use out of it. I believe in buying high quality items even if that means buying less. Higher quality items will serve you better and last longer.

Use the envelope system. Instead of using the debit card, use cash. Decide how much you will spend and put that amount into an envelope. Use only the cash in the envelope to make your purchases. This should eliminate impulse purchases and help you stay on budget.

Get in and get out. Once you have what you need, make your purchase and get out of the store as soon as possible. Don’t wander around looking in other stores and other departments. Minimize your exposure to the temptation of new, shiny merchandise.

Mindfulness is the key to shopping as a minimalist: being mindful of what you need and being mindful of the tactics stores use to get you to buy more. If you know what you need and buy only the things you need you can avoid the accumulation of clutter and the stress of buyer’s remorse.


Greed As Idolatry

I am surprised by how much I am learning as I pursue the simple life. I’ve learned about the world and the society in which we live, but I have also learned about myself. I see how I have been conditioned to behave like everyone else.

At the moment, I am reading an article by Timothy Keller: Counterfeit Gods. He argues, based on Colossians 3:5, that greed is idolatry. Generally, when people think of idolatry we think of statues and shrines. However, according to Ezekiel 14:3, we can set up idols in our hearts.

Keller rightly states that the human heart can take good things (career success, love, family, material possessions, etc.) and make them idols in our hearts. Keller says it beautifully: “Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”

I can see evidence of this in our world. What’s scary is that I can see evidence of this in my own life. I have been conditioned to be addicted to material possessions. Stuff.

If I saw something I liked, I had to have it. Since committing to minimalism, I have made great progress. But it’s still hard to walk by a gorgeous pair of shoes without whipping out the debit card, because in that moment, those shoes are more than footwear. They are fashion, and style, and self-confidence. They’re everything that will make my life better. They are the solution to every problem. They have become my idol.

Even if I do pass on the shoes, I think about them all night long, and try to find a way to make them mine. And all the while, I feel that this is normal. That use to be my reality. However, minimalism has taught me that this is not normal. Idolatry comes in many flavors, and extreme materialism is one of them (one that I have personal experience with). I realized that greed was an indication of a sick society and misplaced priorities, but I didn’t realize that it was idolatrous. As I read through Counterfeit Gods, I am learning that greed is more than a problem. It’s an idol.

I could tell you time after time when the thought of something new overruled good judgment. The promise of that new thing would suck me in every time. Sure, I’d be happy and giddy for a while but the newness wore off and I was back to normal. Lucky for me (retailers?) there was another big sale only a few days away. I’d have another opportunity to try to fill that internal need with more stuff. And that’s how you wind up with enough bath products to last for years.

I have been there. The need for stuff can dominate our thoughts almost to the point of obsession. The need for more can become the driving force in our lives. That is when it becomes idolatrous.

I like the solution that Paul give later in the chapter: seeking to know our Creator and become more like him. This should be the focus of our lives. It is so easy to get caught up in the new and beautiful, but if we focus on knowing and becoming more like God then greed won’t get a chance to take root.

Train your focus. Guard against greed and excess. Let your life God-driven, not greed-driven.




Sneaky Stockpiling

As I shared in a recent post, I sometimes have a hard time letting things go. I got new running shoes to replace a worn out pair, but kept wearing the old ones. I let the new ones sit on the shelf in the closet for months. The same thing happened with a pair of clogs at Christmas. I finally did move into the new shoes last week, but only because the soreness from running in the old shoes got to be too much. his is not new. Even as a child, when my mother bought me things I would put them in the drawer or closet and wouldn’t wear them for weeks. Apparently my stockpiling tendencies run deep. My family used to make fun and ask why I saved things for so long. I don’t think that I was ever able to answer them. So why was I saving my shoes? Part of me felt guilty for eating ice cream the day before and I didn’t feel like I deserved new shoes. Another part of me didn’t want to wear them because they were expensive and I don’t know when I will be able to afford another pair. Therefore, I wanted to delay using them as long as possible. Of course, I believe in using things completely. I believe that we should get all the use out of whatever we buy. But to continue to use something beyond its usefulness is impractical. To do this when you have a replacement is nothing more than stockpiling. Since I started simplifying I thought I had broken my tendency to stockpile. However, I am seeing that disuse is just another form of stockpiling. Stockpiling is not just buying more than what you need. Stockpiling is also not using what you already have. Either way you’re amassing a supply of something. Really, this is a trust issue. Isn’t it always? This is about me not trusting God to provide new running shoes when I need them. It is about a fear of scarcity or running out. Stockpiling is a behavior that is driven by fear. Stockpiling is a problem though. It’s a problem because when we stockpile we use things to comfort ourselves. We look to things to provide security instead of finding security in God’s promises to care for us. Another problem with stockpiling is that stockpiling can easily become hoarding. Hoarding is stockpiling taken to the extreme, where a person accumulates beyond the point of what is useful and beneficial. Storage becomes a problem; either finding enough space to keep all the stuff or finding a way to secure it. And this is where we see the ugly side of hoarding: obsession. At this point, the stuff owns us.   Not using what you have is just another form of stockpiling and it is rooted in fear. Judiciously use what you have and don’t give in to worry. When the time comes, ask God for what you need. He will take care of you.

How to Keep it Simple This Summer

It’s late June and summer has finally come to Chicago. It’s time for cookouts and picnics and outdoor parties. The ever-popular Taste of Chicago will soon be here. This is the season I live for.

From festivals to vacations, summer is busy. That makes summer the perfect time to keep it simple.

Simplify your Wardrobe. I love this season of shorts, skirts, and sandals. If you live in a temperate climate you probably have a completely different wardrobe for summer. Before getting too far into the season be sure to evaluate your wardrobe. Figure out which things you wear most often and consider donating the rest. Are last year’s sandals worn out? It might be time to replace them or simply toss them. Having fewer things in your wardrobe makes getting dressed faster and easier.


Simply beautiful. I don’t know about you, but humidity wreaks havoc on my hairstyles. Summer is the perfect time to simplify your beauty routine. It might be time to part with the flatiron for a while. It might be time to get a haircut. Try hairstyles that will still look good even in the humidity. Wear simple makeup, if you wear it at all. Spending less time on beauty creates more time for enjoying the summer.

Simple pleasures. The pleasures of summer are like no other, and many of them can be enjoyed at little or no cost. Simple things like biting into a slice of watermelon, talking with friends in the cool night breeze, or riding with the sunroof open while singing along with the radio (a personal favorite) are things that make summer great. The best moments of summer rarely happen in the mall. They usually happen with friends and family. Enjoy the simple pleasures of summer.

Simply free. Kids see summer as extended play time. It’s like a three month long play date with the kids on the block. But kids aren’t the only ones that take advantage of this time to play. Adults get out there and enjoy the weather too. One way to keep it simple this summer is t rein in your schedule and leave some time to play. Have lunch with friends, go walking downtown, or ride your bike. Make time to enjoy the beautiful weather while it lasts.

There are lots of great events that take place during the summer. Don’t try to go to all of them. Choose a few of them to attend. Focus only on those. Trying to do too much creates stress and takes away from your enjoyment.

The last thing you want to do is let summer pass without taking time to really enjoy it. The best way to enjoy summer is to keep things really simple. Don’t focus on things this summer. Focus on enjoying every moment.



Small Effort, Big Rewards, and Even Bigger Confidence

Last week I accomplished a huge goal: I finished my first novel. I had been working on it for a couple of years and should have finished long ago, but I kept giving up. I eventually finished because I also kept getting back on the horse and writing again. Last week I finished. I tried to avoid mentioning it on this blog because I typically don’t blog about writing, but I am so excited and I feel like I learned a lot in the process.

I started getting up at 6am to write in December. I knew I didn’t have much time so I set a small goal: 500 words a day. 500 words a day is not a lot. Some authors recommend 2,000 words a day. The plan for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) calls for writing 1,667 words per day. With all that is going on in my life I knew that writing that much every day was unrealisic. I knew that eventually I would finish my novel writing 500 words every day. So starting in December, I wrote 500 words a day (with few exceptions).

What have I learned? I have learned that small, consistent effort yields big results. It took place over a long period of time, but my small efforts led to the accomplishment of a huge goal. The same is true of weight loss, school projects, paying off debt, and countless other goals. Chipping away at your goal will eventually lead to success.

The same can apply to simplifying your life. Maybe you have a few kids and the accumulation of everyone’s things would make purging a Herculean task. Maybe you’re a student and you’re not able to take several days to go through your whole apartment. Maybe you don’t have $1,000 to put toward credit card debt.

When you can’t do it all at once do it little by little. It will work. It may take longer, but it will eventually pay off. Consistent effort is the key.

Seeing the result of that consistent effort is extremely rewarding. On some level I knew that small, consistent effort produced results, but to see it in my own life reinforced this truth. What was once an abstract idea became a concrete reality.

Finishing this novel has given me such a rush. It feels amazing to see the results of your hard work. It has also given me a greater level of confidence. I finished a novel. So I started to look for other goals to accomplish.

I have decided that I want to run a marathon. I am nowhere near marathon shape though. I can’t even run half a mile, but I won’t let that stop me. It will take longer, but it can be done. I formulated a plan. My plan is to run a 5K this September, run a half marathon in 2015, and a full marathon in 2016. I can’t go out and run five miles today. I will have to start smaller — much smaller.

Whether I start with a mile or a quarter of a mile (that’s about all I can run right now) the important thing is that I start and apply small, consistent effort. I started training last week. I changed my diet. I will build upon this week by week until I am able to run the full 5K.

So where can you apply small, consistent effort? Don’t worry if you can’t make huge strides. Do just a little bit. Sustained effort produces results. Don’t let big goals intimidate you. You can do it. Just take one step at a time. Better to start small and make steady progress than to never start because you are overwhelmed. Start working toward your goal today. Start small. It will take time, but that’s okay. Remember the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race.





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