Denial

I face another purchase: the iPad 2. I want it so badly! I am already a Mac lover, so the iPad 2 is a natural choice for me. The sleek design beckons me. The digital possibilities keep me up at night. But do I need it?

This is where my minimalist ideals are tested. The iPad 2 is the product I have been waiting for. But is this a case of need or good old American greed?

Chances are: it’s greed. Consumerism is so pervasive, and Apple has done such a great job of marketing that I really feel like the iPad 2 is a necessity. It is not (for me, at least). So I have decided to deny myself and leave the iPad 2 in the store. This is a big step for me. Rarely have I willfully denied myself something that I really want. It’s painful. However, there are some positives:

  • Morale. My minimalist goals prevail. In light of past failures, it feels good to have a victory. Minimalism wins over consumerism.
  • Finances. The hefty sum that I would have spent on the iPad can now be used for other things.
  • Space. This is one gadget that I don’t have to store. That’s one charger I don’t have to keep up with.
  • Time. I will have more time because I will not spend hours going through the App store. I do not have to clean it or maintain it.

When I stop and consider the positives, denying myself does not seem so bad. People do it every day. I need to learn to do it more often.

The moral of the story: denying yourself hurts, but it also has some positives. The next time you are faced with the possibility of denying yourself, consider the positives.

Kitchen Sink

I have an embarrassing confession to make. If you took a look in my purse, you would never know that I am a minimalist. Twice this week, people commented on how much I have stuffed into my purse. People ask how I can carry it without back and/or shoulder pain. According to my coworker, I have everything in there but the kitchen sink.

Of course, I never intended to have a purse with a jungle inside. It just happened… very gradually. And that’s the way it tends to be: you add a little something here, drop a couple of items in there, and soon enough your purse weighs as much as a small child.

Just so you can get an idea of what’s in my purse, I’ll list some of the contents:

  • wallet
  • sunglasses w/ case
  • makeup bag, which contains an embarrassing array of products: 4 lip liners, 5 lipsticks, 4 lip glosses, 1 lip balm, and 1 lip brush
  • car key
  • house key
  • coin purse
  • iPod touch
  • hand lotion
  • mirror
  • a bottle of Aleve (nearly empty)
  • a bottle of prescription naproxen
  • comb
  • gum
  • tissue
  • hair ties (3)
  • mini jewelry catalogues (10)
  • powder (to remove excess oil from my face)
  • facial blotting papers (also to remove excess oil from my face)
  • library card
  • samples of Elizabeth Arden facial moisturizer and anti-aging serum
  • miscellaneous mail
  • gift cards: Cheesecake Factory, Target, Barnes & Noble, Starbucks
  • feminine products (4)
  • business cards (2)
  • assorted pieces of jewelry
  • 1 fiber bar
  • 4 pens, 1 highlighter
  • assorted receipts
  • a plastic water bottle

I know, I know, it’s ridiculous — even for a non-minimalist. But for a minimalist, the state of my purse is an abomination.

In examining the contents of my purse, I realize four things:

  1. that I have trouble differentiating what I need from what I want
  2. that I have not yet conquered the fear that “I may need it later”
  3. that I will use the “just in case” rationale to justify just about anything
  4. that I don’t know how to make do with what I have on hand

I knew that I had lots of room for improvement as I pursue simplicity in my life, but I had no idea that my consumerist/hoarding tendencies were this severe. I read about people who have simplified their lives to the point where they can fit everything they own into a backpack. They own little, and they carry even less. What kind of minimalist am I when I carry all this crap with me everywhere I go?

This is ridiculous. If I can’t simplify my purse, how can I simplify my life? If  I can’t sensibly determine the things that I need to have with me at all times, how can I hope to determine the things I need in my life overall?

Though I am very discouraged by my lack of progress, I am committed to steady improvement. I have decided to challenge myself with these immediate changes:

  • where I have multiples, I will reduce to just one
  • seriously reevaluate what I need to have with me. Do I really need a mirror all the time? When is the last time I have been to the Cheesecake Factory? (perhaps I need to take a trip there and use these gift cards)
  • clear the clutter. It’s time to remove the mail, the receipts, the fiber bar, the water bottle…

The real challenge will be long term: learning what it is that I truly need, and sticking with that.

Crisis

My life is in crisis. I have more questions than answers, and enough stress to keep me on the verge of tears at all times. I am experiencing the most intense fear that I have: fear of the unknown.

I fear the unknown more than I fear death. I see death as unavoidable. For some reason, I see the unknown as something that I can avoid by proper planning. If planning doesn’t work, surely prayer will keep me away from the unknown, right? Not really.

The fact is that uncertainty is a part of life, and it cannot be avoided. This is the reality of living as a finite being: you don’t know everything. And as long as we have limited knowledge, there is always an element of the unknown in our lives.

Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.”    1 Samuel 14: 6

This is an extreme case of uncertainty. In the verse above, Jonathan comes upon a garrison of Philistines, and decides to approach them, not knowing whether God would help him. Jonathan was not afraid of the uncertainty that he faced. He didn’t let anxiety paralyze him. He didn’t take three months to analyze the situation. Instead, he does something that I think is both crazy and admirable at the same time: he charges forward. He faces the Philistines, not knowing the outcome of the situation, not knowing whether he will prevail or be killed.

While I doubt that I will ever be in a situation where I contemplate attacking a fierce army, I do think that I can learn from Jonathan’s response to the unknown. In times of crisis, when fear and uncertainty threaten to smother the life out me, shutting down is not the answer. I cannot just sit and wait for destruction to overtake me. I have to try. I have to move forward. It is scary, but it is necessary. Who knows? Maybe God will work for me. But I will never know if I never try.

Serving

Last night, I had an opportunity to serve. My small group and I went to a local ministry that provides food to local families. They do this once a month. This was my first time, and I was really looking forward to it.

I believe in social justice. I talk about it all the time. I even wrote my thesis about Jesus and social justice. But this is a time when I was able to actually stand alongside my church members and serve.

Serving in this way is my opportunity to live out my commitment to social justice. I enjoy talking about it. I enjoy writing about, too. But I am really excited about acting on my beliefs. I believe that it is fulfilling in a way that few things can. It feeds the soul to give expression to what is in your heart. This is especially true when that expression helps someone else. This is why people create. And why people work for change. And why people serve.

Christians are called to a life of service — service to God, and service to others. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says that he came not to be served, but to serve. In the verses prior, Jesus instructs his disciples to serve. Service is the way to greatness, according to Matthew 20:26-27. Jesus served (John 13: 14). Surely, we, his followers, should serve.

It is a blessing to serve because I get to show the kindness of Jesus.  Jesus even suggests that demonstrating this kindness to others is the same as demonstrating kindness to him (Matthew 25:34-40). It’s great to know that the people we served were blessed. But it’s amazing to know that I was blessed in return.

Last night, I got to serve. How do you serve?

Shoe Addiction

For me, there’s always a reason to buy a pair of shoes. Whether it’s an upcoming special event or the outfit that makes my legs look great, it seems that I aways need a pair of shoes. Or so I tell myself.

I was doing some online shoe shopping earlier today. Why was I doing this? Yes, part of the reason is that I was helping my aunt (who has a legitimate need for shoes) find a new pair. The main reason, though, is the fact that I always believe that I need another pair of shoes.

Until I made a commitment to simple living, I never questioned this “need.” I believed that I needed shoes, so I bought. And bought. And bought.  Fast forward a few years and I have a HUGE plastic tote full of shoes.  But did that stop me from shoe shopping today? Of course not!

I am pleased to report that I purchased no shoes. Why? Because minimalism has destroyed my love for shoes? Not at all. It has made me stop and think, though. While salivating over my computer, I was able to stop and ask myself “Do I really need this?”

Today I was forced to reexamine my constant “need” for shoes. Why do I need more shoes? I only have two feet! I have enough shoes to last me a long time. I don’t have a genuine need for shoes. What I have is a desire for more shoes. And that is another matter entirely.

For me, this is what minimalism is about. It’s not about denying my needs. It’s about determining my needs, and focusing on those needs. It’s about asking myself “Do I truly need this? Can I do without?” It’s about focusing on what I need rather than collecting every single thing that I want. It’s not about asceticism or self punishment. It’s about freedom from excess.

Minimalism has caused me to question my “needs”. Even my need for more shoes. It has caused me to focus on my real needs, and to stay away from excess. For me, that’s what simplicity is about: choosing needs over wants.