Loss, Living With Less, And Loving It

Today’s post is from a guest blogger, Russell Carstens.

Russell Carstens is a freelance writer from Central NJ. In 2007/08 he held a writing position for Princeton Theological Seminary’s Office of Communications/Publications, where he wrote for their inSpire Magazine and website. After earning his master’s degree in 2012, he worked in management and is now pursuing writing again.

Last December, my wife and I were greatly inconvenienced when we were essentially forced to move out of the first apartment we shared together. Our downstairs neighbor had let a pest problem go untreated for several months. Facing the risk of potential future issues, we decided that it’d be in our best interest to leave.

My favorite thing about that apartment was my precious extra room (or office, or man cave…whatever you’d like to call it.) The first thing I did when we moved in was set my stereo up in that room so I could hide away from the stresses of life and listen to my prized vinyl records. I look back with shame about how selfish it was of me to make this my first priority, rather than help my wife unpack items essential to our everyday life together.

When we moved into my mother-in-law’s house to escape the neighbor’s pests, I was terrified of not being able to participate in my record-listening ritual. As a lifelong music lover, I had wrapped up an enormous and unhealthy amount of my identity in being someone who lived, breathed and ate music. I considered myself a collector, spending hours in music stories seeking rare albums or other treasures that I could proudly display and feel special about owning. I saw my passion for collecting albums as a snobby status symbol that set me apart from more casual listeners. Now that I was sleeping in my brother-in-law’s old bedroom, I had nowhere to create an elaborate audio sanctuary.

So I did my best with what I had: an iPad with the streaming music service Spotify. I took a paper plate and cut out a small circular shape to act as a makeshift speaker enhancer. At first, I was disappointed to be without my more advanced stereo, but then something happened. I stumbled upon an unused Bible that was gifted to my brother-in-law over twenty years ago. I kept it bedside for nightly and morning reading. As someone who was raised Catholic more out of tradition than anything else, I hadn’t seriously studied the Bible until 2009 when I truly came to faith. One night I stumbled upon 1 Timothy 6:7, which reads, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

Streamlining my possessions was something I had been doing gradually over recent years, but didn’t dare apply to my precious music collection. Now that I was forced to live without it, this Bible passage struck me to the core. Why cling to possessions when they will eventually no longer be ours? Everything in this world is fleeting and it’s important for us as Christians to keep this in mind. I realized I was no less happy having to listen to music on my simple little iPad. In fact, I discovered that I rather enjoyed the simplicity of it.

I used to waste hours sitting in front of my music shelf and organizing CDs, or protecting my vinyl records from the dangers of my cat’s eager-to-scratch claws. Once I got away from my most prized possessions, I realized they owned me more than I owned them. As a result, I embraced the simple new way I enjoyed music. More importantly, I had more time to focus on being a more faithful Christian and more devoted husband. My identity is now wrapped in my faith, where it should be.

After three months, we moved into a new apartment. The stereo and music collection came along, but for now they sit in the basement. I’m sure they will be in use again at some point, but I’m in no rush. I also know they will no longer have the grip on me they once did.

The minimalism bug has bled into other areas of my life as a result of this experience, and I’m now overjoyed by the liberating process of giving away or selling other possessions I realized I didn’t truly need. With every item we lose, our identity may die a little bit, but this is an opportunity to refocus ourselves in the right direction.




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