Minimalist Believer

A blog about minimalism and the Christian life

Month: June, 2014

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.

 

 

 

Quality vs. Quantity

I love tea. Few things bring me as much pleasure as sitting down with my journal and a steaming mug of tea. The problem is that I love loose teas, which can be expensive. I recently bought tea from a new online retailer to save money. My logic: I can get twice as much tea for less money. Why not order?

It sounded like a good thing. I ordered three teas. Two of those teas are good. The third I hate and will probably throw away. Yes, I have twice as much tea, but is it better?

Not in this case. Though the new teas were pretty good, they weren’t nearly as good as my favorite teas. I eventually broke down and bought my favorite tea, which I feel is higher quality anyway. Wouldn’t it have been simpler, and ultimately cheaper, to just buy the higher quality tea to begin with? It would have, but in this case I was sucked in by the idea of getting more.

We live in a world that tells us that more is better. We are told to get as much as we can. Too often we are tricked by the idea that we need more. I wrote about that here.

We are often encouraged to seek quantity over quality. However, I have found that quality is so much more important. I found this to be true about just about everything, including tea. I believe in buying for quality. As a minimalist, I believe that everyone should.

It discourages stockpiling. When you spend a bit more for a quality item you will most likely not buy as many. You are also more likely to take better care of what you already have.

It ensures that you make better use of things. When I only have one of an item it gets used a lot. Fewer pairs of socks means that each pair gets used more often. I don’t have a drawer full of socks that don’t get worn. I get the full use out of my things to make sure that I get my money’s worth. I use them until they need to be thrown out or replaced.

It ultimately saves money. Buying cheap and replacing often can often cost more in the long run. As with my teas, sometimes we end up buying the higher quality items anyway when the lower quality items don’t work out.

It uses fewer resources. I have been carrying the same handbags for many years. Because I am not replacing my handbag every year I use fewer materials and fewer resources. There is less waste.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t try to get the best deal? Absolutely not. There is a difference between getting a high quality product at a lower price and buying a product of inferior quality just so that you can get more. If there is a product you like that happens to be on sale it’s fine to take advantage of the sale. That is being smart with your money. You may even buy an extra to save yourself money later. That’s great as long as you don’t get carried away and start stockpiling.

An important note: higher quality things are not necessarily expensive, and expensive things are not always high quality. Quality is determined by what serves you well and, to some extent, what you like. For example, I really like MAC cosmetics. It isn’t the most expensive, but I feel that their products are of good quality. I am pleased with them so that’s what I buy.

Don’t sacrifice quality  for quantity. It may cost a little more, but it’s worth it in the long run. If everyone focused on quality we would use fewer resources and create less waste. Purchasing high quality items benefits everyone — except retailers that specialize in low quality merchandise. I’m talking about you, Walmart.