There is Only One Best

Call me crazy, but I enjoy taking tests. It’s like a showdown between me and the material (or in a hostile situation, me and the professor). Standardized tests are the same for me. It’s me and the test clashing in battle, and only one of us can emerge victorious. I love it. (This is part of the reason I want to be a professional student, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

When studying for standardized tests, I often see these instructions:

Choose the best answer.

That concept is key because for a multiple choice question, there can be several good answers. Many can be good, but only one can be best. The best answer is the one that must be selected.

In the same way, there can be many good uses for my time. Reading books, studying, listening to music, knitting… any of these could be good uses of time. However, at any given moment there can only be one way to make the best use of my time.

For example, last week I signed myself up for two classes through Coursera, a website that offers online classes from top universities for free. (If you have time you should definitely check it out. The courses are awesome.) I signed up for Think Again: How to Reason and Argue and Calculus 1. I love calculus, and I love the idea of learning how to create and recognize a good argument. While these things are great, Coursera courses aren’t the best way to use my time right now. My time is better spent searching for employment, writing, and brushing up on my Greek and Hebrew.

Considering my goals, I decided to drop both Coursera courses. I hope to take more courses though Coursera at some point, but now is not that time. I sacrificed what was good and choose to do what is best.

Minimalism is about choices. We choose to live with less. We choose freedom from clutter in our homes and in our schedules. We choose full lives over fashion. We choose to live intentionally. We choose the best uses of resources – our time, talent, and treasure. When presented with many good options, we choose only the best.

People. Not Things.

As of late, this phrase has really been on my mind. Simply put: people are more important than things. People should occupy more space in our lives than things. Yet, how many of our lives reflect this?

Yes, I am about living simply, but that is only half of the story. I am also about social justice and helping people. I can help more people when I’m not out chasing stuff.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Luke 19:10

Jesus’ priority was not the accumulation of stuff. He was more concerned with people than with stuff. In Luke 19, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who had become rich by overcharging the people. Zacchaeus hides in a tree to hear Jesus’ teachings. Jesus offers to come to his house. Zacchaeus is so moved that he declares that he will give half of his possessions to the poor, and that he will repay four times all those he defrauded. Interestingly, it is after Zacchaeus shifts his thinking from wealth and stuff to people, that Jesus declares that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house.

People were Jesus’ priority. Not things. He came to seek and save the lost — and he was not talking about lost stuff! The Son of Man came after people. That’s where his focus was.

That’s were our focus should be as well. As followers of Christ, we should have the same priorities that he had (and still has). We should be thinking more about people than we are about accumulating more money and more stuff.

Shifting our priorities is never an easy process. It takes time, and usually requires a change in behavior. How can we begin to shift our thinking?

Perhaps one way that we can begin to shift our thinking is to reflect on Jesus and his teachings. Jesus’ teachings indicate his priorities: the will of God, the Kingdom of God, the love of God, and the love of people.

Making the decision to live simply is another way to shift your thinking. Intentionally refusing to pursue more and more and more stuff frees up more time and money to help others.

When I’m out chasing stuff, or lusting after that cute little bag in the Brighton window, I am not thinking about Jesus at all. I am too busy daydreaming about how that bag would really set off my summer look. All this stuff is a distraction. It’s a distraction that we cannot afford if we are to live like Jesus.

Day 3

Three days ago my family and I decided to go on a juice fast. After fasting for three days, we evaluated, and my aunt and I decided to extend our fast.  Every day, I juice fruits and vegetables to create the gorgeous green elixir that we drink several times a day.

Well, it’s Day 3 and aside from the intense craving for french fries (with extra salt!), I seem to be doing ok. I started out thinking that this would be the jumpstart of a radically changed lifestyle. Sadly, I don’t think this is going to be the case. This craving for french fries is so strong that I’m pretty sure I’ll cave in a few days. That is because even though my behavior has changed, my mind has not.

Similarly, when I was working the job from hell, I went shopping on several weekends. Generally, I did well purchasing only what I needed. I bought consumables (tea, groceries, hair products) and things that I genuinely needed (new bras!). But I spent time shopping when I could have been writing. It is what I have always done. It is almost as if I gave myself permission to fall back into that habit because I made more money.  The result? I got things I needed, and a few things I didn’t. While I did manage to limit my spending, the fact that I shopped recreationally is evidence that my mindset still needs some work.

I’ve heard it before, but over the last three days I have come to understand this truth: in order to achieve lasting change, you must replace old habits with new ones. Willpower isn’t enough. Sure, it will work for a while, but when you’re in a pinch, or a crisis, or even when you’re bored, you will go back to old habits. There has to be something to take the place of the old, destructive habits in order for a change to stick.

So my goal for the remainder of this juice fast is to look for ways to replace old habits. I have joined a 30 Day Vegan Challenge to help me find some healthy recipes and to replace bad habits with healthy ones. I have a new writing project that I will begin very soon. Over the next few days I will explore more ways to replace bad habits with good ones. And after the fast is done, I will begin installing those new habits so that the changes are permanent. I’ll keep you posted.

Indulgence

As humans, we love to indulge, don’t we? We love, love, love things that makes us feel good — that slice of cheesecake; that new pair of shoes; that extra hour of sleep. These are things that bring us pleasure. And as people, we naturally prefer things that are pleasant to us.

This is why we overeat. This is why we are not productive. And this is why we overspend. It feels good to buy that new bracelet. I know it feels good to eat that chocolate cake. And I really enjoy reading through my twitter feed.

Sometimes I try to justify my indulgences. I’ll tell myself, “I work hard. I deserve this.” Or I will say that I’m treating myself. Sometimes, I’ll realize that I don’t need those french fries and I’ll promise to do better… next time. All this results in me choosing to  give in to all of life’s indulgences.

Here’s the problem: my arguments don’t hold water. Just because I work hard doesn’t mean that I can buy whatever I want. I don’t need to treat myself every day. And if I don’t exercise self control today, the chances of me miraculously exercising self control tomorrow are slim.

The bottom line is that if we want it badly enough, we will come up with a reason to indulge— even if the reason is false.

My pastor talks about those little things that we enjoy, but really aren’t essential. He calls them “the snacks of life.” These are things that are enjoyable, but if one is not careful, they can take the place of the more substantial things in life. Just like snacking on potato chips can ruin my appetite for dinner, filling up on the snacks of life can occupy me so that I have no time or energy for the more important things.

If I spend 45 minutes on facebook, I may not have time to write. If I fill up on cookies, I won’t eat healthy foods. If I spend money on  jewelry (which I don’t need) I might not have money to buy gas (which I do need). There is nothing wrong with facebook, or cookies, or jewelry. They become a problem, however, when they take the place of more important things.

Giving in to every craving or urge can be very destructive.  It can cause financial problems. It can impact your health. And it can keep you from accomplishing what you need to accomplish. This is especially true when we pursue pleasures at the expense of priorities.

A friend once told me that a large part of adulthood is realizing that resources are finite. Time is limited. Money is limited. We must keep this in mind when making decisions. We cannot get so focused on pursuing the pleasures of life that we neglect the priorities. This will lead to destruction.

It can be hard to turn away from life’s assorted pleasures to focus on the priorities. Each day is filled with opportunities to indulge. As you go about your week, be mindful of your priorities. Watch out for the snacks of life that threaten to pull your attention away. Choose carefully what you give your time and attention to. It may not be pleasant in that moment, but I believe that focusing on the priorities will pay off in the long run.

How do you stay focused on the priorities in your life? I look forward to reading your comments.

How To Organize Your Purse

I am always on the lookout for “clutter creep,” when we slowly accumulate stuff after decluttering. Purging has to become a part of your routine. If not, the creep sets in and we have just as much clutter as before.

For me, the creep is a constant concern. And the hardest place to control the creep is in my purse. Too often, I stand at the door digging in my purse for my house keys. It is also embarrassing to sit your purse on a counter when it has a ton of stuff in it. The fact that my purse sometimes weighs as much as a small child is a problem in itself.

Keeping your purse organized is a struggle, but it’s better if you have a strategy. Here are some things to consider when taming the beast in your bag:

  • Wallet – Do you use your wallet for storing business cards, receipts, and other things? It’s ok to put important things in your wallet. However, a wallet can only hold so much. Set a regular time (weekly, monthly, etc.) to go through your wallet and clean out all the extra stuff.
    • Also consider dumping change every week. Change is heavy and it takes up space. Collecting change is also a good way to save some extra money.
  • Keys – Do you need all they keys on your key ring? If there are some that you don’t use, or some that you only use occasionally, consider taking them off and putting them in a safe place until they are needed.
  • Makeup – Do you need a full makeup collection everywhere you go? Most of us can get away with just lip products. Usually lipstick is all we need. One signature look and a spare is good enough.
  • Pockets – Most purses have a zipper pocket. It tends to collect receipts, business cards, reward cards (those that aren’t important enough to be kept in the wallet) and all other manner of junk.
    • Consider taking a different approach with reward cards and gift cards. Keep a wallet in the house for all these cards. This will cut down on unplanned trips to the stores (good for our minimalist goals!).
  • Miscellaneous –  There are a ton of other things we carry in our purses: pens, combs, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, books, iPods, iPads, cell phones… Evaluate what you really need on a daily basis and carry only those things.
  • Repeat! Go through your purse periodically to make sure that the clutter doesn’t creep back in.

What are your purse management tips?

Media for Minimalists

I have committed to living simply, but I have not committed to a lifetime of deprivation. I love my media. Books, especially. I also love CDs. My DVD collection is not very large, but I do have a few.

Before minimalism, I collected books. I love books of all kinds: fiction, reference, language, cookbooks, and just about every other. I also collected CDs. However, the advent of the digital age has made it easier for me to live simply.

I bring simplicity to my media by:

  • Keeping music digitally. Everything is stored on my computer. I am partial to iTunes, and I use it to store and organize my rather large music collection.
  • Investing in an eReader or tablet computer. I will always need books. The iPad makes it possible to fulfill my need for books without taking up space. I realize that this is still a form of collecting, and to some extent. But for my level of simplicity, the the ability to read books digitally is the key to maintaining my collection without all the space.
  • Getting magazines for iPad. I am just starting to explore this one. I really like magazines, but I don’t like to keep them around forever. And of course I feel guilty for throwing them out because I paid for them. I recently got a subscription to Relevant Magazine, which I read on my iPad. It’s awesome because I get access immediately and there is nothing store.
  • Watching movies online. I recently signed up with Flixster and Vudu to watch digital copies of movies. I don’t watch a lot of movies, but this is a way to watch them without taking up space. And, of course, there is Netflix. You can access a ton of movies without buying anything.

The digital age has made it so much easier to have the media that I need while using minimal space. I can still read my 30 books this year without buying a new bookshelf. For me, that’s a perfect solution.

Minimalist Shopping

Simplifying life is a learning experience. We learn to purge.  We learn to think differently about stuff. We also learn to shop differently.

I had a successful shopping trip this weekend. I am now a minimalist with a thick camel sweater and a cream turtleneck. I have been working so hard to eliminate the excess in my life so I took specific measures to avoid making unnecessary purchases.

The most important part of my shopping trip happened at home. I laid out every shirt I had on my bed. I looked to see what went with my pants and skirts and what would allow me to get the most wear out of my wardrobe. When I had everything out I realized that I needed a white shirt and a versatile sweater to keep me warm. Armed with this information, I grabbed some coupons and headed to the store.

So how does a minimalist approach the shopping expedition?

Minimalists shop with purpose. Shopping is not a leisure activity; it’s an expedition. A minimalist knows what needs to be purchased and which stores or departments will be visited. She then sticks to those areas.

Minimalists have strict standards. Minimalists look for specific things. This past weekend I could only purchase items that met my predetermined criteria. My sweater had to be thick. I was purchasing a sweater for warmth, not the latest trend. A minimalist knows what needs need to be filled and focuses only on items that meet those needs. A minimalist will eliminate the rest, no matter how cute or how cheap.

Minimalists aren’t desperate. On my recent shopping mission I was prepared to come home empty-handed. If didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, I would not purchase anything less.

Minimalists are obsessed with quality. Minimalists have fewer items in their wardrobes, so every item is important. There is no room in our lives for clothes we don’t need or don’t love. The clothes we do have are used and washed more often so they need to be well made. Personally, I want them to last as long as possible so I focus on quality and ease of care.

Shopping as a minimalist is a whole different experience. Instead of trying to get as much as I can for as little as possible, I now seek to buy as little as possible. I try to meet all my needs with the fewest items. If I can do so inexpensively, even better.

While it doesn’t happen often, minimalists do need to shop. It’s ok. Minimalism isn’t about never buying anything again. But it is about not buying things you don’t need. It’s about shopping strategically rather than shopping mindlessly.

How do you approach shopping while living simply?

The Minimalist Lean

Many leaders are managers — they manage the world around them instead of changing or influencing it.

Jay Pathak

Last week I had the pleasure of going to a leadership conference with my church. It was simply amazing. I learned so many things that will help me as I walk the plan that God has for me. One of the most meaningful, however, is that leaders live life with a lean.

Jay Pathak taught us that true leaders are different from everyone else. The only people that change the world are those that appear to be insane. They are tilted. They lean. They look crazy. A true leader has to be tilted.

Are you leaning?

In a culture that is addicted to More, to choose less is to lean. It’s a lean into simplicity.  People are cramming their homes full of more crap and cramming their schedules full of more commitments. If you simplify, you will stand out.

To be a minimalist is to be a trailblazer. In a  culture that is consumed with accumulating, voluntarily choosing to have only the necessities is never going to be a popular choice. You’re going to get lots of strange looks for choosing to have less when everyone else is doing everything possible to have more.

The pressure to conform can be intense. We are consistently bombarded with messages tell us that what we have isn’t good enough. The commercials tell us that we simply cannot live without that new facial cream. Your family member asks “You’re not going to wear that, are you?” And then there’s the One Day Sale at Macy’s.

But to be a leader is to live with a lean. You look crazy when you choose less. You stand out, and that’s a good thing. Because when you lean, sometimes others lean with you. Others may choose to cut some things out. They follow your lean. Leaders actually create a new normal by leaning. What do you do then? You lean some more.

Lean into simplicity. Lean into having only what you need. Lean into clearing clutter.To be a minimalist is to live with a lean.

Lean. Then lean some more. You will look weird. It might even look like you’re insane. But if you want to change the world, you’ve got to lean.

The Pride of Possessions

You can read my first article on the Lust of the Eyes here.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”

1 John 2:15-17

It’s unfortunate, but our stuff means a lot to us. We organize it. We clean it. We care for it — sometimes more than we care for people.

Curiously, our stuff means a lot to other people, too. People are very interested in our shoes, our clothes, our gadgets. They use these things to make an assessment of us. It determines how we are perceived. For so many, we are what we accumulate.

Is this why we accumulate? Not necessarily. We accumulate things for several reasons. Some things we accumulate for ourselves, — they satisfy a need in our lives. Some things we acquire simply because we want them. Some things we accumulate for emotional reasons (fear, desire for security) And some things we accumulate for others. We buy the car, the house, the clothes not only for how they make us feel, but also for how they make others feel about us.

Everyone wants to be liked. We all want to be affirmed and admired. This becomes a problem when we use stuff to gain that affirmation.

Dave Ramsey puts it this way:

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

It’s the pride of possessions described in 1 John 2:15-17. We take pride in what we have. While the lust of the eyes creates a desire within ourselves, the pride of possessions is an attempt to create desire in others. We want others to want what we have.

This stems from insecurity. When someone feels inadequate, they look for things to supply what they feel they are missing.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:15

I think that Jesus was spot on: one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. We are not defined by our stuff. We shouldn’t define ourselves by our possessions or define anyone else by theirs.

It’s really easy to get caught up in what clothes we wear, what handbags we carry, or what car we drive. It is also easy to define others by these things. We are conditioned to. But in order to simplify our lives, we have to change our thoughts about things.

Things are great when they meet a genuine need. We should definitely use what we have wisely and responsibly.

Things should not be used to achieve status – in our eyes or someone else’s. That is the pride of possessions. It is of the world, not from the Father. And it is all passing away.

The purses that I carry will eventually wear out. My car will eventually have to be replaced (a looooong time from now, I hope!). My makeup will eventually be used up. None of it lasts.

But whoever does the will of God abides forever. That’s a whole different perspective. If I could focus on the things that really last, it would change my life. Let’s face it: Jesus is not going to ask me about which purses I carried. At the end of my life, it will not matter what gadgets I had, what shoes I wore, or what car I drove. All that will matter is whether I did the will of God. That’s the status I want, and it can’t be bought.

Mindfulness – The Key to Minimalism

Sometimes, I get in the way of my own success. I don’t mean to, it happens unintentionally.

For example, one day I was driving by one of my favorite bath and beauty product stores. This is the time of year when my favorite bath and body stores have huge sales on their products — up to 75% off! Usually, I go and stock up. It’s a huge sale, and I love a good sale. I automatically put it on my list of errands for the day.  Thankfully, I was lost in thought about something more important and missed my turn.

In June, I quit eating meat and seriously limited sweets and animal products. Overall, I have been doing well with that. However, one day last month, I had pizza (one of my favorites). For the next four days, I continued to eat pizza and other junk. I’d tell myself: I’ll do it just this once. The problem is, I said that about four times. Of course, I did get back on track, but it took nearly a week.

These are but two recent examples when my actions have been contrary to what I say my goals are. Is the problem that I don’t want to live a simple and healthy life? No, these are two things that are very important to me. So why do I keep messing up?

My slip-ups seem to occur when instead of thinking carefully about what I want to do, I simply do what I have been conditioned to do. They happen because I am not being mindful.

Isn’t mindfulness what minimalism is all about? Isn’t the goal to eliminate the mindless spending and consumption? Isn’t healthy eating about avoiding unhealthy foods and choosing healthier ones instead? Both of these things require mindfulness. They require that I actually think, rather than rely on my default patterns. I have to stop and think before I eat that donut, or make that purchase, about what I really want to achieve.

Truth be told, the moment when I’m standing over the pound cake isn’t the time to make the decision. I need to plan my course of action well in advance. The key word is plan. I need to be mindful about my choices, and make them ahead of time, if possible.

(In my whiny voice) But that will require that I stop and think every time I get ready to eat something, or every time I reach for my wallet. YES!! It will!! That’s exactly what it requires. That is exactly what will have to happen. I am never going to live a healthy life or a simple life without thinking… without being intentional.

Anything worthwhile in life requires effort. Effort requires attention, mindfulness. Mindful about what we eat, mindful about what we spend, and mindful of how we spend our time. To me, this is living simply.

What will you be more mindful of today?