Your Stuff Doesn’t Condemn You

I just preached my second sermon!  (Crazy, right?)

My text was Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus. In this passage we have the story of the rich guy that everybody loves to hate. He’s a tax collector who’s making himself rich at his neighbors’ expense. He gouged them on their taxes and had grown very rich doing so.

Well, one day Jesus comes to Jericho, where Zacchaeus lives. Jesus had just healed a blind man, Bartimaeus, and there was a crowd of people surrounding him. Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus and he wanted to go see him. He determined that seeing Jesus was more important than whatever he had been previously occupied with.

So Zacchaeus braves the crowd only to find that he is too short to see anything. I’m 5’1″ so I totally get that. But what Zacchaeus does next is very interesting. He climbed into a tree on the path because he knew Jesus would pass by that way.

When Jesus came to that spot he yelled for Zacchaeus to come down and invited himself to be a guest in Zacchaues’ home. Jesus honors him by eating with him.

Zachaeus had a unique experience. He has a close encounter with the Master himself. People have been radically transformed by just hearing about Jesus. Zacchaeus actually shared space with Jesus. He shared a meal with him. Luke doesn’t give much information about what happened there. I can only imagine what that was like. I can only imagine the things that were said.

One thing Luke does tell us is that Zacchaeus was a changed man after his encounter with Jesus:

“Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”- Luke 19:8

The man that was so consumed with money that he regularly cheated others to make himself wealthy decided to give half of his fortune to the poor. He agreed to make restitution for the money he had stolen. The man that was so obsessed with money and stuff made a radical shift.

Jesus then declares that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ home. That is a beautiful statement.

If not read carefully, however, it can almost be understood that Zacchaeus’ good works (giving to the poor and making restitution) are what saved him. They most certainly did not. Believing in Jesus is the only thing that saves. This was as true then as it is now. What saved Zacchaeus is his change of belief. He worshipped money and the stuff it can provide. After spending some time with Jesus his beliefs changed. He worshipped the one true God rather than money. This brought salvation to his household.

So, what did Zacchaeus’ good works mean? It meant that Zacchaeus had been freed from his bondage to greed. He was a slave to his desire for money and all that it can buy. After spending time with Jesus he was set free.

Here at Minimalist Believer we aim to have less stuff. Is it because the stuff condemns us? Absolutely not. We need stuff. Often not as much as we think, but we still need it. If we believe in Jesus we have eternal life even if you have a bunch of stuff.

What we do here is celebrate the freedom from obsession with stuff. We celebrate the freedom that comes from living with less stuff and less of a desire for stuff. We celebrate the fact that what we have is enough.

Many of us have been obsessed with stuff. I had a serious addiction to consumerism, and I still have some areas were I can improve. But I am making progress, and that’s my goal: progress, not perfection.

So stuff doesn’t condemn. It doesn’t always cause us to be enslaved. But Jesus comes to being freedom. He comes to destroy the works of the devil. He comes to destroy the chains of bondage — to consumerism or anything else. And that freedom is worth celebrating.


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.




From Materialism to Minimalism

About 8 years ago, an ex-boyfriend diagnosed me with a severe case of materialsm. We were functionally engaged: the guy and I were planning to marry and he introduced me as his fiancèe, but we had no wedding date and I had no ring. It turns out that we were all wrong for each other and marrying him would have been a big mistake. I had several hesitations about him, and he had several about me. One of his hesitations was that he thought I was very materialistic.

When he said this to me, I scoffed at him and told him that the problem wasn’t that I was materialistic. The problem was that he was broke. I believed that he was intimidated by my stuff because he couldn’t afford that lifestyle.

Part of the problem is that I was listening to some theology that promoted the accumulation of stuff.  They advocated hoarding, calling it “abundance,” and taught that more stuff and more money indicated God’s blessing.

A few years later, I learned proper exegesis, and I realized that the theology I had embraced was questionable at best. I learned that money was not an indication of God’s blessing. I learned that God loves the poor and that he expects us to do the same (rather than condemn them for their lack of “faith”). I had a paradigm shift.

In 2011, I stumbled upon a website about minimalism. The idea was foreign to me, but somehow it struck a chord with me. I realized that my focus shouldn’t be on getting more and more stuff. My focus should be on living life to the fullest and helping others to do the same.

Since that time, I have embraced minimalism and have been working to root out materialism. Materialism is sneaky though. It has many faces. Sometimes it shows itself in our tendencies to stock up when there is a sale. We buy six bottles of shower gel because three just won’t do. It can show up as a desire to compete. Your friend has a stunning new purse and that makes you want one too. Materialism can show up as fashion obsession. We have to have the latest fashion items in the latest color, and we have to have them right now.

For me, contentment is the key to curbing materialism. When I see and appreciate what I already have it makes me less likely to get obsessed with what I don’t have. Yes, it would be awesome to have that new Too Faced eye palette, but I have a really nice palette already. I love the colors that I have. Why do I need more? Contentment says, “What I have is enough.” This attitude is like kryptonite to materialism.

Practicality also combats materialism. Yes, another purse would be nice.  But how much use will I get out of that purse? Where will it be stored? Would the money used to purchase it be better used elsewhere? Sometimes thinking things through is enough to redirect that desire to have more.

Embracing minimalism has brought me face to face with my own materialism. While I feel that I have made great progress, I still struggle with materialism sometimes. I still want things. The difference is that I have learned to be more content and to think more practically. These have been most helpful in rooting out materialism in my life (this is an ongoing process). What has helped you?

What Happens After You Purge?

You’ve gone through your things. You’ve determined what to keep and what to part with. You know what things have to go. But what will you do with them? Here are a few ideas for those things that don’t make the cut:

Give it away. There is a good chance that someone could use the things you no longer need. Do you know a mom that needs kids clothes? Does your church distribute food or clothing? Do you live near a Goodwill or Salvation Army? There are may ways to give to people in need. That sweater you never wear could really be a blessing to someone else.

Sell it. Similarly, there are many places to sell your stuff. There are lots of consignment boutiques that will sell your things for you and give you a portion of the proceeds. I recently discovered the joy of selling on eBay. It’s pretty simple to set up and account and start selling. If you prefer something more immediate you could host a garage sale — alone or with neighbors. You could also sell things on Craigslist. If you want to sell, chances are, someone is looking to buy. And it never hurts to get some extra cash.

Barter it. Bartering is gaining popularity. It’s alternative to buying. It is a way to get something you need and get rid of something you don’t. And bartering is not limited to goods. You can barter services as well. Maybe you need a Powerpoint presentation made and a friend needs your books from last semester. Each of your needs could be met with a simple barter.

Toss it. If you can’t donate it, sell it, or barter it, you may have to trash it. Some things are fit only for the trash. You shouldn’t feel bad for putting these things in their rightful place. Recycle when you can. When you can’t, toss it.

Yes, purging is difficult. Not only do you have to decide what you don’t need, but you also have to decide what to do with the items you are parting with. Thankfully, we have options. And with a little patience and creativity, you may even be able to get something in exchange for the things you don’t need. See? Purging is good for everyone.


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?

Enticed By More

Recently, my commitment to minimalism was tested. Big time. How? It was Lancome gift time, and I am a huge fan of their Genefique anti-aging serum. If I just purchased one vial of Genefique, I would get eight items for free!

Perhaps I should back up a little. I am recovering from a severe beauty product addiction. At one time I had enough beauty products to keep me and my family looking and smelling good for the next year (at least). I had no less than 30 tubes of lipstick. It was that serious.

As I browsed the cosmetics offers (why was I looking at them, anyway?) It took everything I had to navigate away from the page that was enticing me to buy. For some time I rationalized the potential purchase by saying that I was getting more for my money. What is the enticement of more?

  • More entices us by making us feel that we do not have enough. I do not have a vial of Genefique, this is true. But I have an array of skin care products that will last for months. So why would I need more?  I don’t. Not having enough is not the issue. The issue is that the ads and vendors entice us, making us feel that we do not have enough.
  • More makes empty promises. Part of the allure of more is that it promises to make us/our collections complete. I think that if I just have this one product, then I’ll have everything I need — until the next product or free gift comes along. More promises to add to our lives, to complete us. This is a promise that can never be filled with things. Things cannot make us complete. If anything, having more stuff robs us of precious time, space, and peace of mind.
  • More clouds our judgement. When staring at an 8-piece gift with purchase, I am not thinking about the fact that I have bills to pay. I am not thinking about the unused beauty products sitting under my bed. I am not thinking about the fact that I have no place to store these items. More blinds us to practical things. More fills our eyes with lust and sound judgement falls by the wayside.

More is not what it seems to be. It is not an indication that we do not have enough. It is not what will make us complete. And most of the time, more is not in your best interest over the long term. More is not better. It’s just more.

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.

Minimalism – Heart and Soul

Earlier today, I had an experience that caused me to question my commitment to minimalism. I looked at my bottle of perfume and decided that I would buy a new one. I love, love, love this fragrance and my employer is offering it to employees for almost 60% off. That’s an incredibly good deal. Being a bargain shopper, I decided to take advantage. That doesn’t sound like overconsumption. Minimalists wear perfume, too.

The problem is this: my current bottle of that fragrance is nearly full. Still, I decided to buy another – simply because it was a good deal. My aunt reminded me that I didn’t need another bottle because the one I have is full. I responded that my current bottle was the smaller size and would only last a few months. Surely that justifies purchasing another bottle, right?

After taking some time to think about it, I realized that I really don’t need another bottle of perfume. The urge to buy was partly fueled by my desire to get a good deal. But it was partly driven my tendency to stockpile. A few months worth of perfume should be enough for anybody. But my mind didn’t see what I actually had, it only saw what I didn’t have.

I consider myself an aspiring minimalist. I have a ways to go, but I have already begun simplifying my life. I have fewer clothes and body products. I buy less stuff. I get more use out of what I have. I have simplicity in my head, but is it in my heart?  Am I really living this thing out? Or is my commitment to simplicity so shallow that I can’t resist a good deal?

I look back at the progress I’ve made in simplifying my life. My attitude about stuff has changed dramatically. I have given away bags and bags of clothes and shoes. I have saved a lot of money. I have spent more time doing the things I love than ever before. This makes me want to simplify even more. I am thoroughly convinced that having fewer possessions leads to a fuller, freer life.

My life bears some of the fruits of minimalism, and I am really encouraged by that. It’s not just a cute idea, or something interesting to write about. This is how I live my life. It is a part of me. And getting caught up in the heat of the perfume moment does not change that.

Just because I’ve chosen to simplify doesn’t mean that I will never again feel the urge to purchase something that I like. What is does mean is that I will give careful consideration before I plop down the debit card. It means that I will determine whether the purchase will meet a genuine need, feed my need for security, or simply provide an emotional high. It means that I will buy only what is essential.

Minimalism isn’t about not feeling the urge to buy things. It’s about not giving in to the urge.

Do you still struggle with the urge to buy? How does it effect you? How do you get through it? I would love to hear about it. Comments are welcome.