A Christian’s Perspective on Minimalism

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Several years ago, I stumbled into the philosophy of minimalism. As I’ve recounted before, it was quite by accident.

Before kids, my wife and I spent four years living and traveling full-time in an RV. As you might imagine, that lifestyle requires you to be ruthless about the number of items you own. Thus we became accidental minimalists.

I’ve noticed minimalism making a bit of a comeback in recent years. And many who write or talk about productivity are also self-described minimalists. So I thought it might be worth diving into the topic from a Christian perspective.

Where did this movement come from? And how should Christians think about minimalism?

A Brief History of Minimalism

Minimalism is a lifestyle philosophy that encourages owning fewer possessions and simplifying one’s life. And its core promise is summed up in the expression, “Less is more.” And it grew in popularity during the 2010s, mostly through blogs.

But minimalism went mainstream when Netflix premiered 2015’s Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (now available on YouTube).

It’s a film that explores the lives of self-described minimalists from various walks of life. These are people who deliberately traded consumeristic lifestyles for extreme simplicity. All had dramatically cut down on the number of things they owned. And one woman had even moved into a 150 sq/ft tiny home.

The film also traces the philosophy of minimalism and why they believe it leads to greater happiness. It’s this claim that I think requires the most scrutiny. I’ll show you why later in this essay.

Today, you can still find the minimalism movement still thriving on blogs, but it’s found new energy on YouTube. Creators like Matt DeAvella (who directed the Minimalism documentary), Joshua Becker, an early minimalist blogger and former pastor, and Gabe Bult all have loyal followings on their YouTube channels. Their weekly videos regularly garner hundreds of thousands of views.

It’s a message that still resonates with people, especially in America. And I know many believers who are self-described minimalists. On the one hand, I believe Christians would do well to apply some of the tenets of minimalism. But on the other hand, we need to apply some serious discernment to the core message of the philosophy.

In this article, I will present a case for why many of the tenants of minimalism square well with faithful Christian living and might offer a much-needed corrective for many of us. But I’ll also share a few cautions you should consider.

Three Benefits of Minimalism for Christians

1. Minimalism Discourages the Love of Money

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

1 Timothy 6:10

The apostle Paul famously wrote, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). That’s because it’s not money itself that we love but what money can give us—power, security, and stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. And if we aren’t careful, we will fall prey to the lies money tells. And before long, our possessions can become our gods.

This is one thing I appreciate about minimalism. Minimalism rejects the lies of modern convenience and the myth that owning the newest toy is the gateway to fulfillment. This message squares well with Christianity. After all, what does it say about the object of our faith when our basements are filled with all of the same baubles our unbelieving neighbors purchase to fill the void in their hearts?

2. Minimalism Encourages Contentment

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5

The opposite of loving money is being content with what you have. A hard ask in our world, where we are bombarded with advertisements encouraging us to be discontent everywhere we look. Whenever you turn on your phone, scroll your social media feed, or drive your car, you’re assaulted with the message, “If only you had ____, then you’d finally be happy.” We all know in our heads that three easy payments of $19.95 cannot solve our discontentment problem. But we keep trying nonetheless.

The reason minimalism suits Christians so well is that, at heart, it is a philosophy of contentment. It’s deliberately planting a flag in the ground that reads, “I have enough.” But as we’ll see, this statement can only be true for Christians. For we indeed have enough in Jesus Christ. We’re recipients of eternal life (John 3:16), co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), and heirs of the kingdom prepared for us since the creation of the world (Matthew 25:34), not to mention the soul-satisfying relationship we enjoy with the fount of all blessings Himself.

If you have Christ, you quite literally have enough. So why can we still so often be found rummaging through the city dump of consumerism as if some shiny piece of broken garbage is the one more thing that will make us truly happy?

Minimalism forces us to be deliberate in our contentment by making us conscious that the stuff isn’t doing it for us anymore. And that’s a good thing.

3. Minimalism Encourages Thoughtfulness

Minimalism is not just about having fewer items, cleaner shelves, or an empty garage. It’s really about how owning less affects our minds.

Fewer possessions means less stress. And less clutter encourages a more thoughtful countenance toward the world and people around you. I believe minimalism is highly conducive to the sort of reflective, considered life that honors Christ.

Our minds are constantly bombarded with noise and distractions in the modern world. And this constant barrage produces a state of mind which is frazzled and disjointed. No wonder we flee to the quick dopamine hits of short videos, memes, and more stuff. But it’s a vicious cycle.

The rush leaves us in a malaise. And the result is that Christians spend less time in prayer and the Word than ever before, much less meditating on the Word. How can we if our minds are constantly occupied, entertained, and overwhelmed?

Minimalists tend to be more intentional in every area of life, including the noise they allow into their heads. The result? Living environments and minds better suited for thoughtful reflection, prayer, the study of Scripture, and contemplation of the things of the Lord.

One Thing Minimalism Can Never Do for You: Make You Happy

At heart, minimalism is a philosophy that says you can be happy if you stop looking for happiness in stuff. And while there is lots of praise for minimalism’s rejection of consumerism and materialism, the truth is if happiness is the aim, minimalism won’t get you all the way there.

“At a time when people in the West are experiencing the best standard of living in history, why is it that there is such a longing for more at the same time?” Muses Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, who is featured in the Minimalism documentary. He answers his question by blaming the brain’s failure to evolve fast enough for the modern world. But the truth is that we always want more because our hearts are idol factories. We are drawn to anything that offers us a taste of satisfaction, even if it’s fleeting, even if it can never truly fill us up.

The appeal of minimalism, and its promise, is that you can be happy if you give up the stuff. It’s an appealing proposition, a via negativa, and as we’ve seen, there is a grain of truth in it. Minimalism claims that the way to fulfillment is to empty our homes of stuff. But an empty home cannot create a full heart.

Even if minimalism helps us focus more on the things that matter in life, if you haven’t found your fulfillment in Christ, even if you give up your idol of materialism, you’ll trade it for a new idol. You’ll idolize a relationship, some experience, a new identity, or the excitement of travel. Your heart is built for worship and is always on the hunt for a god.

If minimalism only leads you to idol swapping, it will never make you happy and will never honor God.

Don’t Just Remove; Replace

If you find yourself idolizing stuff, yes, remove the idol. Consider purging the junk from your home. Embrace the good aspects of minimalism. But don’t stop there. You’ve also got to replace the idol of stuff with what truly satisfies. And that’s Jesus Christ.

If you sense that you’ve become enamored by an untoward love of material things, then minimalism might be a way to start ditching that leaky cistern. But you’ve got to recognize the real problem is that you were finding in stuff what you ought to have been seeking in Christ.

Jesus Christ is the fount of living waters who truly satisfies and the one to whom you have been called to love with all your heart, soul, strength, and might. In Him alone will you find the fulfillment you were made for.

“for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

Jeremiah 2:13
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