The Problem with Minimalism (And How I’m OK With Consumption)

wordswag minimalism

This past weekend I watched Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. I was already pretty familiar and with the growing trend of Minimalism, where people strive to live more intentionally with the bare minimum number of possessions needed. It’s always seemed quite attractive in theory. However, I was mostly drawn to the documentary because of all the hype I was hearing. I assumed it would simply affirm our need to be more calculated and resourceful with our possessions, and I assumed I’d be happy that so many people were celebrating this message. But, instead, it left me with a nagging tension all week. I eventually realized that Minimalism is more than just a call to simple living; it’s an entire ideology that comes with a lot of implications and repercussions. Ones that we’d be wise to consider before wholly swallowing this excessive idea of Minimalism. 

Now, before I get started, I’ve got to highlight Minimalism’s positive points. Having moved four times in eight years of marriage, Josh and I have a low tolerance for “stuff” that we have to pack, move, reorganize, and maintain. We also have an equally low tolerance for spending excess money. We spent our first year of marriage in 2008 in a $350-per-month garage apartment, eating off $25 a week, and (thanks to medical school debt) we’ve had an acute awareness of line items and materialistic values ever since. This doesn’t mean our budgeting is anywhere near perfect, but we’re cognizant of our need to wisely steward possessions, and therefore see a lot of merit in Minimalism.

Also, aside from its reminders to steward possessions well, another positive point of Minimalism is that it reminds humanity of the important things we should be considering:

We’re wired to become dissatisfied.

We can live more deliberately with less.

People are longing for meaning and purpose.

We should love people and use things instead of vice versa.

Having fewer possessions helps community living.

There’s clearly room for a positive range of responses to Minimalism, so I’m not so bold to think I’ve arrived at the answer, but I do feel committed to parsing out all sides.

So, here we go. My problems with Minimalism–

It’s Not Realistic

Relevancy is everything, right? It seems 99% realistic for a California bachelor to be a minimalist–especially since he doesn’t need seasonal wardrobe variety and cold weather gear. The documentary makes a few nods to people with small children, but it’s marginal, and they appear to be generously spaced apart in age, living in picturesque California (or the like) with the glorious, sunny world as their playground. I’d need a lot less for indoor living, too, if I lived with that backdrop.

California living--it makes minimalism easier
California living

However, this idea loses traction with a midwest momma, hunkering down in her home through freezing temps with three kids under the age of five. I’ll submit myself as case study.

If I get rid of 95% of my toys, I will pay a price. I’m sure a true minimalist would look in my playroom and get heart palpitations. But, despite assumptions, we purge our toys often. Our goal is to keep toys open-ended and purposeful, but still, some are played with infrequently, yet they still serve a purpose in our rotation of helping my children develop, create, and engage. The many options help us survive the long, hard days of winter.

We fully embrace our full range of art supplies for creative indoor days.
We fully embrace our full range of art supplies for creative indoor days.
He only plays with trains here and there, but when he does, it keeps him busy for the morning!
He only plays with trains here and there, but when he does, it keeps him busy for the morning.
While siblings are drawing and playing with trains, he's strategizing a game plan for monster truck versus komodo dragon. I'm so thankful for good open-ended toys to keep these kiddos busy.
Make-believe play with Komodo dragons and Monster trucks

And, dare I get rid of something that one child loses interest in? I was on the brink of donating our space-eating Megablocks set last winter, but my husband convinced me to wait until our youngest could give it a chance. He was right. After moving the blocks and stand out of my “donate” pile and into my 1-year-old’s space, I learned that his love for building Megablocks keeps him busy for an entire HOUR. In case you’re unfamiliar with a 1-year-old, please note this is magical.

Despite my desire to free up space, it would be wasteful in many situations to discard items during periods of disuse in order to gain more personal sanity and physical square-footage.

I’m also reminded that time is our most valuable resource. If I were to try and be a minimalist at the zoo, I would certainly save material resources, but it would come at the expense of my time, and therefore nullify many positives of my minimalist endeavors. Consider taking reusable wipes and diapers to the zoo with three small children. I would spend half the zoo trip washing excrement out in the sinks. Just lovely.

An outing with baby in the winter
An outing with baby in the winter
And, don't forget if baby gets fussy, momma will need to have a baby carrier on hand in addition to a stroller
And, don’t forget if baby gets fussy, momma will need to have a baby carrier on hand in addition to a stroller

I’d also have to take whole foods in glass containers for lunch. Eating in those glass containers would, of course, be an ordeal since we’re dealing with glass, toddlers, and washing. If the weather is hot, we obviously need lots of liquids, bug repellant, hats, and sunblock–all reasonable items to carry in a knapsack. But, if the weather is cold, I need gloves, hats, car seat jackets, and coats with me. To carry this, I need a stroller, lest I resemble an overstuffed yak trying to become my own zoo exhibit.

Couldn’t I just rent or borrow strollers, so I’m not adding to the mass consumerism of stroller production? Sure, but that eventually adds up to the price of a stroller and is therefore fiscally irresponsible. Borrowing a stroller would likewise consume my fuel and time in my efforts to acquire it. So, buying a stroller (especially a used one) is the most responsible move. Now, please hear me: Minimalist principles are helpful when packing for a zoo trip, but when I become slave to them, allowing guilt to reign and reason to recede, it’s problematic. And, quite miserable.

It’s Self-Centered, and a Touch Self-Righteous

I’m sure it feels really good to know where every item belongs, how big your family will ever be, and ultimately feel like you’re the captain of your ship. At several points in the documentary, there’s a call to “recognize that this life is yours” and that this movement is “all about finding happiness.” The implication is that living in such a controlled manner essentially frees you up to please yourself, but it stifles our ability to offer much to others.

Also, my sentimental, gift-giving heart mourns a bit at the implications of a minimalistic lifestyle on celebratory functions. Aunt Rose, for instance, now feels the pressure to find her beloved nephew the perfect gift that will be received for its deepest meaning and everyday usage. Our focus has shifted from being an appreciative recipient of a gift to being the arbiter of a gift’s worthiness. Don’t get me wrong–it’s clearly okay (and even responsible) to donate gifts we won’t use, but we can become so caught up in justifying each item’s inherent worth that it takes away from the enjoyment of simply receiving an item with gratitude.

wordswag_3

Also, the minimalist experts admit that this lifestyle means they must “be hanging out with the people with the same values.” There’s a tacit vibe that they believe they’ve found enlightenment while the rest of us simpletons flail around excessively at Walmart on Black Friday.

It’s Privileged

Going back to my and my husband’s story, we’ve learned that a basic fallback question when making purchases is, “How do we save the most money while keeping the least amount of material possessions?” And, you know what? That question often requires us to purchase more than we’d like. Because, cash-strapped folks can’t afford to be picky about what they buy.

As easy as it is to dog the consumerist, one has to realize the immense privilege of being able to buy fewer high-quality items and toss out unworthy possessions ad infinitum. For example, I present our upstairs closet. I’d like to toss the nebulizer, the humidifier, the air filter, extra blankets, and half our medicines. They don’t propel me to think about life’s meaning, nor do they give me excess joy. I only use the nebulizer maybe once every two years, and I only use the humidifier a couple months out of the winter. But, what if I just waited to buy/borrow a $50 humidifier for my congested child only when I absolutely needed it? I’d end up with a suffering child due to my stubborn refusal to give up precious real estate in my home. As for the blankets, I could start telling house guests to bring their own linens. But, that won’t work if they’re a singular suitcase-carrying minimalist, too.

Also, if you have a truly good capsule wardrobe (i.e. 33 pieces like suggested), it will need to be high quality. Do I have a few pieces in my closet that I wear repeatedly? Yes, I have one pair of Buckle jeans that I’ve worn for years, as well as an amazingly warm, red, goose-down vest that everyone in my family is sick of seeing. Both of those items were well over $100 originally (Price is relative, but $100 is a whopping lot for me), and it took several months of waiting to snag them at a reasonable price.

Me in the ubiquitous red vest. I figured a picture of it on the Interwebs would add to its cost-per-wear, which is already extremely good.
Me in the ubiquitous red vest. I figured a picture of it on the Interwebs would add to its cost-per-wear, which is already extremely good.

My point is that well-fitting, good quality items require quite the price tag and/or a great time investment to find them at an affordable price. Even then, if one can afford to pay those prices upfront, the cost-per-wear is often still more expensive than having double the wardrobe from Target, for instance. Consequently, it takes a privileged person to say, “I have a well-curated capsule wardrobe and will therefore not be buying another dress shirt at Target.”

Another privilege is to have the personality that can pull off this vagabond living. Those documented had charismatic personalities, which I conjecture helps them greatly in spontaneously finding resources and shelter.

It’s A Slippery Slope

Down with the big corporations! Down with free-market advertising! Down with inequality! 

This is a bit loaded and worthy of its own essay, so I’ll try to keep it brief. The end of the Minimalism documentary brings it home with the natural implications of a wholly minimalist philosophy: We want communal, equitable, lovey-dovey living. Communist ideals are elevated as the poster child minimalist decries Western materialism.  There is no celebration for the freedom we have in navigating a free market, but rather a vilifying of an excessive free market. As enticing as some of these thoughts may be, I think we’d all be wise to remember they lead to oppression. And, as outrageous and twisted as some of our commercials are, I’d still like to be the one in control of deciding to turn it off, not having the government be the arbiter of what is meaningful for me. So, until it gets to the point that an advertisement physically grips me and makes me stand there slack-jawed in consumption, I must, for the sake of freedom, take ownership of my own media consumption.

government

It’s a Dead-End

I absolutely give a resounding “yes” to the idea that bondage to stuff can smother our ability to really live life to the hilt. But, by the same token, our commitment to a movement like Minimalism also serves to distract us from answering life’s bigger questions. Yes, it starts conversations, but–like materialism–it’s only a facade, and so it never finishes the conversations. If you pursue this idea, note how many times you hear a minimalist say he is trying to find more meaning. Yet, no one reports actually finding meaning. Instead, the journey of Minimalism itself becomes a futile gospel.

Friend, I’m here to testify that I’ve felt that longing that the minimalist claims to pursue. It’s an aching need for something beyond this world. And, I’m here to testify that it’s the only the height, love, and depth of the immense all-consuming love of Jesus Christ that will fill our aching hearts. There is no hole he cannot fill. There is no height he cannot reach. There is no depth to which He cannot go. I know because he has met me there, and he has filled it overflowing.

Go forth and purchase guilt-free and wisely. Guard yourself from possessions or false ideals. And, remember that there’s a purpose worth pursuing. And, it’s far greater than Minimalism.

word swag one

A Flood of Thoughts About the Ark Encounter

family-at-ark

Our family decided to take advantage of the half-price days this week at the Ark Encounter, and so we found ourselves awash with excitement as we were carried away to Williamston, Kentucky, on the evening of December 26. I didn’t at all plan to write about the experience. However, in my conversations with others, I realized I couldn’t find an article that described my feelings about the experience. It appears the Interweb is either absolutely glowing about this theme park, or derisively critical. So, here are my two cents, and I’ll try to not drown anyone with too much verbiage (I’ll also try to stop with the water puns).

What are you seeing?

ark-at-night

On the outside, you’re seeing a magnificent life-size Noah’s ark that matches the biblical dimensions found in Genesis 5:32-10:1: 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. The inside of the ark is full of impressive craftmanship, as well as what my husband refers to as proof of concept models.

One of the many, many animal exhibits
One of the many, many animal exhibits

As many people know, the Bible tells us a lot about the Ark (dimensions, how may animals to take, the type of wood, how many decks, to store food) but it doesn’t go into great detail about how this actually happens. Enter the engaging Ark Encounter. The exhibits cover everything from waste removal to the theology of suffering. And a lot more in between. Please note, some of this is extra-biblical, but certainly not anti-biblical. And, mostly, it’s quite thought-provoking.

A glimpse of a possible animal feeding system
A glimpse of the animal maintenance system

Also, the Ark does make some obviously modern improvisions: concession stands, indoor plumbing, and HVAC. And in December, Christmas lights.

Who is the Audience?

A glimpse of the Ark's suggested storage system
A glimpse of the Ark’s suggested storage system

Context is everything with a visit to a “religious theme park.” We are biblically-centered Christians, so for us, we see this as an engaging way to further explore the biblical recounting of Noah’s Ark, which we believe to be historically and scientifically accurate. And the Ark delivered that. I do realize that many people mock the idea of taking the Bible at its word. I also believe a lot of other culturally unacceptable things, but I will wear my tinfoil hat proudly, and I’ll be open-minded and gracious with other viewpoints. I’d expect the same from others.

But, my point in saying all that, is that someone’s enjoyment level of this place (believer or not) would depend on his or her level of open-mindedness and acceptance to religious teachings.

Also, there are two areas of the Ark that I would not recommend for children: (1) The Pre-Flood World exhibit, due to its graphic illustrations, which are spectacular and breathtaking, but potentially nightmarish for sensitive children; (2) The Fairy Tale Ark exhibit, which we found quite disappointing. The exhibit’s point is to show that the cultural depiction of a cute old man and smiling animals (although with good intent) deceptively distorts the truth. I get the point. I really do. But, I think it’s a tad ironic to use a deceptively inviting kids’ exhibit to tell them about deception. And, the more I ponder that irony, I think it’s ironic to point out that deception while also building a theme park on the tragic story. I don’t know, really. It just struck me the wrong way, and it didn’t really have much to offer my children, like its facade indicated.

The rest of the Ark Encounter was fairly kid-friendly.

Pre-Flood World exhibit intro illustrations
Pre-Flood World exhibit intro illustrations

What are some potential criticisms?

A glimpse of the models found throughout
A glimpse of the models found throughout

It’s pricey, but not terribly unreasonable. It’s free for children under the age of 5 (yay for us), but it’s $40 for each adult, and then $10 for parking. It would have been $90 for all of us to go without the discount, which isn’t terrible, but as any parent of small children knows–it’s a discouraging cost when you know you are very limited in your ability to explore due to the limitations of small children.

I won’t even pretend to understand it, but there’s been some media backlash about how the Ark has been financed, in terms of tax status, etc. Others look to this to say it’s an example of how state and church shouldn’t intermingle. However, I’d like to remind the critics that no one has ever claimed that the Ark is a church with its own congregation. It’s a parachurch organization, so I think a lot of these criticisms are unfounded. In addition, the Ark has brought economy and jobs to a region that desperately needs it, so I’d say it’s all a wash.

The immensity and complexity of the how suggestions actually made me less convinced of the potential manpower and more convinced of the supernatural power at play on the ark. To think eight people could pull this off and have time to enjoy nice living quarters propelled me to think that while they could’ve pulled all this off, it’s far more likely that God intervened to simply make the animals more sedate versus building this complex tending structure. And much to the Ark Encounter’s credit, it makes it very clearly that it takes artistic license.

ark-info-poster

ark-artistic-license

And, last, I read a few quotes from Ken Ham, the creator, that a goal for the Ark project is evangelism.  I feel a tension with having someone pay to be evangelized. I am passionate about my faith, and therefore would love to see people have that same experience; however, I’d be very careful about considering a theme park as a primary evangelistic tool for those seeking the truth of Jesus and God’s Word. The bottom line is that the Ark is a great place to come and have continued, up-close conversations with either like-minded or open-minded friends about this biblical story and all its implications, such as judgment and redemption.

What is my overall recommendation?

A good gauge for any experience is to simply ask, “Would you do it again?”

I absolutely would.

Upon leaving, I told Josh that my four-year-old and I could’ve EASILY spent two days there just studying every animal and exhibit (Notice: I did not include the 3-year-old and 1-year-old in this wish, ha). I could figuratively see his little mind exploding at all the “super cool” info and all that God could do! And, if you were within 20 feet of us, you could hear his enthusiasm.

It was chock-full of information and plausible conjectures, so it’s a feast for conversation and thought. I do wish we could’ve made it to the petting zoo, camel rides, fossil find, and donkey rides. I’m also a sucker for any kind of zip lines or aerial adventure, which is also part of the Ark Encounter, but time and money simply wouldn’t allow for those things since we were dealing with small children and the after-5 pm pricing.

 

 

Our Everyday: It’s Raining

sarah-november-2016It seems life doesn’t know how to throw moderation at us. We tend to either experience a drought of happenings or endure a thunderstorm of stressors. I’m sure that one day when I’m in the rest home (if I make it that far), I’ll be wishing for a little rain cloud of stressors to come liven up my day, but, as lack of moderation plays out, I’ll probably just have to tap into my books and memories to entertain me. Scenes, such as the one this morning, should fit the bill:
 
~6:30 AM: I wake up to a baby screaming, while his brother flashes the overhead light saying, “There’s poo all in our room!”
 
~1 hour later everything is finally sterilized.
 
~I try to sit down to chug my coffee, but 2 out of 3 children start crying.
 
~After much emotional angst, everyone settles down with waffles and I put the overtired baby to bed.
 
~Then, I notice we have an overflowing toilet. I can’t fix it, so I turn on a fan and block off that entrance.
 
~Things are stable, so I sit down to finish my coffee and respond to work and personal email. My middle child is suspiciously quiet, but I think, “Surely, what could she do in just 5 minutes?”
 
~I go to check on her. She had face-painted herself w/ my lip STAIN. Yep, she looks like a burn victim now. And, the little bit of make-up I own is now decorating the bathroom floor and counter.
 
~In the meantime, the baby has had another explosive diaper because he is reacting to the dairy we’re trying, and I can’t find anyone’s shoes, so we can get out the door.
 
This is our every day. In fact, this was just a morning. A span of just a few hours. I normally don’t take a moment to write it out, but some days I know I need to put it in writing for hilarity’s and posterity’s sake.  The face-staining episode was enough to propel me to drive us all to the YMCA, and give us all a little reprieve with the beauty that is the Y’s Child Care Watch. So, here I sit in the lobby, thankful for free (with a membership) child care and the chance to regroup and regain my wits (perspective is everything, right?). And, I remember that despite it all, the eventful mundane with its lack of moderation is a dying-to-self, finding-true-love adventure worth taking.
 
So, happy Monday, people!
 
 
 
 
 

And So It Begins!

It’s taken me a while to get here. This whole blogging thing scares me. I feel like I need some super dose of medicine that’ll give me discretion, commitment, technology skills, photography skills, intellect, quick wit, and so much more. And, what if no one ever reads it? And how will I find the time? And, my goodness, what if–very similar to real-life conversations–I say something I regret?

Clearly, I’ve got the excuses, but my desire to write on a longstanding forum hasn’t decreased. In the past year, I’ve learned that starting a blog is not about what I have to say or contribute to society. It’s not about showcasing any technology or photography prowess (thankfully!). It’s about learning. It’s about giving me energy because I’m doing something I love. It’s a place to process and clarify my thoughts and to share about books I’ve read and places I’ve been. And, mostly, it’s a place to document my journey and keep the focus on my audience of One.

As I embark, I’m setting a few ground rules for myself, and if you stumble across this little place, I hope you do the same :)

  1. I hope to be consistent, but not legalistic, with blogging (or hobby of your choice). It’s a commitment, but it’s primarily for fun!
  2. If this hobby of writing ever becomes draining, rather than rejuvenating, it’s time to take a break.
  3. May all my words be seasoned with grace.
  4. Have an open mind, but never forsake truth in the process.
  5. Keep it positive!