I’m finding myself drawn to minimalist living these days – not that I’m a minimalist by any stretch, good gracious no. I can’t afford it. But I am attracted to simple living and have been for a while. My interest originally stemmed years ago, from reading Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book, Happy Are You Poor. I was convicted by it and began de-cluttering the extraneous-ness going on in our lives. I asked myself why I was keepingwhat we owned when so many in the world suffered want of basic needs – like the box almost entirely full of pens, most of which didn’t work anymore, the ball of elastics that used to belong to my grandmother, three watches when I only wore one. I chucked most of it and felt good about it. Last year I read The Life Changing Art of Tidying, and “Kon-Mari”-ed the crap out of the stuff we had left, much to my husband’s occasional chagrin. (“Honey, where’s my favourite shirt?” Uh, oops!) This past year I gathered together the bits and pieces we were storing in different places and disposed of it all. There were no more unopened boxes sitting around or unneeded items jumbling up our living space.
And then we moved again. And our lives took several unexpected turns, and money became scarce. (Well, when isn’t it, really?) With the incoming just about matching the outgoing, daily life has now been marked by a conscious, forced minimalism. And it’s not all bad, even though I’ve become noticeably enamored with stuff now that our budget has no wiggle room - much more than I was when things were different. Now, I want to buy big things, little things, ALL the things. I liken it to fasting and abstinence days when you’re looking at a crust of bread, and all you can think about is a big, juicy hamburger with a side order of onion rings and a milkshake the size of your head. Well, now that things are tight, I think about buying expensive cleaning products, updated clothing, markers, books, tea, appliances – you name it, I want it.
And yet, I can’t have any of it. I tell myself I’ll get all this stuff when x, y and z happen, but they don’t, they haven’t and perhaps they won’t ever happen. And in my more introspective moments, I’m okay with it. I’m more than okay. In fact, I’m really good with it all.
Because I look around me and see a comfortable home, food enough to feed us for weeks, a closet bursting at the seams with clothes and shoes, and enough friends, family and Love to sink a battleship…everything I need and more! I once read a quote from somebody I can’t find now – when you feel deprived, increase your deprivation. This works. Who hasn’t had the stomach flu, eating nothing but crackers and Gatorade for a week, and afterwards had the most AMAZING pot roast dinner? I still can’t remember anything tasting as good as those beef and potatoes I ate after that awful flu over 15 years ago. More often than not we have an overabundance – much more than what we need - especially compared to a good portion of the world’s population. But we’re unable (or unwilling) to see it, choosing only to see what we don’t have. Deprivation, of even the smallest kinds, affords us a birds-eye view of our actual needs, and pushes us to realize that we often could do with much less (and that things could be way worse than they are).
Life on the cheap has also been drawing my undivided attention to the exceptional beauty of our world and an overwhelming gratitude for the little things, like dive-bombing hummingbirds, the warmth and freedom of sunlight and fresh air, perfectly sweet apples off the tree in the backyard, scrabble games with the famjam, or chatting over tea with friends. I haven’t started a gratitude journal yet, but it’s on my list. Right above take a nap, and right under get a job.
The best thing though, the one thing I’m most grateful for in all of this, and have the hardest time with, is the deeper trust that the unanticipated requires me to have in the Lord. “Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry” aren’t just trite, meaningless words St. Pius of Pietrelcina said for no reason. It’s a direct order. PRAY! HOPE! And for the love of all that’s holy, stop worrying. Easy, peasy, right? I tell myself how easy it is when I’m tithing our last $5, or when the dishwasher AND stove together decide to freak out a little bit. I know that the Lord DOES provide. I have story after story of his astonishing and careful provision for my family and me. But I have a notoriously bad memory for his works in my life. (Yet another reason to start a gratitude journal, eh?)
So why, I frequently ask, can’t the Lord get us out of the pickle we’re in? What? And ruin the strides in trust issues that I’m making? What would be the point of that? Going back to depending on myself, on my stuff and on money? Thank you but no. I’ll take forced minimalism over misguided autonomy any day. Scary? Yes. But if it weren’t for the happy hardships, I’d be missing out on whole facets of my extraordinarily unremarkable life, which frankly, I don’t care to overlook anymore. So I shall continue to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” and really mean it.