By Kaitlyn Gentilin
THE JOYFUL JOURNEY
Some time ago I started on a journey that I had hoped would find some relief to the ever-present pressure and mind-consuming task of owning possessions. I had been having insomnia for a while, and stress at work was constantly running through my mind. I had this belief that if I could manage my household better and find more control and ownership in my home, I would feel less stress. I had relayed this to my mom, who got me hooked on Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I was inspired by Marie Kondo’s ideals and I was looking for stability in disorganization.
So, at 1 am in the morning, I decided to use my insomnia nights to tidy up. I pulled all my clothes in one big pile, like Marie Kondo instructed. Before I held my first item to see if it sparks joy, however, I paused. A spirit-induced moment came to me, and I prayed that this journey, whatever I had started, be an act of worship to the Divine Being.
But, how do you worship the Divine Being when you are sorting through 3 bins of pictures and birthday cards, or holding your socks trying to figure out if they spark joy?
My perspective began to shift. No longer was this journey solely about gaining more control over my life. I was not looking for an end goal. I could lean into the support of the Divine for patience, peace, and comfort. If tidying was an act of worship, so I could let go of outcome. The Divine Being was feeding positivity and growth into my journey, and I was able to see it. And here some things I received:
Through this journey, I stumbled across the concept of minimalism. I am attracted to their principles of a life of doing less, consuming less, and focusing on what really matters.
Minimalists treat their fewer possessions with more value simply because they have less. Our consumer economy needs to learn this lesson.
American consumer economy today reminds me of the story of the rich man coming to Jesus. The rich man asks what he needs to have eternal life, and Jesus tells him to get rid of his possessions. The rich man eventually leaves sad, unable to let go of his wealth. We are like the rich man: choosing material wealth over the promise of Jesus. Could Minimalism help us with our problem?
I’m not completely sold on minimalism, though. Seeing how many minimalists live is like entering a different world. Everything is monochrome. The set of every minimalist vlogger I have seen is a grey or tan couch with a white blank wall and one green plant. Additionally, the vlogger is wearing a plain grey t-shirt. This feels cultish, and daunting. Although I was attracted to the concepts of minimalism and living simply, frankly, their lives just seem—empty.
Just as owning more doesn’t make you happy, but I don’t think owning less promises happiness either. “Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 6:12). The question is, what is actually good for us? When it comes to our possessions, what actually benefits us?
There is a Gospel story of a woman breaking a very expensive jar of oil over Jesus’ head. Everyone shamed the woman, complaining that the jar could have been sold and money given to the poor, instead of wasted on the excess of Jesus. Jesus responds: “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthews 6:11-12)
It is really quite odd to see Jesus blow off the disciples’ concerns about the poor; after all, has he not been having them touch the untouchables, dine with the disgusting, and reject all their religious rules? But Jesus’ focus appears to be on the relationship.
I could become an extreme minimalist and give everything to the poor. But some possessions invite relationship, connectivity, and love.
The reality is, I am going to have to continue to own and possess things because it is something I like to do. I like a roof over my head. I like using handmade artisanal goods. I also love buying the needs and wants and whims of my husband, which include lots and lots of books (Kindles don’t smell the same) and ties at least twice a year.
However, I’m not going monochrome. I don’t have one grey item in my wardrobe and I don’t plan to start. My apartment walls are anything but plain white. They are filled with pictures, memories, and things I have chosen to stay attached to. Sentimental items are practically all the things I own, and it colors my life. The material possessions I consciously invite into my life are about reflecting and embracing the values I have.
Colorful Minimalism, as I call it, has become a structure of how to possess in such a way that I maintain ownership of my material life, instead of society, advertising, and consumerism making those choices for me.
For example, I went to Costa Rica recently and bought so much stuff that I had to pay extra for my luggage on the way home. Yikes. But the things I purchased enriched my life. All my purchases on this trip were up to my unreasonably high ethical economic standards. I felt good buying them, I feel good giving them to people, and I feel good owning them. They enabled my freedom. They don’t weigh me down like other purchases have. I don’t think, “What was I thinking? Why did I buy this?” These purchases reflected my values of focusing on relationship, the interconnectedness of the world, and doing acts of love.
I had a realization that the only thing I actually REALLY need is JESUS. Everything else is ancillary to that, and addition, a blessing. I can have everything in the world or nothing at all but Jesus is what I need. This is great news, because Jesus is always present when I need him. So what I need I always have with me.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THE SABBATH?
There is a difference between domination and ownership and that difference is connected to the intricate relationship between responsibility and rest.
Bear with me, I’ll explain.
Right after the Divine Being made humans in her own image, this first thing she said to them: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Genesis 1:28)
I have always found that verse creepy. Even pre-fall, humans had divine permission to do whatever the hell we wanted with earth. I find that Christians use this verse as an excuse to enact massive damage to our Earth because, “God told us to. It’s ours to dominate.”
We live in a consumerist, capitalist society where material possessions and monetary wealth give you huge amounts of power and value. You are what you own. You are what your yearly salary tells you you are. Your value is how many hours a week you work. Progress is king. Time is money.
We think we are living like God when we live this way: in bigger and bigger houses, with the newest phone in our hands. For me, I think living like the Divine would be having a house with a hardwood floor and buying a new Jeep. Ah, the life of Kings!
But this is not the example the Divine Being set. She planned, worked, and created life, and then took a day off to enjoy it all: “and she rested and made it holy” (Genesis 2). The Bible says she took a day off. She had the first Sabbath.
Remember, we are made in the Divine’s image. Humans are unique because we carry the character of the Divine within us all the time. The Divine Being gave us to permission to act like gods on earth. Then, She shows us by example the first thing you do as a god is REST, and TAKE A DAY OFF.
We value our possessions as holy. The Divine values rest as holy.
Learning to have ownership and responsibility over managing our possessions reminds us of our place in the world. It takes effort and work. We do have dominion over the earth, the material world—for better or worse. And when we shirk off our responsibilities of ownership, the earth suffers, and WE suffer. Living in piles of stuff is not relaxing, and it’s not restful.
A lot of what we buy is to help us rest, either by giving relief or trying to make our lives better. So we end up surrounded by material items to help us feel better that actually just stress us out more.
We don’t thrive in irresponsibility, and we certainly don’t find rest in it.
In the end, it was going through my things, not accumulating them, that helped me find peace of mind. Acknowledging the material things in my life, and keeping them responsibly or disposing of them responsibly helped me find peace with the choices I have made. Taking responsibility for the things that I own was directly related to my ability to be able to rest and relax.
A NEW MANTRA
My journey is coming to a close. I am now faced with the daunting task of moving on with my life. I have cleared out a lot of clutter, physically, mentally, and spiritually, through this process. Integrating my new discoveries into my life is the next task.
After all this work, one truth that I have learned to say to myself now is:
I have everything that I need, and all options are available to me.
Of course, every mantra has limitations, but the theme of this one is a reminder that I am a whole person, and my choices are mine to make. To explain:
I have everything I need because I am here, alive, present and conscious. If I didn’t have everything I need, I would not be presently alive and breathing. But whatever it is I need to live, I currently have it in this moment.
All options are available to me: I can own possessions, I can let go of them, I can buy or not buy. I can quit my job and move to Hawaii. Or I can stay in this apartment forever. “I am the master of my fate” (This is a quote from Nelson Mandela’s favorite poem, which he read and recited while imprisoned by the apartheid government). I choose my own values and my behaviors.
In times of stress, I try to remember to state my mantra, and remind myself that all I really need in life is Jesus—it’s the ultimate minimalism.
I believe this is true for you too! If you feel encouraged to tidy up your house, great. If not, great! Life is a journey, and we are all on the same journey with different paths, and I hope my journey enriches yours.
Most of these ideas didn’t come out of my head. They are an accumulation of the readings I have been doing.
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn
Sabbath by Wayne Muller
Matt D’Avella on youtube
Invictus, a poem by William Erenst Henely