That’s a question I often get asked. And it’s not always easy to explain. The first difficulty arises, of course, with trying to define minimalism to those who have never heard of it. The second difficulty comes when others look at me as though I’ve lost my mind. Especially when I tell them that it all came about because of a bottle of vinegar.
Now I can see your incredulous look as well. A bottle of vinegar?? Yes, shortly after my daughter moved here nearly 6 years ago, she shared with me that she no longer
wasted spent money on cleaning products.
This was all new to me, and frankly I was baffled. But she assured me that that vinegar and baking soda cleaning was a growing trend in the states because a lot of women, moms in particular, didn’t want dangerous chemicals in their homes. A growing trend? Where had I been? Oh yeah, that’s right. Here in the Land of Tradition, where folks basically still do things as their mother
grandmothers had for decades.
Plus I had been without internet. Still more incredulous? 2010 and no internet? Well, we had just moved to southern Italy. And folks advised us to wait because high speed internet was coming to Italy! But when our internet finally did arrive, I started researching.
And thus began my journey as a Greenie. I had no idea how harmful chemicals are until then. And shocked at what I learned, I started working toward a chemical-free home. Which, in turn, led to discovering the toll that manufacturing itself takes on the environment.
Then I started seeing links to Minimalism.
Another unknown to me. And honestly, it seemed crazy at first. Maybe because I seemed to find only wild reports. Like the man who downsized so much that he ended up with no bathroom, and had to use his neighbors. Or folks that stopped buying toilet paper.
Now, I’m all for helping neighbors in need. But not because they decide they don’t want to own a bathroom. I figure that also means they don’t want to use one. And I won’t judge anyone for not buying toilet paper. But I sure would appreciate knowing about it before I visit them!
But I mostly learned that many environmental issues stem from our consumerist culture.
Manufacturing creates pollution, consumes resources, and adds to waste. All necessary, of course. But so much of it is for unnecessary merchandise and useless baubles. And at that rate, what kind of world will we leave for future generations? So all this started a huge process in my mind and heart, especially my heart.
I started seeing how I often shopped just to shop. Not because I needed anything (except food). And certainly not because we have so much money that it’s just burning holes in our pockets! So why was I doing it? Good question. One that I needed answers to.
I learned that advertising plays a big part in it.
Let’s face it, they get paid to make us want to buy stuff. And they’re good at their job! You gotta give them that. But it’s sad when they convince us to buy things we don’t need and sometimes can’t afford. And which we often no longer want after a few months!
I also found that stores help in this, displaying merchandise so that it entices us more.
They even rent shelf space based on position. Shelves at eye level go at premium prices because we’re more likely to choose from them. And those products usually cost more.
Another important factor seemed to be peer pressure.
I compared myself to others, even without realizing it. They often seemed to have nicer clothes, bigger cars, finer homes. And soon I started wanting new stuff that I didn’t need.
But I found the root of the problem in this quote by AW Tozer.
There is within the human heart a tough fibrous root of fallen life whose nature is to possess, always to possess. It covets “things” with a deep and fierce passion. (AW Tozer, The Pusuit of God)
So what it really boiled down to was a simple lack of contentment.
I had everything. Literally everything I needed. Plenty of clothes, nice furnishings, and so much stuff I couldn’t keep track of it or fit it in. I certainly didn’t need more! And I didn’t want to live like that. God has provided all my needs, and I didn’t want to spend my days chasing after useless stuff. Especially because as a Christ-follower, I believe he has called me to so much more.
- I wanted to view possessions as useful tools, not a means to my happiness.
- I wanted true contentment, not a lack of it that constantly wanted more.
- And I wanted God to possess my heart, not a fierce passion for mere stuff.
So I started thinking through not only what I own, but what I buy, and why.
- Do I really need it?
- Is it really useful?
- Will I want to keep it long term?
- Do I feel it’s necessary to my happiness and contentment?
- And if I don’t need it, could that money go for better things?
I’d rather save it, keep it aside for a rainy day, or use it to help others. I’ve wasted so much over the years on useless stuff. Most of which has come and gone. Stuff that only gave a momentary satisfaction.
But needy people will always surround me. Unexpected problems or emergencies will always pop up. And the satisfaction of knowing that I can meet those needs brings a lasting pleasure and real joy.
Now don’t you agree that’s a lot better than buying a lot of stuff I don’t need?
But excuse me now, I’ve got to shopping. I’m low on vinegar!