the bare minimum

Dan Ho’s minimalistic lifestyle inspires me. In the New York Times article “The Imperfectionist,” he is described as a man who, in an urge to unburden himself from plush, materialistic living, dwindled his possessions down to about 55 items.

For Ho, it was the constant “keeping up with the Jones’s” that disgusted him about our society: you have to retain a certain standard of living and shoot for that magazine-cover decorating style just for the sake of folks — virtual strangers — who might drop by. In his opinion, all that stuff is just for show; it really isn’t what makes us happy.

Ho’s got a point. Aside from how our houses are decorated, why do we have such extensive wardrobes? Why an extra set of “company” dishes — china that’s rarely used?

Now, I do believe there’s a need in a Christian’s life for a hospitable home, contrary to what Ho believes about not needing to be ready for guests unless you’re running a bed-and-breakfast. But are your home’s company qualities for guests’ comfort, or just for show-and tell? Ho’s right: people set a mood far more than a scented candle ever will. But I think, too, there’s room in a home for beauty. Sorry, Mr. Ho, but my bright red kitchen does make me happy. I didn’t paint it for my next-door neighbor’s sake.

Here’s an exciting proposal, though: what if you really did dwindle your possessions down to the bare necessities? I’ve read the New Testament passage in which Jesus commands a follower to sell all he has and give to the poor, and the one about giving our coat along with that requested shirt, and I’ve often — okay, always — thought, “Jesus isn’t being literal. He’s not talking to me.” Well, maybe He is.

What Ho didn’t mention is that there’s a lot more to getting rid of stuff than just to free ourselves in this life; we need to free ourselves for the next one.

In the past year or two, I’ve donated so many clothes to the Salvation Army that probably only a sixth of our closet space is now being used. It is a big closet, but still — it is so freeing to get rid of junk (for good, not to make space for more!).

The strategy for my wardrobe was to get rid of things that I was only keeping “just in case.” While my clothing breathed out their faux-security for me, someone else could have been using them on a regular basis. But even though my closet reduction was relatively easy, I think it’d be harder to prune down my kitchen, for instance. Just for fun, though, I made a list of my 55 belongings. (Check the comments link on this post, if you’re interested.) It was fun and challenging, but it was a heart-searching exercise, too. I had to weed out some things that I found out I was attached to. And then, I had to ask myself if it came down to it, could I let go of the final 55?

    • c.l.beyer
    • January 9th, 2007

    My 55:

    Stove, Medium pan, Large skillet, 1 fork, 1 soup spoon, a plate, heat-resistant rubber scraper, insulated mug, 1 multi-purpose rag/towel, cookie sheet, mixing bowl, a good knife, drinking glass/vase

    jeans, 1 T-shirt, 1 pr. socks, 1 pr. underpants, 1 bra (I decided I could wear the previous items every day, and if the whole family wears the same color of clothes, we could throw them all in the washer together every day or two.), 1 skirt, 1 sweater, walking shoes (Birkenstocks or something that works with a skirt or pants), coat

    couch, chair with foot rest attached, mirror, one piece of artwork, desk, chair, laptop computer, vacuum cleaner, lamp, candle, blanket, pillow, mattress, file cabinet with important documents (please let me count this as just one!)

    Bible, Chapstick, cell phone, soap, shampoo, razor for legs, lotion, foundation, toothbrush, toothpaste, wedding ring, watch, purse/bag, brush, rubberband, bath towel, a good pen, 2 journals

    I think that’s 55. I decided I’d donate all my books to the local library. They’d be easily accessible there, and the library has a better selection anyway.

    What 55 things would you keep?

    • Rachel
    • January 11th, 2007

    Wow, I’m impressed. I keep wondering if I could make such a list. My version of this is: If God ever tells us to go the mission field, what will I think I still need? At the moment I think the hardest things for me to give up would be the local library and my hair products and good lotion.

    Anyway, I think your strategy for weeding out your closet makes sense (get rid of stuff I keep “just in case”). Maybe I’ll put it to use for myself.

    Interesting post.

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