Thursday, April 07, 2016

Who's counting? The problem of minimalism

From a 2013 post: Many of our houses contain several-times-over-enough stuff already to be beautiful, functional, and express our dreams, values, and individuality.  At church we are watching a DVD series with Dallas Willard, and in yesterday's session he stated that humans are "treasuring creatures."  Our "things" are important to us; they give us identity; they give us comfort.  As Edith Schaeffer says, they also give us continuity when housing has to change or life gets difficult.  It's not unnatural to want to have treasured possessions, cherished things...The issue of creative homemaking for us now is often cutting down, cleaning out, detaching ourselves from enough of the "stuff" so that we can cherish the most meaningful, most memorable, most beautiful.  Charlotte Mason talks about using our will to make choices, rather than just accepting whatever default options present themselves; in making our homes more homelike, that would include making conscious choices about the things you want in a room, and what you don't want.
I recently read a book, Scaling Down, which had good suggestions for those who need or want to fit themselves into smaller spaces. It also deals with the issue of moving (a.k.a. uprooting) someone else, such as a senior family member. How do we manage that with empathy, when our ideas of necessary, important, cherished, may not line up with theirs? In fact, almost any attempt to tell someone else what's superfluous can be rightly seen as disrespectful and interfering. Don't love what doesn't love you back, says a popular letting-go cliche, but loving back isn't usually the real issue. Don't base your identity on possessions, says one thoughtful person; it's true that things come and go, moths and dust corrupt, paper crumbles, colours fade, and knives lose their edge. All quite right.  But at the same time, the old, the saved, sometimes the hidden and then rediscovered, gives us a sense of our own history, our story; and we can't get away from that. Near where I live, modern construction was recently halted when a pioneer-era log road was uncovered several feet down. What does it matter, why didn't they just continue the work? Because people still cared about their community's past.

We have thought many times about moving from the Treehouse, probably to a smaller space. When that time comes, we may not take all the vintage Christmas balls with us; but we'll take some of them. We can't take all the books, but we'll take enough; scanned-in and downloaded ones aren't the same.  We have cleared out many of the things that were easy come, easy go, and left what we really use: 80/20, as some put it.

But the old debate continues: what is necessary, and who decides? In some times and places, a pretty ribbon was vanity, a novel was a time waster, a rug in the parlour was excess. Is stuff bad in itself? If some is good or okay, how much is too much? Is it a spiritual question, or an economic one? Is it more liberating to live with almost nothing, or to have more and yet hold onto it lightly?
"...I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:12-13, ESV


Silvia said...

Well said.
We visited friends in their 70's who moved from their home to an assisted living place with just 2 small rooms.

She is an optimist. She surely was holding to LOTS lighly. Her home us still there, full to the brim -she is a bit of a hoarder-, and she is happy in her new place. She told us, if you need furniture, go to my place and get whatever you want! I want to be like her.

Carol said...

I remember reading an article where Edith Schaeffer wrote about continuity and have never found out whether it came from one of her books or was a one off piece she'd written. Anyhow, it was very timely for me when I read it. Very interesting thoughts here. - I don't like clutter but I'm not a minimalist.

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks for your thoughts!