I’ve chosen a word for my new year.
I’ve never done that before, but I know scores of others have selected a word instead of making a New Year’s resolution to keep them focused and headed in a direction they wish to go and want God to take them. Mine came before 2017 even hit, it started late in November, when twinkle lights started to appear on trees in the neighborhood windows.
I tend to be a bit more reflective during the Christmas season, perhaps bordering on melancholy, and this year was especially so. I was overwhelmed with the thought of buying my kids more stuff and them receiving more stuff from family members when my living room and their bedrooms already lay in shambles. I was questioning all things Christmas and trying to figure out how all our traditions and decorations really fit into our belief of honoring a Savior who came and is coming again. Even in my struggle, I allowed the kids to decorate the house for Christmas and because of my holiday funk, I did not withhold certain sentimental decorations I had protected from tiny hands in the past. Within the first week several of them were broken and I buried them beneath used coffee filters and paper plates. At first I shed some tears at their internment, but then as more snowmen and Christmas mice gathered into the plastic bag graveyard I didn’t care—I actually wanted to dump it all in there. I wanted to sweep furniture tops of holiday cheer and rip paper snowflakes off of walls and just be done with all of it except for a simple lit tree. I didn’t do it. I felt torn between simplicity and emotional guilt. I kept the decorations on practically every flat surface of my home so the children could enjoy holiday whimsy, but soon hallelujah angels and joyful shepherds from years gone by were heading to their final destination of a landfill.
It’s no secret that documentaries lead to major life changes for me, hence the reason our family has been vegetarian for over four years. A week before Christmas I watched a documentary on minimalism titled Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. Something in me started to churn and I began to understand what my internal conflict was stemming from. I have always found the lifestyle of a minimalist very appealing, yet impossible. I love stuff and although I try not to shop big box stores for things other than food, I frequent thrift stores at least every other month and come home with a haul of treasures. The other reason I think becoming a minimalist is farfetched is because we are a family of ten. I can easily limit my stuff and the babes in my belly, but everyone else needs to weigh in on their belongings and they aren’t going without a fight. Regardless, I thought I could work on me and I started in my closet and I got rid of two big trash bags full which didn’t appear to make a dent. Frustrated by the lack of visible progress I felt defeated. Brynna gently reminded me that, “progress is progress, no matter how small.” Encouraged, I kept going.
I began looking for more tangible results; I moved to the bathroom counter and ruthlessly tossed lotions never used and makeup from years ago. My counter that was once covered in half empty containers, disgarded clothing and jewelry, and beauty products was now totally visable. When I walk into my bathroom, I feel the difference, I feel sane and I like it. I didn’t get rid of every decoration or every lip gloss, but I did get rid of the useless and ugly. Some might claim this not to be minimalism and honestly I don’t want to label myself something restrictive so have decided that instead of aiming for minimalism I could shoot for a more doable goal of simplifying.
That’s my 2017 word.
I have been taking life a drawer and a shelf at a time and pairing down what I don’t need, what I don’t think is beautiful, what doesn’t make me feel good, or that I don’t think I will realistically use. I am currently over 12 trash bags of clothing and housewares to a local mission and several eBay sales into the process of simplifying. I am working on my stuff, but letting everyone know what it is that I am doing in hopes they will jump on board. The results are becoming visible too. Some of the children are more hesitant about the shedding of items than others, but they too are making small steps. To make it more understandable I have been reading a children’s book every day with the younger kids that has a simplifying/minimalistic theme and sharing what God’s word has to say about our stuff and our hearts.
Here are the books:
The Biggest House in the World by Leo Lionni is the story of a snail who learns that bigger can be crushing. My kids are still talking about the surprise ending of the story within this story.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is a tale of a princess who loses her belongings, but never her wit or the desire to do what is right. The book and illustrations look a bit dated, but the lesson learned is timeless.
The Gift of Nothing by Partick McDonnell is about a cat who wants to honor his friend who has everything by giving him the gift of nothing. Simple drawings add to the charm of this short story.
More by I.C. Springman a sweet story with fantastic illustrations about a bird and his treasures.
The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau won book of the year for a reason. This story has artwork that could draw you in for hours and the storyline is even more powerful. Having it all does not bring happiness.
Too Many Toys by David Shannon is probably most humorous for parents as it pokes fun at all the trouble we go through in trying to get our kids to part with toys. The story is a good jumping point for discussing how we acquire so much and the importance of imagination.
Next to read on our list is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A classic story from 1943 that skillfully shares what is really important in this life.
The Bible verses we have been discussing so far are:
Luke 12:15 “Then he (Jesus) said, ‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.’’
1 Timothy 6:5b-8 “…To them, a show of godliness is just a way to become wealthy. Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”
Matthew 6:19-21 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven where moths and rust cannot destroy and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
Matthew 16:26 “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
Mark 10:17-22 “As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus asked. ‘Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: “You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.”’ ‘Teacher,’ the man replied, ‘I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.’ Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. ‘There is still one thing you haven’t done,’ he told him. ‘Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
I’ve been studying and meditating on these scriptures as well, trying to muster courage to part with inanimate objects that clutter my house and heart, that have sat on shelves for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or afraid that I will forget the significance of the moment associated with the memory the piece instills. Even more so, I have been analyzing my actions and activities that keep me from the important moments of investing in people and creativity—there are too many of them. Things need to change, things need to get simpler because the things life throws at us certainly aren’t going to.
2017 has me working toward my word for the year, “Simplify.” I don’t think I will meet minimalist status, but I recognize everytime I choose not to buy or bring something into the house; with each item that finds its way to the trash or goes to charity; by the paring down of unnecessary activities my life becomes a little bit simpler and my hope is that I draw closer to my family and my God.
Hey I would love it if you chimed in on the topic! I’ve been reading/listening to books on minimalism; The More of Less by Joshua Becker and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. If you know of any books, children or adult,on the subject that have impacted your walk toward simplifying let me know. I would also love to know the Bible verses that speak most to you about simplifying.