Christian parents’ guide to minimalism

by Rosie Adle

If you haven’t read the books, listened to the TED talks, downloaded the podcasts, and bought the organizing system, you’ve surely at least heard snippets of the trending-now talk of minimalism. People are feeling great about dumping pointless shelves-worth of expired pantry-stuff, old clothes and dusty books.

That’s cool. It beats thinking that our life consists in the abundance of our possessions. It’s better than building bigger barns (or renting larger storage units) for the laying up of earthly earthliness that will never last. A discipline of cutting the needless things from our life can help us to keep in mind the “one thing needful,” our dear Savior.  

And yet sometimes we can be focused on getting rid of worldly objects, and forget that we are still holding tight to worldly objectives. Notions, priorities and standards in the world around us can’t be kicked to a physical curb, but are as much in the “unnecessary” category as the box of Disney VHS tapes we donated last week.

These tips are for Christians, especially Christian parents, who would like to reduce some of the non-tangible earthly junk in their households.

  1. Minimize the pulls that scatter families. If we were to define “nearest neighbors” as those with whom we share a roof, how many waking hours are spent without those dear ones? The call to love those neighbors grows more and more distant with geographic distance. The average workday is in the 9- or 10-hour range, and an average school day is in the 7- or 8-hour range, so most conventional parents and children are already locked into that degree of apartness. How many more hours beyond those do we march ourselves or our kids away from the home front? Christian minimalists can cut back on the extra activities that separate us from our closest kin. Folks are noticing the breakdown of the family. Let’s consider putting family members back together (actually/physically/literally) for more waking hours — just as a simple starting point.
  2. Ease up on the love of money. What does it profit a man if he stops buying the things that crowd his living space but still dreams of accumulating more and more of the money that would make such excess possible? It’s a bit silly of us to be proud to have purged our playroom while we sit securely in the knowledge that we could go out and buy it all again on a whim. We can pat ourselves on the back for owning fewer pairs of shoes per person, but we might cringe to think of experiencing a proportionate reduction of our bank account. This suggests that earthly things still have a special place in our heart, even if there are fewer of them in our house. Practically speaking, how might we reduce our love of money? We could talk about it less, think about it less, and worry about it less. We could give more of it away. Most importantly, we could repent of the moments when our deepest trust and sense of security (or lack thereof) is in the size of our bank account. We should remember that the way we talk always teaches our kids.
  3. Restrict the R-Rated material. Did you know that’s what the “R” stands for anyway? Our adult lives are pumped with things that are not considered suitable for young audiences, but much of the content is really just not suitable, period. The (should-be) restricted stuff rolling around on our screens, in our book club novels, through our speakers, etc., has an effect on us whether we feel it or not. Challenge the abstract minimalist in you to go for a spell without anything R-Rated set before your eyes. If you miss it terribly, you’ll recognize what a pull it has had on you. If you don’t miss it at all, never look back and you’ll be better for it!

So there you have it! 3 things for the Christian parent to minimize: excess time as a scattered family, the latent love of greenbacks, and various forms of entertainment that aren’t fit for the 17 and younger (or older!) crowd. If some of those things bring you joy, remember it’s okay to lighten the load gradually. Pass on one extra-curricular (especially one that meets on Sunday mornings…) or find another way to get everyone home earlier at least once a week. Ditch the dollar daydreams. Drop one of your fave HBO shows that you’d turn off if your kid walked in the room.

While cutting back in some of those departments as a parent, you’ll find there’s more room for the gifts of God that will strengthen you and your family for this life and the next. Fill up a bit of that blank space on your bookshelf with a Bible and some devotional materials. Use that extra time to hear and learn God’s Word daily, on your own and with your household. Uncluttered cupboards and streamlined backpack hooks are nice, but Christian parents can go for the deep clean with the help of God.   

But whether it’s cleaning out the cupboards or trashing the non-tangible idols, we must remember to be wary of the dangers of even our own cleaning methods! Cutting the clutter can certainly benefit us and our family, but we would be great fools if we made that idol-clearing into yet another idol! With clean houses or with cluttered houses, we are Christ’s, and only he can make us truly clean.

Deaconess Rosie Adle is an online instructor for the distance deaconess program of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. She finds it easier to clean out her kids’ closets than to clean up her act.

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