“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Over Memorial Day Weekend, 2008, I became a minimalist. That was exactly three years ago.
My journey into minimalism was not entered into as a fad, experiment, or temporary life adjustment. Nor was it just for the purpose of moving, getting out of debt, traveling the world, quitting my job, or starting a blog. My decision to intentionally live with less was born out of my desire to line up my life’s energy with my heart’s deepest desires. It was about creating space for faith, family, and friends. It was always a decision that I knew would influence the rest of my life. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.
Over the past three years, we have removed 60-70% of our personal possessions, we have removed ourselves from the hollow race of American consumerism, and we have changed our habits of consumption. As a result, we have found more time for the things that are most important and have found more energy for pursuing our true passions. In many ways, we have been able to finally start living the life we always wanted to live.
This journey towards minimalism has been far more life-changing than I anticipated. The possessions in our lives define who we are on a far deeper level than we ever realize. And as a result, the process of removing them teaches us valuable truths about ourselves and about life.
As I ponder the past three years and all that I have learned, I think the following life-changing truths sum up most of my personal journey:
1. Life is best lived intentionally. I wasted too much of my life living on auto-pilot. I chased the same dreams that my friends and neighbors were chasing… without ever questioning if my heart had a better dream. I followed the advice that was fed to me millions and millions of times through television advertisements, billboards, and internet banners… without ever wondering why their products never quite fully satisfied. I compared my life to others using the same criteria that society encourages… without ever determining if the comparisons were adding anything to my soul. I never questioned the life I was living or the assumptions they were based upon.
But when I was introduced to the journey of minimalism, that started to change. I began to study the facets of my life with a new lens: where I was spending my money, where I was exerting my energy, and what I truly most valued in life. I was amazed – perhaps even saddened – to suddenly realize that I was wasting my life chasing full closets, but empty dreams.
Minimalism has brought newfound intentionality into my life. It has searched my heart and revealed motives that I didn’t know existed. I have become a better person over the past three years – sometimes through joy and sometimes through tears. But through it all, I have learned better what it means to live an intentional life.
2. Life is about the journey, not the destination. Dreams come and dreams go. Some dreams are realized… only to be replaced by bigger and better dreams. Other dreams are discarded… only to be replaced by different ones. It seems no matter what happens with your dreams, another one will always take its place. That’s just the nature of goals.
Over the past three years, I have learned that the richest joys in life are not found at the finish line. Instead, they are found in the journey towards the finish line. Whether studying a new subject, knitting a sweater, or minimizing possessions, those who cheat the process lose out in the end. There is much to be learned about ourselves during the short lives we live. And the truths that mean the most are only found through patience and perseverance.
Becoming minimalist has been a long journey for me (in some regards, I’ve got room left to go). But every time I push further down the trail, I discover something new about my soul. It is an emotional process to remove the weight of possessions from one’s life – far more emotional than I expected. There is joy and internal discovery in each step. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. And while there is a need for wisdom and discretion to choose the correct finish line to race towards… patience and perseverance is needed to appreciate the high’s and low’s of the journey towards it.
3. The life of minimalism needs to be shared. Surprisingly, I have found that the principles of minimalism resonate with most people. Most of us already know that possessions do not equal joy. It’s just that we’ve been told that deceptive lie so many times and from so many sources that we start to believe it without even noticing. And before we know it, we are accumulating more and more things hoping to satisfy the longing in our hearts.
Since becoming minimalist, I have had the opportunity to speak on the topic of simplicity in a variety of venues. And whether I am speaking at conferences, churches, public schools, or on the radio, I always enter with the mindset that I am on stage to simply remind the audience of what they already know to be true – that there is more joy to be found in owning less than can be found in owning more. And my hope is to simply invite them to embrace that truth.
This is a message that must be shared. Our world is drowning in debt, stress, and misplaced passion. I am beginning to structure my life in a way that will allow me to actively seek more opportunities to share this message of minimalism. And I hope you will do the same.