Minimalism as Spiritual Practice

“Regarding as nothing the things that most people value and rising above them, we live as in paradise, or rather as in heaven, set free from all constraints through our untroubled devotion to God.” – The Philokalia

It is trendy now, among my fellow Millenials, to live with fewer possessions, a practice known simply (appropriately) as “minimalism.” It is a trend as much as a necessary adaptation – we are a generation burdened by enormous student loan debt and bleak job prospects. I have taken to this trend myself for such a practical purpose: we have a curious, tenacious toddler and relatively little storage space to hide things from her. We have often found our energetic tot rummaging through our stuff, flaunting items as unburied treasures simply to disregard them in a growing heap.

I decided to curtail this tendency by getting rid of things that we didn’t need. After sorting through much of the stuff, we decided there was quite a bit we didn’t need. I am an avid music lover and own quite a few CDs, but have long ago transferred the majority of my music to MP3. In addition, we had a few TV shows on DVD that we no longer needed thanks to streaming services such as Netflix and HuluPlus. It would be a very simple process of emptying out our entertainment center of these unneeded relics of the pre-digital age.

Except, I soon learned, it wasn’t so simple. The problem was not with my collection; the problem was with me. The problem is not my possessions but my need to possess, my need to own. It wasn’t enough for me to enjoy The Office; I needed to have it. All of this sounds very silly and overblown when talking about DVDs and CDs, but I began to wonder how deep this went, how much this need to possess things, to capture them instead of simply delighting in them, affected my everyday life.

Perhaps, for others it is not music and movies, but clothes or books or who-knows-what. It is a demonic impulse, this need to dominate life, to stockpile the things I love instead of experiencing them for the time that they are there and then letting them go. We become possessed by the things we possess. The quote that begins this post comes from The Philokalia, a collection of spiritual writings of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The section from which this quote originates warns about the dangers of worldly possessions and how they “breed innumerable trials,” including anxiety and fear. Yet, when we let go of our attachment to the things of this world, we become free to make Christ our primary goal.

I do not mean to join a monastery any time soon, though I think there are those who are called to such a life. I do, however, mean to pare down my possession to what I need the most. I do still collect things, but I will moderate what I keep. All my music will now be digital and I will get rid of any CDs. I have gone through my closet to rid myself any clothes I cannot or do not wear. The few collections I allow myself to have, specifically vinyl records and comics, have restrictions. It is not much, but I have already found the act of minimizing to be liberating. I do not think that merely selling a few outmoded discs will make me St. Peter of Damaskos, but I hope that by releasing these possessions I can find myself released from my need to possess.