Eight years ago, my family sold, donated, or discarded over 60 percent of our possessions. My wife, children, and I removed clothes, furniture, decorations, cookware, tools, books, toys, and anything in our home that was not immediately useful or beautiful. At the time, long before tiny houses and magical “tidying,” the idea of such drastic downsizing was completely foreign.
Like so many of us, I worked long hours for paychecks spent on technology, clothing, toys, furniture, decorations, cars, and hopefully someday, a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood. I didn’t really believe the purpose of life was to chase possessions, but my calendar and checkbook sure seemed to tell a different story.
One Saturday afternoon, I was cleaning out my garage while my 5-year old son played whiffle ball in the backyard. I suddenly realized that everything I owned wasn’t making me happy. It was actually distracting me from the very thing that did bring me happiness.
At first, our minimalism came as a practical move. We had grown weary of living paycheck to paycheck to cover our mounting possessions and of trading time with our kids to clean clutter in the house. But soon, the process of intentionally owning less began to influence our spiritual journey in ways we never expected.
While I used to read Jesus’s teaching on money and possessions as a burdensome call to sacrificial (even boring) living, owning less actually resulted in a better life, full of freedom and joy and peace. I began to recognize that Jesus wasn’t calling me to a boring life; he was calling me to a more abundant life. Here are a few of the surprising spiritual benefits my family and I have experienced since deciding to own less stuff:
1. Owning less offers more opportunity to pursue your passions.
When we measure the time, money, and energy spent caring for our possessions—researching, shopping, organizing, picking up, cleaning, repairing, replacing, and even working for the money to buy them in the first place—we discover that our possessions can keep us from the passions God has given us.
In his sermon on the mount Jesus warned, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matt 6:24). Unwittingly, perhaps, a lot of us have wiggled out of Jesus’ clear teaching in a host of creative ways: “Just because I like money doesn’t mean I hate God,” “I’m not someone who serves money,” “I’m pretty sure Jesus means someone a lot richer than I am.”
What if Jesus’ teaching wasn’t meant to scold, but to set us free? As we released what we didn’t need, we found more time, energy and money to pursue the greater passions God had put in our hearts.
2. Owning less is the quickest path to buying less.
If you haven’t yet experimented in living with less, you might think it’s as horrible as dieting: a feeling of constant deprivation and craving what you’ve said no to. But in reality, the opposite is true. I was initially nervous about adopting a “capsule wardrobe” of just 33 items of clothing or less, but quickly grew to enjoy the simplicity and the fact that I loved every item in my closet. Today, I have little desire to add to it. When you’ve gotten rid of what you don’t need and set out to only keep what’s necessary, that insistent voice inside badgering you to buy more is quietly silenced.
When Jesus taught his disciples, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33-34), he was inviting us to a freedom of heart that can be only experienced when our hearts are no longer tethered to all we own.
3. Owning less nurtures our spirits.
When John the Baptist was preparing people’s hearts for the coming Messiah, the crowd asked him what they should do. He instructed, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).
That’s odd, right? John’s charge sounds a lot like the way folks responded after they met Jesus, but seems a bit odd as a prescription for the best way to welcome Him.
But John knew that owning less often fuels spiritual growth in our lives. It forces us to evaluate our hearts and motives in ways we wouldn’t otherwise experience. Like his cousin Jesus, John understood that physical reality is never divorced from spiritual reality.
4. Owning less fosters gratitude and contentment.
We live in a culture that daily bullies us to own more. Our radios and televisions and iPhones and online searches barrage us with ads insisting that we’ll finally be happy when we own this outfit or drive that car or drink that soda. But we’re not happy. Our discontent is evidenced in our excess. Our longings to own the latest and greatest, as well as our tendencies to compare our lives with those around us, have left us feeling like we’re always missing something.
Intentionally owning less not only sows a spirit of gratitude and contentment into our hearts, it waters and nourishes the fruits Paul promises to those who walk by the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
5.Owning less reframes reality for the rich and the poor.
One of the criticisms of the minimalism movement is that it’s trendy among people who are privileged, but irrelevant to those who are poor. I disagree. In fact, I believe that Jesus’ teaching on possessions liberates both.
Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). That wasn’t just a prayer for poor folks without enough to eat. Jesus is also teaching those who have more-than-enough that God delights in providing for our needs—both physical and spiritual
The tendency to search for security and happiness in possessions is common for both the rich and the poor—it is a temptation that you cannot out-earn. Those with more-than-enough should be quick to realize the joy found in using their excess as provision for those with less. And those with less should be quick to recognize that accumulating more is not the key to security. For both the rich and the poor, faith in God’s provision is the only path to lasting security.
Over the years, I’ve come to define minimalism as the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of everything that distracts us from it. I’ve found it to be a lifestyle that offers not just a tidier home, but a more intentional spirituality.
Owning less may be one of the most significant steps you’ll ever take to the abundant life Jesus promised.
Joshua Becker is the author of The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, a book that inspires others to find more life by owning less stuff. He is also the Founder and Editor of Becoming Minimalist.