by KAREN GONYER
Minimalism: a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.
Financial coaches will tell you there are only two ways to improve your financial condition—earn more or spend less. We’ve tried to do both in our family, but to be honest, it’s never been much fun to cut spending. Lately, however, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about an inspiring way to look at paring down the budget: minimalism.
The definition of minimalism above comes from Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, authors and bloggers known as “The Minimalists.” They focus on the concept of owning less so we save money and have less to maintain. It’s the process of taking away the things in our lives we don’t need or things that add stress, and then adding more of the things that are most important to us. For some folks, it’s about living in a “tiny house.” For others, it’s about focusing on getting out of debt so they don’t have to work as much and therefore have time for other priorities. Others just desire a simpler lifestyle, slowing down from the rush and hurry, saying no to filling up a calendar.
The more I read, the more it resonates with me. The appeal for me is to embrace simplicity, intentionally pursuing new purposes and priorities. For example, many minimalists give away or sell the majority of their current possessions, keeping only what they regularly use or what carries significant personal meaning. Their goal is to become aware of how the things they buy and own impact their life and decisions. While we sorted through and gave away a lot when we downsized to our current house a couple years ago, I am still interested in doing more. I would like to make more room for the non-tangible priorities of our family’s life.
We are almost empty nesters. This time of transition has given us an opportunity to take a look at our lives and evaluate where we are and where we want to be. In all my pondering, I’ve often found myself reminiscing about my childhood. It struck me recently my parents were actually minimalists. In their case, however, it wasn’t by choice; it was something they just did. They were the parents of seven children, raising their family on a small farm in the country. My father was a pastor. With a pastor’s salary, Dad had to augment his income with other ventures, such as school bus driving and masonry. We always had a big garden and grew a lot of our own food, including beef cattle and chickens. It was a necessary part of life. Although we didn’t have a lot of extras, we were always warm and had plenty to eat and wear.
In spite of a lower income and having to work hard for everything they had, my parents enriched our family life through intangible things – simple things that money could never buy.
In spite of a lower income and having to work hard for everything they had, my parents enriched our family life through intangible things—simple things that money could never buy:
Hospitality—I can remember many Sunday dinners with guests after church. My mother would work much of Saturday to bake pies and prepare for these meals. I also remember two older bachelors who would often stop by on Sunday evening, right around suppertime. They seemed lonely, and I bet they enjoyed all the activity of a house full of kids.
Generosity—One clear memory etched in my mind is from a very cold winter night. We had heard the house across the hill had burnt to the ground. We knew there were a number of children in the family. While no one was hurt, they lost everything. I remember standing on the threshold of our front door while my mother handed someone several bags of clothes for those children. That’s just one of many stories of their generosity. They were also generous with their time in helping others.
Beauty—My father loved gardening, especially growing flowers. Dad grew some of the prettiest roses, and knew all by name. His mother, my Grandma, also had a green thumb. Both thrifty gardeners, they would start root cuttings and dig up bulbs to give away and share their beauty with others.
Creativity—My mother has always loved quilts and enjoyed recycling fabric scraps to make something beautiful as well as useful. She still quilts and donates to her local relief sale. It is her joy to be creative and share with others.
Rest—Other than cooking a meal and taking care of the animals, my parents always took a rest from work on Sundays. This was time for going to church, visiting with family, and of course, a good Sunday afternoon nap if they could. They knew the value of having a break from the day-to-day routine and allowing their minds and bodies to be refreshed.
As I reflect on ways to practice minimalism, it isn’t just about saving money or keeping expenses in check. It’s more of a way to maximize the intrinsic value of each day. I want to integrate more of what I appreciate about my parents’ life into my own—the intangible but valuable fruits of simplicity. I’d love to be okay when someone drops in for a visit. In fact, I want to welcome it. I’d like to make more plans to have guests after church—even if our version of Sunday dinner is just a simple meal of baked potatoes with toppings. I want to embrace beauty and make time for creativity. I want to recognize the value and need for rest and make it a priority. I may not embrace every facet of minimalism, but I want to focus on what’s important in life and be intentional about enjoying each day.
Ken and Karen Gonyer live in Broadway, VA. Email your response or questions about life and money to firstname.lastname@example.org.