22 Mar 2019

Minimal February

A few years back, a group of us decided to take on some decluttering. Some of us had been reading Marie Kondo, others of us were just appalled at how much clutter there was in our lives. So we decided to do something about it.

We took inspiration from The Minimalism Game,  and goaded one another on to get rid of 406 unused items from our homes during the month of February. On Day 1 we each got rid of one thing, on Day 2, two, and so on until Day 28 when those who kept going had disposed of 28 items. By the end of the month we had ditched, recycled, given away or sold 406 items. It’s an interesting exercise, and strangely addictive.

Since then, minimalism has really caught on. Marie Kondo’s Netflix show attracted huge viewing figures in January 2019, with charity shops having to turn away donations because they were overwhelmed with people trying to spark joy. The appeal of Kondo and her KonMari method of folding and storing is that she genuinely does seem to bring joy into the process of sorting out your clutter. Relationships are put back on track, individuals are set free from past regret and families have space to enjoy being together, and at the heart of it is a person who seems genuinely lovely and genuinely interested in the people she is helping. But is there more to it than just piling all your clothes on your bed and learning to fold in triangles? Some of us decided to try Minimal February again in 2019, and around 30 people joined the Facebook group, faithfully posting photos each day and spurring one another on.

We started well, although inevitably as the month went on it got harder to make the time to go through our belongings each day, but by the end, we were getting more ruthless and feeling the benefit to knowing where everything is and enjoying a more calm environment.

It’s interesting to reflect on why we feel the need to hold on to so much stuff. Some reasons are obvious – sentimental value, the idea that something might come in handy one day, sheer paralysis at the thought of having to decide whether to keep something – but others are less so – a fear that without our stuff we might lose our identity, a peacock-like desire to shape how others view us by what we display. And most of the time we don’t even realise we’re doing it.

In the west we are fed the idea from an early age that what we own defines us. Creating and cultivating a personal brand is an ongoing process that many of us do instinctively. The types of books we hang onto “just in case” define the type of readers we want to be (or want others to think we are even though we’ve never got past page 10). The objects we choose to display for “sentimental value” speak of our memories, our relationships, our adventurous pasts (even though some of our stories may be exaggerated for effect). Even the idea of holding onto things in order to use them someday speak of the image we choose to present of myself as a creative, thrifty, imaginative soul (even though it’s highly unlikely that we will ever have need of old ramekin dishes, a broken knife and a box of old make-up).

An activity like Minimal February releases qualities in us that we probably want to cultivate. Choosing to give away cultivates habits of generosity, deciding to deal with our material past enables us to lay down some memories and emotions that may have begun to hold us back, actively choosing not to buy more stuff has an environmental impact.

All good and well, but surely there’s more to life than being tidy?

There really is.

But as we choose to shape our image and brand ourselves through our belongings, so our lives reveal the underlying appetites, approval-seeking and ambitions of our hearts. Clearing out your bookshelves and getting rid of old clothes may not seem like a very spiritual act, but what if it’s done with the intention of creating a brand that is less about you and more about Him? What if we choose to ditch our carefully constructed post-everything images, and instead make every effort to live as Jesus did – unhindered by stuff, unexpectedly open to connecting with people and listening for what God wants to do?

It’s a challenge, and it will probably take longer than 28 days to accomplish. Testing whether or not an object sparks joy is a good way to decide if we really like it, and it’s a reminder that there is nothing wrong with lovely things – it’s about the value we place on them. The deeper question, though, is how to figure out what gives Him joy. And whether we have the courage to live an unfettered life in the confidence that our identity is not found in the stuff we own.

It’s a question of where your treasure is. Because, as a wise man once said: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

If you’re interested in getting involved in Minimal February 2020, keep an eye on the Foolproof social media. We’ll post an invitation and you can join the fun.