It’s a bad word. Nobody says “burden” in a good way. Ever.
But what does it even mean? Something that weighs down on you, often times impacting every other part of your life.
I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism this spring/summer, and I’m finding that minimalists like to throw this word around a lot. “Stuff is a burden.” Sure, I can get behind that. All stuff requires work and money (however little) to maintain and space to be stored. Such a burden.
But I’m finding, that at least for me, minimalism can be a burden as well. In all the reading I’ve done about minimalism, I’ve found myself frequently frustrated and in a poor mood after I read a blog post or article on the subject. That isn’t right. The idea is that minimalism is supposed to be life giving.
So why hasn’t it been for me?
Well, in many ways, it has. Shrinking the amount of stuff in our bedroom gives me a real sense of peace when I’m going to bed. The kitchen is easier to work in, frequently cleaner, and all around more pleasant to be in, now that I’ve gotten rid of unnecessary items. Our living/dining room have always been fairly clutter free, and with few exceptions, it’s remained so during this season.
But there’s this other side of minimalism that I find very burdensome. It’s the legalism, the rules about how I’m supposed to live, and they’re driving me bonkers. For example, I read a blog the other day that had an important principle to living with less: “Live on only one income.” And then I become very discontent with the amount of money that my husband and I make because this seems close to impossible without severely cutting back our lifestyle (hello beans and rice!) and postponing or altogether removing our long term goals (having a family). My discontentment is my problem, and it’s not fair of me to outsource that on somebody else.
At the same time, hard and fast rules seem unrealistic, however well-intentioned. When people say things like “live on only one income”, they assume that one of your two incomes is sufficient to live off of. And while Joel and I certainly could live on only one income if we really needed to, there are a lot of families that simply can’t without governmental aid which they wouldn’t qualify for since they still bring in the two incomes. And then the spirit of the rule is that you live simply, which Joel and I would certainly accomplish by living on only one income, but I have plenty of friends who still could and would live extravagant lifestyles doing the same. So the rule doesn’t even accomplish the purpose. There’s just no way that you can assume that any family could (or should) cut their spending in half, or that if they did, the result would be simplicity.
But the more burdensome part of this to me is what it would mean I would have to give up. Fresh, sustainably grown fruits and veggies. Humanely treated and sustainably raised meat. Dinner out with my husband. Bella Monica, forever and always. A breakfast date with a friend. The possibility of having children of different sexes (because while it’s not necessary, I really think it’s important for boys and girls to have separate bedrooms). Living within walking distance to an amazing park and fantastic museum. Living in a neighborhood where I feel safe. Extra school supplies so that the kids whose parents can’t afford it don’t feel left out and are still able to learn. Vacation. And the list goes on.
Could we give up these things? Certainly. Should we? And here’s where the question gets trickier. Sure, I sometimes spend my money on things that are less than life giving, but the majority of my money goes towards things I really want and enjoy, things that are life-giving. (And it goes without saying that my husband and I are savers and are debt free except for our mortgage, so we’re not being foolish by putting a dinner out on the credit card.)
Money is meant to be used. And the ideas behind minimalism were never supposed to make me unwilling to spend it. Rather, they’re supposed to challenge the way I choose to spend it, which is an idea I gleaned from Vanderkam’s All the Money in the World. And I choose to spend money in a way that gives life… to others, to my family, to the world.
I’ve found myself buying fewer clothes, fewer shoes, and fewer kitchen gadgets. But I also didn’t hold back at all when my husband and I saw the latest DC Heroes game (I checked our budget, but didn’t hold back when I saw we had the money there). There’s room in life for stuff. Stuff can squeeze life out, but lack of stuff can also do that. The trick is to find the balance.