When we got engaged, my now-husband suggested we opt out of a wedding registry. I looked at him like he had grown an extra head. He emphasized that in our separate apartments we already owned what we needed to begin a life together. His suggestion to forgo a registry led to a heated argument, one where we were both entirely stuck in our respective views. Fortunately, it also sparked an ongoing conversation between us about true needs versus wants, and about doing what society expects us to do versus doing what is right for us.
Our conversations deepened, and I started reading what I could about minimalism and materialism (e.g., Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution and David Platt’s Radical), rereading the Bible with new eyes, and rethinking Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler. My husband recommended MLK, Gandhi, and St. Francis of Assisi, but I leaned towards the more recent wave of new monastics. In my search, I ultimately stumbled upon Project 333. I invited a few of my friends to join me in electing to wear 33 items for three months. They all declined! So I journeyed alone. At first, it was difficult working with what I saw at that time as an extremely limited closet, but I lasted through the three months. Paradoxically, fewer clothing choices meant more choices because I could see clearly all that I had available to wear. Restriction suddenly meant freedom because I was no longer caught up in what anyone else thought I needed. And no one even noticed I had restricted my wardrobe those three months. After the project, I reduced the amount of clothes I had by at least 75 percent, donating several bags of clothing to Goodwill.
I learned to start asking myself if what I desired was a need or want and to fight the urge to instantly buy something without first weighing the pros and cons or dealing with a little inconvenience. I’m not saying that wants are inherently wrong; I am suggesting that we spend a little more time considering how a trivial want may distract us from a higher want. You may want a $500 television, but what you may truly want more than that television is to become an entrepreneur. Don’t trade a higher goal for a lesser goal. What could buying a less expensive item or choosing to go without something do? The money could go towards a business course or into a savings account to ease the transition of switching careers. What if you purchased a less expensive house or car? The thousands saved could go towards acts of generosity or freeing yourself from student loans and credit card debt.
Because of this personal transformation, when my husband and I married, we did not have a wedding registry. We moved into our new apartment and considered what else we could do without.
Simplifying our possessions trickled into simplifying other areas of our lives. For example, we realized how stressed we were on Mondays due to overscheduled weekends. We rushed from brunches to birthday parties to dinners to church services to lunches, and then came back exhausted on Sunday nights. No wonder we dreaded Monday mornings! We decided to experiment with putting parameters on our time. We tried not to schedule anything before late afternoons on Saturdays, and we did our best to return home by early afternoon on Sundays. It meant turning down some invitations, which I—and a lot of people—struggle with doing. But putting boundaries on our schedules was one of the most liberating things we could do. When I mentioned the experiment to friends, a couple of them thought it was too extreme. Sometimes if we’re at one extreme, though, we have to go to the other extreme in order to find balance. This taught me that when folks are caught in a crazy busy cycle, they’ll make you feel like the crazy one when you try to step out of it. We all want to fit in, but conformity keeps us stuck. Trying what others see as strange or impossible unlocks many freedoms.
During this journey of simplification, I also began to reassess my career goals. I worked in the health field but was deeply interested in writing professionally. Freeing up time allowed me to focus on my passion. After a few years of attending writing courses and workshops, I knew the next step was to go part-time at my job so that I could dedicate even more time to writing. It was a privilege to go part-time given my financial circumstances; however, I also know it would have been much harder if we were living beyond our means or had an expensive image to sustain. The decision to go part-time did not come lightly. Others projected their fears onto me: (1) If you go part-time, you won’t be able to buy a house. (Does everyone need to own a home? We don’t think so.) (2) If you go part-time, your health insurance premiums will increase (By how much? They did, but we researched our options and prepared accordingly.) (3) If you go part-time, you won’t get a promotion. (Did I want a promotion? I wasn’t convinced that higher positions in my organization would be fulfilling for me.). After two years working part-time, I took a leap of faith, quitting my job to pursue writing. In my last weeks, I was surprised by the number of colleagues who spoke to me in secret about wanting to pursue something other than what they were doing, and who had admired my decision to go part-time.
My journey with simplicity continues. I have not “arrived”, and I won’t pretend it’s always easy to choose the road less traveled. I keep reading to challenge myself and renew my mind. The amazing benefits and freedoms that come with daring to be countercultural help me stay the course. Some of us are so used to overextending ourselves, living stretched thin, or functioning at heightened anxiety, that we can’t even conceive of the freedom that living beneath our means and creating margin in our lives could bring. We have much more than we should, and we need much less to live on than what we think. Let’s reconsider what others say we should want and think critically about our authentic needs. Let’s think a bit more radically about what is enough for living. Because life is greater than our material world.
Written by A. Kurian for The Beautiful Project