The Catholic concept of voluntary poverty has been on my mind recently. The pressure to have a perfect house, decor, clothing, hair and body can seemingly consume a person’s existence. On the way to this elusive perfection, we get so used to our goal of actively pursuing and seeking that we don’t ever stop to realize that said perfection is always just outside our reach. In our pursuit, we become comfortable in our role as consumers and we stand blankly in the aisles wondering what shower curtain or shampoo could change our lives into the picture of magazine happiness. Then the next issue of a magazine comes out and our decor seems outdated or unseasonable and we’re out in search of the next best thing. Eventually, we become so suggestible and indecisive that we no longer even know what our houses and bodies would look like if they were truly our own, free from the influences of television shows and magazines.
When I first toyed with the idea of minimalism, I am not sure what attracted me to it. I guess that a part of me feels guilty for having so much and yet feeling like I waste so much or that I have more than I could ever use. I throw away food each week that goes bad before I can eat it; I have more clothes than I ever usually wear and the bathroom is full to the hilt with creams and soaps… it would take years to use them all. What results is a throw-out culture and a residual feeling of deep guilt and shame. Why should I be blessed to have so much?
What it comes down to is this: While the ability to give myself shelter and food is a huge blessing, I find that in a real way it is a kind of curse to have more than what I NEED. Past a point of necessity, things truly do not buy happiness, or thinness, or anything else. They can however result in other problems… like the physical problem of moving so much stuff or the guilt over wasting things.
So in this, the second or third year of my pondering minimalism I have decided that I should strive for not only a minimalist lifestyle, but one that embraces the principle of voluntary poverty.
I have made some headway since my last post. I have continued to sell a large part of my book collection. At this point the collection has been whittled to nearly half of what it once was. Guess what? I don’t miss any of those books that are gone! I have cut my hair short and am almost back to my natural color. I have given many clothes and much bedding to Goodwill, along with some kitchen goods. And yet, there is still such a long way to go.
One of the hardest areas, at least for me, is in the arena of ‘acquiring’ things. It is so easy strolling into Wal-Mart to grab an extra laundry detergent or extra food that looks interesting, but in reality is not something that is truly needed. I work towards the “have only one of any item at one time and do not buy another until you run out” principle but in all honesty, at times it is hard. Very hard!! But I am working on it.
Because deep down, I know I am a giver, not a taker.
I pray for the guidance to see that true happiness lies not in our ephemeral possessions, but in living in the moment and in our relationships with people. In work and at home I will strive to give and to create happiness. In this, hope you will join me.