Debunking the Myth of Minimalism & the Mess-Free Home

This isn’t a post about how to have a mess-free home or why decluttering will save your soul. As I write, I can look over my shoulder and see sticker pads on the floor and Legos stacked in the corner. My desk is piled up with books and coloring pages and papers to grade. Shoes sit on the back rug, waiting to be used for backyard play and colored pencils decorate my kitchen table. Signs of life, as my mother would say. These signs of life used to stress me out, to the point where I could barely stand for the kids to play in the living room or color at the table. Ushering them back to their rooms, the mentality was, “don’t be seen or heard.” But they didn’t want to be sequestered to the back bedroom; they wanted to feel a part of the family rhythms and participate with whatever was going on out here.

Frantically trying to declutter my house, I’d go around after them, trying to pick up everything or yelling out them to clean up their mess. This mentality did not bring me less stress–it intensified it. And all my kids thought was, “Wow, Mom values a clean house above all else.”  I finally got to the place where I gave myself permission (and them) to clean up once (not twenty times) before Daddy came home. We now allow them to have a corner of the living room that’s their spot for toys and play. Doing so allows them to feel like they are participating in the family scene without being lonely in their rooms. And I recognize that one day soon, they won’t have toys at all and they won’t want to be out here in the living room with us. I want to enjoy it while I can.

Back when my parents were raising kids, the culture pressured people to, “Get more. Spend more. Bigger is better.” Our 1300-square-foot house would be considered a starter home (still is by many standards) and the urge to increase material possessions shadowed everything. That push is still present, of course; people still strive to buy bigger and better. However, a new trend has hit the scene: microhomes and minimalism. My husband loves this mentality, and it’s not all bad. After all, statistics prove that the more we have to care for, the more stress we have to manage as well. Even so, if you stick me in a 300-square-foot microhome with no dishwasher and three small children, this introvert will feel weighed down, not lifted free. We’re talking check-me-into-a-mental-hospital stressed out.

The problem with minimalism and microhomes doesn’t perch on the idea that less is more, but that less will make you happy and free.  It’s the same lie that materialism spouted, “More will make you happy and free.” The reality? Neither mentality will bring you joy, peace, or freedom. Things (or fewer things) don’t possess that power. Our spirits are screaming out for help and we put a band-aid on it with our stuff. This idea is ignorance at its fineness, but it’s also dangerously misleading. What we own–or don’t own–won’t free our souls. John MacArthur puts it this way, “Those who are in the best of circumstances but without God can never find peace, but those in the worst of circumstances but with God need never lack peace.”

So, by all means, simplify your life. Reduce the clutter. Dismiss the things that no longer serve you. Ask yourself, “Why do I keep all this stuff?” Just don’t stop there; allow the environment to give you space to go deeper into the heart. Don’t think that a clutter-free home in itself will bring you lasting tranquility. That has to come from another Source altogether. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

If you are children-free and want to reduce your yearly expenses, then sell that big house and live in a condo. Use the extra money to give to those less fortunate. Spend your time volunteering instead of cleaning and maintaining a large home you don’t need.

Allow the minimalism movement to move you outside yourself, not to become more selfish and introspective. And don’t reduce what you really need (no car, no dishwasher, no dryer, etc.) just so you can travel the world and ignore the basic needs of your wife (Thanks, Aaron, for seeing that a microhome would not be good right now).

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