In a friend's living room a few months ago, I couldn't take my eyes off the huge photograph on her wall, depicting a bridge crossing to a foggy forest. It wasn't just the massive size of the canvas that caught my eye; somehow, I just knew there was a story to it.
So I asked my friend, thinking maybe it was a photograph she had taken, or was a place that was special to her. It was neither of these things (it was from Ikea) but there was a story there. The photo reminds her of her walk with God. As she walks her path of life, it can feel like she's on a wobbly bridge, and she can't clearly see what's ahead or how far it is - but she does know there is life there on the other side, trees rising in the fog, and she's emboldened to walk through fear and uncertainty because it will be worth it.
There were other things on her walls, too, that had a special meaning to her. Have you ever been in someone's home and sensed this too - sensed that everything there was chosen with care and love?
A few minutes later, we were chatting about ethical shopping and how it can mean so many things. She brought up minimalism, and I shared how I feel a bit torn: I like the idea of it in part, but are we bad minimalists when we want to buy things we don't need? That doesn't feel right. The quantity of decorations on her wall couldn't be considered minimal, but each was chosen with care. Is there not a place for things like a huge photograph with a special meaning, or items that truly bring us joy because of their beauty - particularly if we make an effort to purchase ethically made goods? Ever since our conversation, I've continued chewing on this.
We have all watched our society place far too much emphasis on our stuff. We all know that Americans use our stuff to find a sense of security, to feed our egos, to make us feel valuable, powerful, beautiful, enviable. And we abuse the planet and its people to feed the addiction.
In recent years, I'm glad to see us talking about these things. Many are pushing back against materialism, with very good reason. We're rejecting the way our stuff, it seems, degrades our souls, our values, and our planet. Rejecting the way we base our identity and our worth on what we own.
I, for one, find some strands of minimalism to fall a bit flat. I saw a graphic online once that said something along the lines of, "The more stuff you own, the more your stuff owns you."
Really? Is it really that simple? This seems to imply that our relationship with our surroundings is a mathematical equation. Apparently, bringing home a great pair of quality fair-trade shoes means compromising my soul - unless I discard another pair of shoes that very moment, you see, to maintain equilibrium.
I think the reason minimalism can fall flat is when it feel like it's still all about chasing a number. It feels like a ham-fisted reaction to the problem of materialism, that doesn't address the heart of the problem. Now, instead of trying to be the girl who owns 45 pairs of shoes, I'm supposed to strive to be the girl who owns 4 pairs. Oh, but wait! Mrs. Jones gets by with 3, and that makes me feel less-than; I'd better keep up with her. (See what I did there?)
The problem with materialism is deeper than numbers, so the solution to materialism should be as well. What if instead of just chasing a new number, we chase something else - something I like to call Conscious Curation. You see, Conscious Curation is something I've felt intuitively for a while, except it always felt like it was just me being a "bad" minimalist. (Fortunately, Marie Kondo helped me develop a healthier understanding.)
**To be fair**, I think most minimalists are, like me, after more than just chasing a small number. So maybe it's mostly the name that bothers me. "Minimalism" feels very soul-less, like the goal is just having less, rather than emphasizing things like meaningful and ethical (which, if we achieve it, likely will give us "less" thrown in for free).
I don't deny that our stuff can suck us dry. But what if, once we strip away all the vanity or insecurity or greed that motivates us to accumulate stuff, we find underneath the gunk that we are beings, made in the image of a creator God, who crave beauty and story around us that can come from (dare I say it) our stuff?
Under the vanity, I am a being who loves beauty: I engage my God-given senses. The part of my soul that enjoys the bloom and scent of a beautiful flower is also allowed to enjoy a beautiful painting on my wall, a sparkly bracelet adorning my wrist, or the beautiful comfort of the perfect blanket or bar of dark chocolate as they delight my senses.
Under the insecurity, I am a being who loves story: The part of my soul that fondly remembers baking cookies with my Nana or walking through the ancient ceramics market at Bat Trang in Vietnam, is also allowed to hang onto Nana's jewelry box and bring home beautiful ceramic bowls, which I don't *need* but I do want. They bring me joy and help connect me to those stories.
Under the greed, I am a being who appreciates creators: The part of my soul that admires God's handiwork is also allowed - even encouraged - to appreciate great human-made design, bring it into my home, and support and elevate this valuable work.
And so I try to practice Conscious Curation: curating, over time, a collection of belongings that I find useful or beautiful; putting thought into each purchase; defining beauty as aesthetic as well as derived from story and appreciation for creators; appreciating the value of having a few meaningful items rather than many meaningless ones, without obsessing over numbers; and doing all this in a way that is conscious of the way my belongings were created or acquired, to avoid exploitation of the planet and its people. What I'm describing is not idolatry of stuff, but it permits us to find joy in our stuff in a healthy way.
What if instead of chasing after either more or less, we instead chase after a consciously curated life, where the things we let in - our accessories, our home decor, the scents we smell - contain a deep beauty that speaks to us as humans? After all, if we do that, we'll likely end up with less anyway - but we'll do so in a way that deepens our connection with our purest, God-given wiring and our relationship to the world around us. And our belongings will be reflections of us: we are beautiful both inside and out, and they can be too.
Stay tuned for more on how Conscious Curation can create positive impact through fair trade, and what it looks like in my life!