About a year ago, I decided to leave my comfortable job as a teacher to become a full-time graduate student. For me, this meant that I had to sell most of my belongings and move halfway across the country from Houston, Texas to New York City. I was thrilled to be a student again and to spend my time studying what I loved, but I knew that there would be some significant lifestyle changes that accompanied this huge shift.
To help me prepare for all of these changes, I read Haley Stewart’s “The Grace of Enough: Pursuing Less and Living More in a Throwaway Culture”. In her book, Stewart recounts how she and her family quit their jobs and moved to a farm outside of Waco, Texas, going against the advice of many friends and family members. They gave up many of the materialistic pursuits marketed towards middle-class Americans. Instead, they focused on spending time together as a family and intentionally living out the Gospel. Once I started the book, I couldn’t put it down. And once I finished it, I couldn’t shut up about it.
Here are a few things I learned about living the Gospel in a “throwaway” culture.
Minimalism can still be materialistic
Y’all. My old apartment was beautiful. I did not have much, but I loved what I had. If you had asked me, I would have said that I wasn’t materialistic. For me, “materialistic” was synonymous with “excess.”
Now, after selling all of my furniture and moving into a much smaller pre-furnished apartment, none of my furniture matches. A year ago, I would have hated this. I would have been scouring websites trying to search for beautiful and affordable pieces to fill my room. But now I only see beauty. In the words of “The Grace of Enough,” “when we live more simply, we can actually cultivate gratefulness more effectively and be less controlled by our possessions.”
When I see my desk, I see the beautiful essays I get to write there. And when I see my tiny bookshelf, I see it overflowing with books I love. I no longer get fulfillment through what I own, but rather through what I can achieve with the help of those belongings.
How I spend my money matters
Early in the book, Stewart quotes Pope Benedict XVI when he said “It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral — and not simply economic — act. Hence the consumer has a specific social responsibility” (Caritas in Veritate, 66). Before reading this, I never considered the morality behind my purchases. I thought that the best purchase was the one that was the most affordable. Now, whenever possible, I try to buy new items from companies with transparent and responsible manufacturing policies. And when I can’t support those (frequently expensive) companies, I try to shop secondhand.
I have a responsibility to take care of the earth
While it can be easy to remember the glory of God when you are standing inside of a beautiful cathedral, it can be a little harder to remember when you’re sorting the recycling from your trash. But he is there as well, and it is important that we take care of the earth.
In her book, Stewart reminds us that “we honor the Creator by caring for his creation.” When God gave us this beautiful world, he also asked us to take care of it. After I sold all of my things, but before I moved into my new apartment, I spent some time hiking in Colorado. At the top of a mountain, surrounded by trees and valleys, it was easy to feel in awe of all that God had created. I try to remember that sight, and the beauty of his creation while I sort through my recycling. I want to maintain the beauty of God’s creation for as long as I can.
My home is meant for others
In the age of Instagram and Pinterest, there is no shortage of inspiration for how to be a good host. With one quick search, you could find an infinite number of elaborate place settings and intricate meals to serve to your guests. Stewart works against this expectation by reminding us to reconsider what really matters. Instead of cooking an elaborate meal, make sure your guest feels welcomed and loved. Instead of handwriting each place card, make sure that your guest feels like they are part of the family. If we remember that hospitality is always centered around others, then we are freed to make it less about ourselves.
After reading Stewart’s book, I found myself so much more willing to have friends over. When my apartment was filled with folding chairs and good company, nobody paid any attention to the dust in the corner or the cat hair on the floor. Our gathering wasn’t about admiring my apartment, it was about building community with each other.
Moving across the country and selling most of my belongings has brought me an incredible amount of joy. Through embracing a minimalist lifestyle, I was able to focus on the people and experiences that God brought into my life. I could go on about the gems of wisdom from this book, but if I had to pick one, it would be Haley’s conclusion:
“What we mustn’t forget is that we can start a life of pursuing less and living more ordered towards the Gospel right now, in our homes, in our relationships, in our communities.”
Originally published on May 28, 2020.