Most of us living in the U.S. own a lot of stuff.
In fact, Americans have on average 300,000 items in their homes. And with the average size of the American home tripling in the past 50 years, 10 percent of us rent offsite storage space culminating into the biggest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades.
If you have a two-car garage and are unable to park two cars into them, you are not alone.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 25 percent of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside and 32 percent only have room for one vehicle.
Last year, in an effort to help free some space in my father’s garage in Pennsylvania, I loaded up all the personal belongings that were part of my childhood and took them to Illinois, where I had been living.
Over a period of five months, I began to go through every item I had from when I was a baby through my time in college.
From my baby book, elementary school drawings, report cards, Boy Scout merit badges, a love note from a high school girlfriend to even my old teddy bears, the process was enjoyable but also painful.
While I found myself flooded with nostalgic memories of my childhood, there were also personal items given by me to my late mother, stirring up emotions of grief that I had thought I already processed.
However, as I found myself looking through these items analyzing their value to me or my someday future children who may inherit them, I found myself slowly starting the process of letting some of these things go.
While going through items that you don’t need is an emotional process, striving to own very few items is a lifestyle called minimalism. And both of these can be a spiritual practice.
Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus of TheMinimalists.com provide an online resource, which helps those who want to engage in minimalism.
They define minimalism as “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom. Freedom from the trappings of the consumer culture we’ve built our lives around.”
The desire to own only items that are necessary for living is a lifestyle being adopted particularly by millennials.
As the majority of millennials find themselves more transient and more urban dwelling than their baby boomer parents, they desire to own less.
For many millennials, grandma’s china closet doesn’t have much functional purpose, even if it’s been a family heirloom for generations.
As baby boomers begin to downsize their empty nests and millennials find themselves moving for new career opportunities and into homes of their own, many are finding engaging in minimalism to be liberating.
While engaging in minimalism by downsizing gives us more freedom during physical transitions, minimalism can also give us more freedom during emotional transitions.
Recently, my cousin, Jenny, shared with me her process of engaging in minimalism and what the process spiritually meant to her.
For Jenny, the minimalism process began after experiencing a change in her life, which included a move.
While the process was difficult, she viewed it as a spiritual practice that allowed her to process feelings of nostalgia, hurt and grief while ultimately finding spiritual healing when she completed the downsizing process.
“I can live so much happier with less personal belongings,” she said. “Owning less belongings gives us so much more room to have in our life what really matters.”
Becca Ehrlich, an ordained Evangelical Lutheran Church in America minister, helps create a Christian connection to the spiritual practice of minimalism and the minimalist lifestyle.
In her blog ChristianMinimalism.com, she discusses how minimalism follows along with the tenants of the Christian faith.
“Jesus didn’t own many possessions,” she writes. “He spent much of his time with family and friends. He spent most of his time traveling to help others by teaching, healing and casting out demons. And he spent a lot of time with his heavenly Father in prayer. Living an abundant, or full, life is what Jesus wants for us. The Christian faith and minimalism go hand in hand. Jesus lived a simple, minimalist lifestyle.”
For Christians, leaving all our possessions behind and following Christ can be a bit of a challenge, if not impossible for modern-day followers.
And personally, I think Jesus would be OK if we keep some of our personal items if they were a necessity or told our story to our children and grandchildren.
However, when we are able to leave behind items tied to our past that no longer have a purpose by donating or recycling, we can help process any unresolved feelings of grief, anger and loss while finding acceptance of who we are and security that God will provide us with what we need and do not need.
And perhaps if we are lucky, maybe even enough room in our garage for our car too.
Christopher L. Schilling is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, hospital chaplain, and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve.