Catholic Simplicity: Soulful Minimalism

catholic simplicity soulful minimalism

At long last, winter is giving way to warmer temperatures and spring is on the horizon. More sunshine, more time outside, and spring cleaning. I love purging the clutter and excess in order to let some air and peace flow through the house. After practicing minimalism for eight years now, spring cleaning is an event I anticipate like a kid waiting for Easter morning. There’s something so inviting and calming about a life renewed through simplicity.

A Different Kind of Minimalism

Minimalism is one of those big trends that has spawned smaller trends. It seems like it’s not enough to say you like to live simply, how you do it matters almost more. And aside from choosing your own minimalist method, making it last becomes prime as well.

I can honestly declare, however, that choosing a simple life was much less something I found on my own, and much more of a holy stirring in my soul. I’m not the type who whittled family possessions down to one hundred items, or who touched every dang thing in the house to see if it “sparked joy.”

Living simply transcends a cultural craze. It is meant to be as unique to us all as our souls, because pursuing simplicity in the light of Jesus is what makes it last. Christian minimalism looks to Jesus to learn what He wants for our lives. Then, it applies that mission to both our material and temporal needs. From this comes peace, order, and a holy contentment knowing that we have what we need and, if we lack, the Lord will sustain us.

“Come, Follow Me.”

My favorite story about living simply is the account of The Rich Young Man (Mark 10:17-31). It’s one of those stories that makes me cringe but also encourages me to eliminate distraction.

The young man confronts Jesus, asking the Lord what it takes to gain eternal life. He says he keeps the Commandments and wants to know what he’s missing. “Sell your possessions, give to the poor, and follow me,” Christ responds.

Following Jesus is what we Christians are repeatedly and perpetually called to do. Jesus beckons each of us to a custom-made plan, a charge suited to our God-given gifts. And He equips us with graces to do it. What is it that God wants of you and for you? What fuels your passion and makes you feel like a woman on a mission? It’s here that Catholic simplicity begins. Holy minimalism means keeping what we need to follow Jesus and detaching from the rest. What do you need to follow Jesus the way He’s asking you to follow Him?

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God calls me to my husband and our kids as well as to making our home welcoming to family and visitors. We have enough undies, towels, and plates to go around. We have enough space to breathe, but not too much, so I can keep tabs on the kids. We can have friends over to eat or play. Our home is not run over with stuff, but it definitely looks “lived in.” God has also called me to my work as a speaker and writer, so I have a reliable computer and a desk where I work. Material simplicity means whatever is enough to say “yes” to God is enough.

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Don’t Walk Away

My cringe at The Rich Young Man comes when the young man walks away sorrowful, “for he had many possessions.” This is the part when my eyes go wide with disbelief. For real?! How could this guy be so stuck on his stuff that he walks away from Jesus? But then I check myself, because the fact is that I do it all the time. I lose sight of God’s minute-by-minute call to me and I go my own way. I shop (or eat chocolate) when life gets hard, my “screen time” is slightly over the top, and when I want something, I get totally fixed on it—almost obsessed—until it’s mine.

Purging What Doesn’t Matter to Make Room for What Does

Life is chock full of attachments that distract us from following the Lord. We have to let go of what’s holding us back. Do you need to put your phone or computer away so you don’t lose sight of the priceless souls in your family? As a stay-at-home mom, I have to stop myself from putting off quality time with my kids for the sake of cleaning that can wait a bit, or checking “one more thing” online.

Every so often, I have to cut our excess. During what I call “purge week,” I approach every corner of our house with ruthless detachment. If something fails to serve some kind of purpose, whether for the body or soul, it goes. Even if something meshes with how we’re following Jesus, I cross-check it with a more challenging question, “Could someone else use this or be more grateful to have it?”

Treasure in Heaven

Of course it’s not wrong to keep what we want or use, but occasionally giving up something of more personal value gives way for a deeper devotion to God. Store up your treasure in heaven. A priest friend of mine joked, “I never saw a hearse pulling a U-Haul,” because you can’t take it with you!

What’s distracting you from having that John 10:10 scene (i.e. living life to the full) Jesus wants you to have so badly? What are you holding onto that someone else needs or could appreciate more?

Nothing has opened my eyes to the dignity of others like living simply. I initially jumped on the minimalism band wagon just to make sure our little house would fit our growing family. Decluttering had its perks like a renewed home and less anxiety caused by clutter, but as I kept detaching from “stuff” and giving to anyone in need, I saw clearly how much people matter. It brought me so much joy to look for others’ needs or ways I could help their days be easier. If you have extra time, make a bigger dinner and invite friends over. If you use two of the same thing, try living with just one. You’ll adapt and that fear of holding on to things “just in case” will disappear in time.

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What the Rich Young Man Should Have Asked

Practicing minimalism in light of God’s unique call for your life lifts a big load off your shoulders. It yields peace and freedom previously unrealized, as well as renewed gratitude and joy in Christ. Getting there, however, is no easy feat, especially when our hearts look anything like the Rich Young Man’s heart. Jesus even affirms all this further in the story, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I wish the Rich Young Man had stuck around, despite his discouragement. Then he would have heard the Lord, and maybe he would have asked for God’s grace. I’d like to argue that the Rich Young Man’s downfall was not necessarily his attachment to his “many possessions,” but that he didn’t ask for help.

Jesus doesn’t call us to follow Him and then leave us to go it alone. He walks with us and sustains us. The Lord surrounds us with support, and it’s likely He planted our desire for simplicity in the first place.

Minimalism as a movement will likely disappear from the cultural zeitgeist; but if we regard simplicity as a holy effort toward answering the Lord’s desires for and from our lives, and as a means of recognizing the worth of others instead of stuff, then it goes beyond trends and becomes a matter of the soul. Intentionally keeping what we need and cutting out what we don’t unearths a life more connected to Heaven. Christian simplicity yields closeness with Jesus, trust in His will, and a peace beyond understanding.

Do you practice minimalism? What fruits have you seen in your own home and soul?

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Katie Sciba is a national speaker and five-time Catholic Press Award-winning writer. Her work is focused on vulnerability with Jesus, holiness in marriage and family, Catholic minimalism, as well as her retreat Courageous + Captivating. Katie and her husband Andrew have been married for 10 years and live with their children in Omaha, Nebraska. You can find out more about her here.

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  • Reply
    a spirit of simplicity
    March 17, 2018 at 7:23 am

    I am not a minimalist in our home. I have stuff! Most of it brings a story of a loved one with it…it was a special gift or it was once owned by a friend or family member. I also fill my home with things I find in the natural world…shells, stones, pieces of driftwood. However, my soul and my spirit I keep simple and clear so that the will of God can work in me and I can help the will of God to work in others.

  • Reply
    February 11, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    What fresh air this is! Putting minimalism in its rightful place. I love this- he did not ask for help. I must ask for help. I get so sidetracked with how to declutter, how to have a side-hustle, how to … endless list, and I so often forget to ask God what He wants from me.

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