Minimalism far preceded the infamous minimalist trend we see rampant among millennials and Instagrammers today. St. Benedict saw the value of living a minimalist life centuries before minimalism became a "lifestyle choice." Today’s minimalist trend attempts to make a way for us to focus on experiences and people instead of material things. It has become easily twisted into clean lines, expensive ethical clothing, and Scandinavian design. Benedict's rule of owning nothing has a different purpose than today's trends, and arguably one that lends itself to greater life and flourishing – not just the individual but the world around them. It is one that removes distraction to find the infinite, the God of the Universe. We so easily hide God in plain sight simply because we have our minds wrapped up in worldly and material things.
Benedict understood this reality. The reality that when we crowd our lives with worldly materials we prevent ourselves from communing with God in a way that is unfettered, in a way that makes space for the poor and those who have none to have some. He called Benedictines to live within what was needed: no more, no less. Nothing was to be owned. Nothing to be ill taken care of. Nothing to be of distraction. Everything to be simple, so as to not take away from ultimate focus of life, God and his great goodness. Benedict’s rules of minimalism, specifically the rules of Monastics & Private Ownership, Distribution of Goods According to Need, and the rule of Clothing and Footwear, outline the importance of simplicity in the name of focusing on what is good and right.
I have forever been a "purger." A purger in the sense that I hold very little sentimentality for most things in life and have little problem getting rid of things. My family used to bug me whenever I was looking for something by saying "you probably threw it out or gave it away." I was constantly getting rid of things, whether it be clothing, trinkets, old cards, or childhood crafts. I liked the feeling of not being overwhelmed by things. In a world that was so anxiety-ridden, getting rid of things was like cleansing the soul.
While very few things in my life hold significant sentimental value to me, I still struggle with the balance of desiring material possessions and not wanting them to control my life. I often get rid of things quickly because of buyer’s remorse, and then end up refilling my life with other things just as quick. I have always been unsettled with this cycle. My soul has never felt truly at rest when I have too much or when I am pining after the latest and greatest trend.
What I appreciate and long for in Benedict’s rules is the detachment from worldly things. The words in 1 John 2:15 capture what is essential to Bendict’s call to shirk the things of this world: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." The ultimate purpose of the Benedictine order was not to tout a certain aesthetic to show ones piety, it was to have just what is needed to make room for the love of the Father. This is important because minimalism to us moderns has become a consumerist trend in and of itself. Minimalism and simplicity can too often turn into getting rid of the old only to replace it by a white, clean-lined, Scandinavian substitute. Benedict would scoff. This is not the point.
Jesus is the point. Grace is the point. Seeking God is the point. Simplifying our lives in an effort to refocus our eyes on the things that matter most is the point. Those things that matter most aren’t experiences but grace, peace, love, mercy, and compassion.
What Benedict realized is what most modern minimalists today often leave out. Simplicity and minimalism lead us to God, not to a more "Instagrammable" life. It is not to lead us to have more money in our pension. It is not to lead us to have more savings for travel and other investments. It is to strip away the very objects and things we fill our lives with that build walls to relating with others.