Jesus, Tiny Houses and Minimalism: Is Simplicity a part of Discipleship?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Luke 12:15

“The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with profits. This also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 5:10

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8

“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21

So I have a confession to make…I am enamored by the Tiny House movement and the popular lifestyle of minimalism, even though the voice of reason tells me that such living and lifestyle is impractical in modern life. Or is what I perceive as the voice of reason in my head really just the conditioning of the culture in which I live? I mean, bigger and more is better right? I am from Texas after all!

Lately, I have been seriously questioning my views on the simple life and discipleship. My journey of developing a more mindful Christian perspective on life constantly throws me curve balls about my conceptions of following Jesus vs. “cultural Christianity.” And the challenges of smaller living and simplicity have created a desire in me to explore the intersections of Jesus, simplicity and discipleship. So, I am embarking on a series of reflections on this topic, and I really want for you all to join me in the journey. Please contribute your helpful experiences, ideas, and thoughts as we go.

“Or is what I perceive as the voice of reason in my head really just the conditioning of the culture in which I live?”

I guess I should start, as any decent theologian would do, with defining small living and minimalism (feel free to insert eye rolling or thumbs up emoji here, whichever your persuasion). Stay with me, I will try to make this short and sweet (but no promises, OK). 

 

Barn in Countryside

 

Popular reality TV shows, such as Tiny House Nation and Tiny House Builders have really put a spotlight on the Tiny House movement in America. People are building traditional styled houses under 500 sq ft (yup, you read that right), often on a trailer (like an RV), for full-time or recreational living. A lot of times the goal is to save $$$, live mortgage free, or try out off-grid and homestead lifestyles. This makes a lot of sense given that American homes today are 80% bigger than they were in the 1940’s, and after the housing crisis of 2008 many families are feeling insecure and stressed about taking on the now standard 30 year mortgage. If you are like me, you may have thought something like this:

“That is great for a 20 something single person or a retiree, but the rest of us have families to raise!”

While this may be true for a lot of people, the choice to raise kids in a tiny house is not an impossible one. The Kasl family pack four people in their adorable 188 sq ft Tumbleweed tiny house and absolutely love it! Many families are discovering the benefits of living more closely to one another instead of retreating to their separate wings of the McMansion, However, you do not have to swing to either far side of the housing pendulum to reap the benefits of the tiny house philosophy.

Tiny house pioneer Andrew Morrison mentions a humorous interaction with his daughter. She was mad at him about something and stormed off to her “room” in their, at the time, travel trailer on the beach and slammed the “curtain.” It just does not have the same dramatic effect as a door! The close quarters forced him to address the conflict with his daughter, and their relationship benefited from it. This is just one example of the gains from living smaller, but of course there are certainly many challenges as well. The deeper point is not the size or mobility of your home, but the push to be intentional about smaller living. By downsizing and reducing the space you occupy, so say tiny house enthusiasts, you have more time and energy to focus on the things that really matter. You can live intentionally smaller in a large home, but the idea is that the smaller space makes choosing to do so much easier (quite necessary actually!). Also, you have to spend more time working—often both parents—to pay for the extra space and maintenance instead of spending time with each other. That definitely hits home with me!

Now onto our second, yet related, concept of minimalism. I am going to use minimalism and simplicity as working synonyms throughout this series of reflections. If you think of minimalism as having sparse possessions with a dash of sitting on the floor, then you would be close to the minimalist recipe, but there is more than meets the eye. If you have not watched JP Sears’ parody of minimalism, I highly recommend it. Jokes aside, the real point is not really about “stuff” at all.

“minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

Leading minimalist advocate Joshua Fields Millburn defines the lifestyle as “a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.” By focusing on not accumulating more “stuff,” you can lower the barriers to introspection and personal development.

 

Dee Williams

 

Tiny house “godmother” Dee Williams puts it this way in her excellent and worth watching TED Talk “Dream Big, Live Small,” “What new purchase or item would you hold in your arms when you die? What space in your home could accommodate that last breath?” Dee’s heavy reflection question at the beginning of her talk really makes the point of simplicity concrete and jarringly plain. Most of us would say that family and friends are who we want to clutch in the final moments of life, but how come our daily lives of consumption, energy, and time do not reflect this ultimate concern? I ask this not to be a downer but to spur self-reflection. A degenerative heart condition brought Dee face-to-face with the real need for community and friendship over stuff and things. Joshua Fields Millburn always says “love people and use things because the reverse never works.”

The key is to remember that having less things is not a goal in itself—there are actual debates among minimalist about whether you should own 100 or 200 things, really, that is a thing. It is a “tool” to aid you in focusing on what really matters in your life. Similarly, happiness, which a lot of people externalize as having more “things” (I am guilty of this in my own life for sure), is also not the goal. It is a simply a positive byproduct of living more intentionally and mindfully.

“love people and use things because the reverse never works.”

The purpose of this article series is not to go into the how-to’s of downsizing and minimalizing (is that a word?), there are a bazillion blogs and youtube channels dedicated to them, but instead we will examine the spiritual importance of smaller living and simplicity in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Hopefully through our exploration we can all create more Christspace in our lives! We will look at what Jesus has to say about this in our next reflection in the series.

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Daniel Haynes
Forever a student of the Christian life, Daniel has lectured and taught philosophy and theology for over a decade in various colleges and universities. He has a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Nottingham in Nottingham, United Kingdom and a MDiv. in theology from Baylor University. He desires to know God with all of his mind, heart, and strength. He is blessed with a wife and a wonderful son.