The challenge of becoming a soul minimalist

Imagine a room. It is empty except for a few necessary things — maybe a chair, a fireplace and a lamp. You can just sit and be quiet, with no distractions. You can simply be in the present moment.

Now, imagine that room is your heart. It is not crowded. There are no distractions; there is simply enough empty space for you to focus on what is truly important.

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You’ve probably heard of minimalism at this point. It is a term used in pop culture, in fashion and on social media. Some people are very intense about it and choose to get rid of all but the bare minimum of furniture and household items. I have not personally gotten to that point, but there is something very appealing about not having to constantly be surrounded by stuff. My husband and I live in a small house, and it can feel like we are bursting at the seams with books, games, plants, kitchen items … the list goes on. I find myself regularly making piles for the thrift store, sighing at the accumulation of so many items we do not need.

Moving away from internal consumerism

One of my favorite podcasts right now is “The Next Right Thing” with Emily P. Freeman. In episode 181, Emily shared about the idea of soul minimalism. She explained that while a regular minimalist intentionally reduces external distractions, a soul minimalist does this for their internal life. In Emily’s words, “A regular minimalist asks ‘what am I holding onto?’ And a soul minimalist asks ‘What has a hold on me?’”

This really catches my heart, as I believe there is a link between external consumerism and a deeper reality of internal consumerism. As humans, we all have a deep restlessness inside, and sometimes material things hold the promise that if we possess them, we will find satisfaction. Advertisers monopolize so easily on our weakness, getting us to buy more and more as if that will give us happiness.

But there are also non-material things constantly vying for our attention. These may be ideologies, opinions and beliefs that have a hold on us. Have you recently become anxious or worried about a news story or social media post that really does not directly connect to your life? I have. Ideas invade my heart and mind so quickly, leaving me feeling cluttered and scattered. There are so many different perspectives, spiritualities and crises of faith that exist around me, and I easily let them take hold over me even though they do not belong to me. Of course, it is good to educate yourself on different ideas, but we need to guard against the tendency to go overboard with consuming information. Overconsumption leads to confusion and disillusionment, never to peace or satisfaction.

This tendency is what I call soul consumerism. We want more information, more opinions and more perspectives. Soon we’re overwhelmed by the amount of information. It does not matter if it is positive or negative. It is simply too much for any one person to hold.

Focus on Jesus

And so, I want to encourage you to move away from soul consumerism to soul minimalism. As I am tempted to wildly search for the perfect spirituality or the perfect way to live out my vocation as a wife and mother, I forget to focus on what really matters.

Psychologist and priest Henri Nouwen gives the following reflection on this transition: “Jesus asks us to shift the point of gravity, to relocate the center of our attention, to change our priorities. Jesus wants us to move from the ‘many things’ to the ‘one necessary thing.’ It is important for us to realize that Jesus in no way wants us to leave our many-faceted world. Rather, he wants us to live in it, but firmly rooted in the center of all things” (“Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life”).

And what, or rather who, is at the center of all things? Jesus. Friend. Savior. Comforter. He is the one thing left in the heart of a true soul minimalist.

Maybe you are like me and find it hard to come back to Jesus, to empty your heart of the things — spiritual, material, emotional — that have a hold on you.

It is a journey, friend.

Three tips for soul minimalism

There are a few things I have found helpful on this journey from soul consumerism to soul minimalism.

1.  At all times, be reading at least one solid spiritual book. When there are so many voices around you, it is good to have a centering voice that calls you back to the truth of who God is and what life with him is all about. If you don’t know who to read, here are a few suggestions: “Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen, “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” by Father Jacque Phillipe, and “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young.

2.  I personally find it really hard to pray when I sit in silence — my mind flits all over the place. So I’ve been trying to “re-train” myself to be quiet, using the Hallow prayer app and exercises from “The Mindful Catholic.” I find both really helpful for refocusing on what is important.

3.  Find a spiritual director or counselor who can reflect back to you what is important. It was very hard for me to find a spiritual director, but now that I have one, spiritual direction has been an integral part in learning how to focus on the voice of God. I find online sessions work for me, but meeting in person is also great.

Most importantly, I encourage you to look at what has a hold on you at this time in your life. I pray God will show you how to simplify your life and find true freedom in knowing what is necessary and what is not as you move away from soul consumerism to soul minimalism.

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