Thursday, July 12, 2018

How Minimalism Can Build Community

There have been occasions when I run into the idea that if we want to grow in community with others, we need more stuff. Supposedly, we need lots of toys for when our children's friends come over. We need lots of nice furniture for when other people drop by to visit. We need lots of dishes for all of the dinner parties we plan to host. We need cupboards overflowing with food so that we can adequately feed every person who steps over our doorstep. 

I used to wholeheartedly subscribe to this mentality. In fact, when we made a wedding registry during our engagement, I recall believing that we needed to register for a huge flatware set and lots of glasses, because think of all the kids we'll have! Think of all the gatherings we'll host! We need to plan for the future! 

***glances back shamefully at a cupboard which contains beautiful glasses that have never seen the light of day ***

At this point in my life, I'm a bit of a minimalist. And there have been one or two times when my minimalism has been met with a Well, that's really nice for you, but I'm good with hospitality and I like being welcoming to people. This kind of statement makes sense, doesn't it? Remember those ideas that we have as a society-the reasons which basically tell us that if we want to build community, we need stuff. To be clear, I know some people-with wonderful homes-who are incredibly welcoming and hospitable, and they are not minimalists by any means. I don't think that they necessarily should be minimalists if that kind of lifestyle doesn't jive with them. However, I've found that in my own life, minimalism has actually helped me build community with others. 

A prominent way in which this takes place is through books. It's no secret that I love books and devote several hours each month (or week) to the written word. I believe that reading is important, and I also believe that having books physically present in one's home is excellent. Not only does cultivating a home library promote literacy   LINK but I can easily return to my favorite stories again and again. Yet, while I love and believe in owning books, I do regularly go through my collection and downsize-giving away or donating books that I have no desire to re-read or stories that I own multiple copies of already. 
This is probably only about 1/2 or 1/3 of the books
I have in my personal library.
Some people may not think that this is a very minimalist library.
But for me, this is definitely a minimalist library ;) 
Because I keep my home library on a smallish scale, I don't buy books very often. So, to satiate my perpetual desire (and need?) for new reading material, I visit the library. A lot. At least twice a week, I'm in there returning books, checking out new books, and/or taking my son to toddler events. As we do all these things, we build community. There are a number of friends we've gotten to know through library programs. We regularly meet and chat with random people who mill the library as my toddler and I scurry around. I've become acquainted with several of the librarians, and often trade book and show recommendations with some of them (recently, one of the librarians even went to the back to retrieve a book that she had set aside specifically because she thought of me when she saw it-this meant so much to me!). 

It may seem odd to say that minimizing food helps me build community, but in a small way, this does happen. I'm gradually working towards paring down the food storage in our pantry area. This is forcing me to both use food that I already have in the kitchen (as opposed to continually buying lots of food and letting it stockpile in my cupboard) and to regularly buy certain groceries once a week or a few times a month. Because my cupboards are slowly growing more empty, I'm spending less time cleaning-so I can spend more time with others. Our grocery trips are a regular, once-a-week affair now, and this normalcy is a nice way to see some of the same people at the store whenever we go (for example, we have become acquainted with one of the ladies who typically stocks produce when we come by-she enjoys noting the growth progression of my baby bump!). Also, because I've saved some money on groceries-since I am purposefully using what's already in our cupboards for some meals-our budget has had room to buy some food at the local farmer's market recently. I think it goes without saying that frequenting a farmer's market is an awesome way to build community and support your local area :) 

A final way that minimalism helps me embrace a greater sense of community concerns toys. Some very generous individuals have passed on or gifted toys to our family, so to some people, it may look like we own a lot; yet to others, our few small boxes of toys may seem rather sparse-and I like it that way. Because there are certain toys that we do not own, we have a greater reason to get out into the community. For instance, we don't own a play kitchen, but my son knows that if we go to the library, he can enjoy playing with the kitchen they have there. We don't own a playground set in our backyard, so we have a good motivation to visit our local park and interact with others. In The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify, Francine Jay observes that: 
"In our quest to become minimalists, we want to reduce the amount of things in our homes that require our care and attention. Fortunately, we have ample opportunity to do so--simply by shifting some of our pleasures and activities into the public realm. In fact, it produces a pretty wonderful side effect. For when we hang out in parks, museums, movie houses, and coffee shops--instead of trying to create similar experiences in our own homes--we become more socially active and civically engaged. By breaking down the walls of stuff around us, we're able to get out into the world and enjoy fresher, more direct, and more rewarding experiences." 
 Some of you may ask, but what about when other kids come over? What do they DO without having roomfuls of toys? Well, when we spontaneously babysat two young children the other week, they spent nearly four hours playing with a marble track, clothespins, yarn, knitting needles, and yes, the toilet plunger. I didn't even have to pull out coffee beans! Children really do not need much to amuse themselves.
The minimalist lifestyle may not appeal to everyone, and it looks different for each person. I never imagined that my little jaunt into a bit of a minimalist-inspired life would help me grow in community, but it has. Looking back over the narrative I used to tell myself, I think that sometimes when we claim that we "need" lots of stuff in order to build community with others, we are masking our fears of actually welcoming people into our homes. Because I would tell myself that we didn't own enough furniture or have a big enough apartment, I would be very hesitant towards having other people over. 

While I'm not very good at entertaining and welcoming people into our home, I'm trying hard to change that. I'm forcing myself to stop hesitating because we "don't have it all." I'm reminding myself to focus on people, and not things. I'm working to create beautiful memories with my family and friends. This has been a messy process (we're not going to talk about that recent occasion when I hosted a dinner meeting for a dozen adults and my house was a disaster less than two hours beforehand and I messed up the main dish), but it's been a really good journey. I'm excited to see what else I have to learn on this adventure! 


  1. I have definitely seen both sides--both how having more stuff can help with generosity and hospitality, and how minimalism builds community. I think I have very similar tendencies to you. I just don't want a whole lot of stuff. I like my little apartment with minimal possessions. But my parents are not minimalists, and are very hospitable, and I will be honest that on many occasions, we benefit greatly from the stuff that they have. I'm hosting a party at my house tomorrow in honor of a few friends, and I'm borrowing my mom's griddle to fry bacon in and her hand mixer to mix up a cheesy dip and I baked cookies for the party in her oven....since I don't have any of those appliances. But honestly, it all works well that way! There's no real need for both of us to each have our own for appliances like those that are only used occasionally, and I can spend time with my sisters while I'm baking at their house.
    I do believe in having lots of flatware, though, and one wedding gift I cherish and still use is my 24-set of flatware. I do not like flimsy plastic silverware, and I think it's worth it to be able to give all of my guests real forks and knives and spoons. :P

  2. We don't have everything we need to care for our yard and house, but we've found that our neighbors have some of these items. It does help in building community because we've been able to get to know our neighbors and then ask if we can borrow some of their yard tools! They've borrowed stuff from us, too, so it works pretty well.

    1. Shannon, I think that is so cool! You make a great point. Borrowing from neighbors is a great way to build community and get to know them better. When we moved into our house last summer, we didn't own a lawn mower (since we had formerly lived in apartments), so one of our neighbors loaned us her lawn mower for a while.