It took me almost 30 years to fully recognize and acknowledge that I was born into privilege – and for the past two years, I’ve struggled with what my responsibility to the world is as a result. The answer, in part, is minimalism.
But first, let me back up and explain…
I was born into a white, middle-class, American family. For most of my childhood, my father was a pastor of a large church in Flint, Michigan. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I have four siblings. My parents loved us and provided a wonderful life – full of family time, vacations, extra-curricular activities, medical care, a beautiful home, all the food we could eat, gifts at Christmas and birthdays, private education, help with paying for college, even braces for all five of us. Basically, we had everything we could possibly need provided for us. There were also intangibles like all the words of affirmation, hugs and kisses, training in important life principles like money management, hard work, perseverance, and kindness.
I enjoyed one of the most privileged lives a human being can have in this world – filled with safety, security, health and love.
And man, did I take it for granted…
Despite how great my life was, I spent most of my growing up years saying that we “weren’t rich.” I have literally said that countless times. I guess I thought my parents weren’t wealthy because we didn’t drive expensive cars or wear name brands clothes or eat at expensive restaurants like some of my friends did.
Then as an adult, I had the same perspective – that I wasn’t wealthy despite living a life of total luxury where I wanted for nothing. Yeah, I still don’t drive expensive cars or book vacations at Disney World and we live on one income in a wealthy Chicago suburb – but I will never again be foolish enough to think I’m not wealthy.
Why is it that the American middle class is so set on denying their own wealth? Everyone is looking at the small percentage of people wealthier than themselves, rather than the 3 billion people less fortunate. When I switched my perspective to intentionally noticing all the needs in the world, I became more and more aware of my own wealth.
What is more, I had to acknowledge that I hadn’t done anything to deserve being born into the family that I did – any more than those born in difficult situations deserved their lot in life.
This caused me a lot of guilt.
But guilt that produced action. Because I no longer felt that it was acceptable for me to live only for myself and my family.
But I was also very conflicted. On the one hand, I want to enjoy a comfortable life and provide nice things for my kids – but on the other hand, how do I justify spending all of my resources taking care of myself and my family when people are literally dying from preventable causes around the world? And what exactly constitutes “taking care of my family”? Where is the line between “needs” and “wants” in this consumerist society?
I began to struggle to justify any purchases outside of legit needs like food and medical expenses for my family. I feel guilty buying another shirt when my closet is already full of shirts that I don’t even wear. I feel guilty buying a fancy appliance for my kitchen when some simple elbow grease will do the job. I feel guilty throwing out food because I “didn’t feel like eating it,” when people go hungry all the time in this world. How can I spend $50 on decorative throw pillows for my couch when I know that I could pay for two months of education, food and medical care for a child in Uganda at that price?
The natural result was minimalism.
Minimalism, to me, means living with less, so I can give more.
Many people consider minimalism to be “extreme,” but it’s not. The materialism in America is extreme. The way we’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that we’re not rich is extreme. Minimalism is just the natural byproduct of recognizing our wealth and privilege in comparison to the rest of the world.
Minimalism has freed us from materialism and a love of money and has freed us to prioritize things that matter the most to us – family, travel, and most importantly, giving to causes and organizations that are working towards a better world for all of us.
For me, minimalism was my path to a more intentional, fulfilling life. But it may not be the answer for everyone.
The big question is not “are you a minimalist?” but “what are you doing to change the world?”
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