Mother Teresa, Churchill and Minimalism

MeetingMotherTeresaBombayI sometimes read minimalist-type blogs about how people have sold, donated, or discarded a large amount of their “stuff.” Generally, these blogs talk about all the benefits that go with that approach. More time, less debt, less cleaning and organizing, less stress and more contentment. You’ve probably read some of the same blogs.

Sometimes I get the impression that we focus too much on our stuff. Some people obsess over whether they have latest phone, computer or whatnot. Others are focused on how little they have and whether they can fit all their possessions in one backpack.

We ask all kinds of questions. How much do I have? How much do other people have? Why do I have it? Was I was convinced to buy it by a consumer culture? Am I being wasteful? What about my carbon footprint? Can I afford it? I’m sure you can think of your own questions.

 

Stuff doesn’t matter

Having stuff or not having stuff. It doesn’t matter. Stuff isn’t the answer to a meaningful life. What matters is who you are and what you do.

Maybe you have clothes in your closet you never wear or maybe everything you own will fit in a backpack. Either way, life doesn’t care about your stuff. Life wants to know if you’re honest or dishonest, hard-working or lazy, brave or cowardly, loving or hateful. Life doesn’t care about how much you have or how much you don’t have.

 

Nobel Prize in Minimalism?

I’ve read stories about Mother Teresa that said she only owned three robes and not much else. One robe she was wearing, another was in the laundry, and another was being mended. That’s it.

Do you think about Mother Teresa as being a minimalist? The greatest minimalist of the 20th century? Did she win a Nobel Prize in minimalism? What we remember about her is how she lived her life. She was devoted to caring for the sick and dying. The poor and the outcasts. We don’t think of how much stuff she had.

 

Piled to the ceiling

On the other hand, Winston Churchill would have made minimalists cringe.

He bought a manor house in the English countryside in 1922 and it was his primary residence until his death in 1965. The house had 19 bedrooms and dressing rooms and 8 bathrooms.

His manor house is now a museum and much of it contains his original furnishings and personal possessions. His art studio is described as:

At the bottom of the garden you can see Churchill’s studio just as he left it. His palette, still covered in paint, lies alongside his easel and in a small room by the door unfinished canvasses and completed works are piled to the ceiling.

How about that? Churchill had canvases “piled to the ceiling.” And the art studio was only one of his rooms. He had a separate study and library both filled with books, papers and furnishings. Definitely not a minimalist.

 

Stuff doesn’t matter

But, regardless of how many possessions they had, Mother Teresa and Churchill both lived lives of significance. They were known for what they did. The contribution they made. The legacy they left. Start with that and your stuff will take care of itself.

If you only have a few possessions and like it that way? Fine. If you have lots? Well, that’s okay too.

The real question is not about your stuff. It’s what are you doing with your life?

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3 Responses to Mother Teresa, Churchill and Minimalism

  1. Zina Hermez April 9, 2013 at 8:46 pm #

    I really like this Kurt. Mother Teresa is a great example, and you make alot of good points. Your statement, “Others are focused on how little they have and whether they can fit all their possessions in one backpack,” really makes me appreciate more what I do have. “Life wants to know if you’re honest or dishonest, hard-working or lazy, brave or cowardly, loving or hateful. Life doesn’t care about how much you have or how much you don’t have.” I really like those lines too. Hope you’re feeling better. Thanks for sharing my story last week : )

    • Kurt April 10, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

      Glad to share you story Zina! And thanks for the kind words about the post. Am happy you liked it! Kurt

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  1. Enough with the holiday stress | More Than Adventure - January 12, 2016

    […] life can be meaningful no matter where you live, how many possessions you have or the work you do. Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill are great examples of two people who were completely different in the way they approached life. But […]

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