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Monday, April 4, 2016

Why I Said Goodbye to Most of my Clothes: A Minimalist Anabaptist Journey

From a favorite movie of mine, "Confessions of a Shop-a-holic".
In the most interesting of mash-ups, the radical Anabaptists of the 16th century and the modern counter-cultural minimalists converged in my mind, resulting in a lot less clothes in my possession and a whole new direction for the future.

Since becoming a pacifist and politically neutral, I naturally gravitated toward the theological community known as the Anabaptists ("re-baptizers", so named for their practice of baptizing those who had been "baptized' as infants) who resurrected these key biblical doctrines long after they were driven underground for twelve centuries.

The Anabaptists, along with their spiritual cousins the Quakers and Brethren, championed a practical Christianity based on Scripture alone, rooted in Jesus, and manifested in a heightened concern for peacemaking, social service, moderate stances toward government, modest living, and the like.

They were weirdos of their day who refused to take oaths, serve in the military, work in government, use egotistical titles, tip their hats or bow before royalty, or adopt modern fashion.

On the other side, minimalism, not an inherently Christian concept, concerns with living within one's means (economically, spatially, consumptionally, etc.) and not owning more than what you need to function.

This less is more (or, better, less is enough) mentality stands in stark contrast to a Western emphasis on materialism and gain.    

Among the many things these two distinct schools of thought have in common is a less than popular approach to clothes.

Unsurprisingly, minimalism focuses on how much clothing we have versus how much we need to have a functional wardrobe (no more and no less).

This "wear to live, not live to wear" ethic flies in the face of fashion magazines, department stores, and our own closets.

Echoing this practical approach to clothes, an Anabaptist would also note how the type or style of clothing we own is just as important as how much of it we have and would advocate for a plain, modest style that leaves ample room for the Spirit to shine and wards against vanity and classism.

Taken together the two are a perfect complement.

Being convicted about the nature and number my clothes for some time now, I finally raided my closet determined to do some paring down.

However, if I was going to radically alter my wardrobe, I needed a framework to work within.

Several examples of modern approaches to plain or simple dress.
For this, I looked to the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity.

Simply put, this is one of several Quaker testimonies or principles for Christian living, this one focusing on living a simple life to prioritize what is most important.

Clothing was one part of this simplicity testimony and I decided I too wanted a simple wardrobe that was plain, functional, and minimal.

The criteria for keeping or tossing clothes were generally as follows:

Did I wear it? Clothes are meant to be worn, not hoarded. If I was not wearing it, I did not need it.

Was it functional? This criteria was to identify a practical purpose for any clothes I wanted to keep, in place of mere want or enjoyment. For example, I knew I needed clothes for cold and warm weather, clothes to bike and run in, clothes to sleep in, and church clothes. (I already had a work uniform).

Did it cover? I had two shirts I was determined to keep that I wore often and which were plain in color. Score! The only problem is they were V-necks. While they were not "deep Vs", they still did not align with the testimony of simplicity I was aiming for. A less complicated, but harder choice was getting rid of my well-loved and only pair of short-shorts. Sigh.

Was it flashy?  Pieces with lots of "flare" or obvious "look at me" appeal had to go. This meant anything with writing on it.

Could it be better used by someone else? This applied mostly to my t-shirts, most of which were not keeping with my Testimony of Simplicity, but which I planned on keeping to make a quilt out of. Did I really want to rip them up so I could sleep next to them or would it be better if someone who needed clothes could wear them?

Using these criteria, the result was 35 articles donated, 10 t-shirts for a quilt, and 9 articles for the garbage, a total of 54 articles gone.

This left me with
5 shirts,
two pairs of pants, and
one pair of shorts, plus
one suit I bought for collegiate debate,
my white t-shirts,
a pair of swim trunks,
a pair of athletic shorts,
a pair of sweat pants, and
a pair of flannel pajama pants.


As I looked at my mostly bare closest, I was able to better process the ways worldly ideas of fashion and ownership had influenced me.

Some clothes I wanted to keep simply because someone had complimented me in them or because I thought I looked good wearing them, even if they were not modest.

With other things, it felt weird to get rid of them because they were not functional, even if they did fit my Testimony of Simplicity.

I also wondered if I had traded the witness of some of my Christian themed t-shirts for a mute witness of drab clothes.

However, at the end of it all, I felt great.

Yes, it was hard to part with some of my clothes, but I appreciated that someone else might be able to use them.

And the idea of not worrying about what I would wear in the morning was a surprising weight off my shoulders.

Beyond that, I felt like this was my way of telling the world my priorities are not its priorities.

Who I am will not be defined by what I wear, but by good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10) and the hidden person of the heart (1 Peter 3:4), for God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).

I was officially bowing out of the rat race of trying to look the best.

My hope is that this change will allow me to focus on what is most important instead of personal vanity (1 Sam 16:7), fight against the world's obsession with appearances and status (James 2:1-4), and free myself up to spend money on furthering God's Kingdom (Matt 6:19-21).

This is not about legalism----no one has the same Testimony--nor earning God's favor.

It is not really even about clothes.

This is the start of discovering and walking in the ethos of New Testament Christianity, particularly in those areas Evangelicals have tended to neglect, so I can better be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.