This is not a post for people that are new to the idea of minimalism. I have many posts on those on those interested in decluttering. This is a post for those looking to take things to the next level, for those who want to examine necessity deeply. We are going to the core.
LIFESTYLE and HOUSE:
To start, we will go back in time to how the Jews lived in Jesus’ lifetime. They were poor, living under the Romans who had a much nicer lifestyle than they. They lived very simply, many did not even have soap! They, along with the Romans, used urination to purify garments of oil and dirt. Then rinsed them. There is so much we think is necessary (yes, even I, soap), but it is true that without a mat between us and the ground, we would not die.
In Bible times, they had no raised bed. Only a mat on the ground, like the Japanese – futons. They had no dressers, only a trunk in the corner for any extra things, like an extra pair of clothes. The only other furniture in the house would be a table low to the ground with chairs.
Many of them had only one set of garments, and they were often seamless. Even sewing is something we have created for ourselves. Weeding our garden is something we have created for ourselves as well. For many centuries, very little weeding or fertilizing was done.
In those days, only the rich Jews had wood floors. The middle class had clay or pebbles for a floor, and the dirt poor had just dirt.
The women covered their heads, so there was no fuss about hair. No hair products, dyes, and equipment. Women could age with grace and without worry. Women could live economically, not spending a small fortune on a cut or highlight, and so, liberated to care minimally about the things on the outside. There were no women that would wear pants, so no tight leather pants. All the things that are most uncomfortable to women now (the fumes of hair dye, tight jeans, high heels, fake lashes), they did not use. There would be minimal competition, among old and young. Only differences would be between the rich and poor – rich women having slaves to braid and adorn their hair; also, jewels, expensive garments. So it is in Paul’s church that the women were asked to cover their heads as the poor women would and not to adorn to cause jealousy or vanity.
The “jackets” were just long garments they could put over their head as a hood or sleep with, if they were traveling, as a blanket. If a guest stayed the night, they would have their own blanket on their body, and their extra garments (Jesus wore four separate, apart from underwear) could make a decent pillow. They might not even expect a soft place to put their body in a host’s home, just food. For our guests, we have many things, so some people think they cannot have overnight guests. In such a way, where people lived so simply, everyone could have the joy of entertaining an overnight guest. Without technology, the only way to stay connected to people was to see them personally.
The women did not cook indoors in that time; there was no fireplace to keep them warm. On especially cold nights, they could put low-burning coals indoors. However, all the cooking was done outdoors. The cookware was extremely simple – one pot and then just a flat iron plate used as a pan or just stones placed on the fire. Just two pieces of cookware!
In those times, meat at meals was uncommon. We expect meat at every meal because we are in the land of plenty. In times of old, there were two meals in the day, one late in the morning, as a break in the workday, and that lunch could include grain, olives, fruit, and then bread dipped in olive oil or vinegar, or flavored with maybe garlic, onions, or radishes. Dinner would usually be soup or a stew of vegetables and legumes, served in a common pot for everyone to dip their bread. From time to time, cheese and fruits would be served as well with dinner, when the fruit were in season.
From this account, you can see that even meat, especially at the rate we eat it in the U.S., is not a necessity. In Asian culture, there is little to no dairy. Even dairy is a definite luxury; to me, more than meat.
For Buddhist monks, they eat only from morning to noon. After noon, they will eat no food. This encourages them not to eat in excess and also to go to bed earlier to wake with the dawn.
The first recorded thing that Jesus did when he started his ministry was go into the desert for 40 days without food – fasting. Few of us know anything about fasting haha, but I think the point of that being the first thing done was to indicate that the things we hold highest in importance (the body) means actually very little. We would not die without food for a week, or even two, and some people even today forgo more than one meal because of poverty. This is not to advise fasting (though I’m definitely not against it), it is just simply to say that in a land that says we need to have 4-6 small meals a day, water with lemon, so on in complication, we have to say enough. Two meals is more than enough, as it always has been.
We don’t even need variety in food; most times the humbug and expense of variety in food outweighs the pleasure in it. We often eat too much because of how exciting and convenient our food has become; we just need to focus on the joy in just eating. Is there anything more delightful than the first bite of a ripe apple?
Finally, their mode of transportation was generally walking, sometimes with a stick. They needed no exercise equipment. Other modes were a donkey, usually just for the elderly, women, or sick (as in the story of The Good Samaritan). When Jesus rode on the donkey, it was out of humility, as men didn’t. Horses were also common, but a lot more expensive, and only the extremely wealthy had chariots. At that time, they also had to worry about wild animals and bandits, which we generally don’t when walking from place to place in our societies.
So many things we think is necessary is far from it. We must question everything. Do you need all those icons on the desktop? Do you actually need paper? A printer? Why do you keep paper? What is holding you back from living like the times of old? Fear? Comfort? We can make little changes to streamline our diet and exercise, by keeping meals simple and using our body weight and chores to sweat. We can get closer to simplicity easier by examining what worked in times past.
Read Part II to this post here for examples in modern culture of ultimate simplicity.