An elderly Kenyan man prayed saying, “Lord, never let us move into stone houses.” The man then continued to explain his prayer with these words:
‘You know our country. People here live in little huts, and huts have no doors. That’s why your family is my family and my family is your family. The only family is the extended family. But as soon as you move into a stone house, you build a door. And on the door you put a lock. And behind this door you begin to collect your belongings, and then you have to spend the rest of your life defending these belongings.'(1)
So do I own my possessions, or do they own me? Is the feeling of control I gain by buying and acquiring more actually just an illusion? And how is all this stuff getting between me and others?
One of the reasons I feel the need to reduce excess in my life – even things that I like – is to find greater freedom and joy and to focus on the things that truly give my life meaning. It’s not always easy and it doesn’t always feel like the natural thing to do, but the more I practice it, the easier it becomes. I also haven’t missed one physical item that I have given away. Thanks to my local Buy Nothing group, rather than just toss things in the trash or donate to a thrift store, I am able to build relationships and meet needs within my own community. Suddenly, that item that I don’t need becomes something much more meaningful as I give to someone else.
The thought process behind this, referred to by some as “voluntary simplicity”, is that by living with less, you actually have a much fuller life. You find yourself with a different set of priorities and resources than a materialistic lifestyle offers. This isn’t about depriving oneself or even about getting the “best deal” out there. It isn’t about living in poverty (although, for us, it does have a lot to do with learning to identify with the poor), but becoming content with what you have. (2)
Simplifying is an attractive idea to many caught up in the busyness of life, looking for what it is that will reduce the stress and lessen the load of the day-to-day. Just look at the popularity of magazines like Real Simple. If you take a glance at many of their articles, however, you will see that in order to keep their readers, they have to continually be offering new solutions by which you can simplify your life. They do this by showing through pristine pictures that you just need new organizing bins, or a closet system, or even vegetable scrubbing gloves (in their article from November titled “6 Clever Items to Simplify Your Thanksgiving”). They are saying: BUY this in order to gain control of your life and finally be happier!”.
There is no magical item that you will buy to make life less stressful. This is totally backwards, and any person advocating simplicity who actually has tangible evidence of it working in their lives will tell you this. In order to simplify, and thus find more happiness and ultimately, joy in life, we must strip the excess and focus on the things that actually matter in life. This will differ between individuals – we are all given different gifts and passions which we will be driven to pursue, and that is the beauty of it. But many of the areas we shift our focus to are from a common root: relationships and community. Whether it is within our neighborhood or just our own families, most people want to feel loved and be connected to others in a meaningful way.
As this author puts it,
“Voluntary simplicity is a growing movement of people who have realized that happiness and fulfillment do not lie in having more money, or new and bigger things, but rather in the time with loved ones and connection with community. They are questioning the consumer society’s insistence that possessions, especially of the newest design and color, are the means of fulfillment, or that any material possession can possibly be “to die for.”
They are questioning this definition of “normal,” by columnist Ellen Goodman:
” ‘Normal’ is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to the job that you need so you can pay for the clothes, car, and the house that you leave empty all day in order to afford to live in it.”(3)
This is a continual process and I find myself questioning the things that I have and what I spend the most energy and time on, and wondering if and how I need to re-adjust.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (4)
End Notes and Further Reading:
1. Simplicity By Richard Rohr (page unknown) this is an experience he shares of a man who spoke at an event he was a part of.
2. Living Awareness Institute – post on Simplicity
(while I don’t embrace everything on this website, this post has some good thoughts on the benefits of voluntary simplicity)
4. New International Version (NIV) Matthew 6:19-21; 24
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap) by Tammy Strobel