“In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions or human success, but rather on how much we have loved”
John of the Cross
“Most of them had a better time than they ever had in their lives because they were discovering the new freedom- the less you need, the freer you become. They discovered and kept discovering that they were carrying too much baggage so they dropped pieces right and left. And the more they dropped the happier they became…”
E.F Schumacher describing those who had chosen to live with less.
Reasons to live simply
I have a strong conviction that simplicity is, quite simply, the best way to live. Having experienced it in my childhood I feel a strong urge to recommend it.
Simplicity is about being free from the unhealthy grip of money, from the stress that unnecessary possessions bring and from the frenzy of endless activity.
I would argue that simplicity is much more compelling than the anxiety-fuelled stress of living the so-called consumer dream. Refusing to play the game makes people sit up and take notice; they begin to wonder if they are on the right track.
Simplicity frees up space for doing things that really matter: time with friends and family, time to serve the community, time for creative pursuits and time to connect with God and his creation. It enables us to be joyfully aware of what we are doing and why we do it.
It strikes me as being far closer to the lifestyle that Jesus modelled and called us to imitate. When we follow his call people come before things and our hearts are set free to embrace God whole-heartedly.
It releases financial resources so we can bless the local community and the wider world. It is a practical way for us to reduce our environmental footprint, love the planet and honour its Creator.
It frees us from the excess’s of consumerism and the accumulation of stuff that we don’t need or enjoy. Living simply and generously helps break any hold that money may have over our hearts.
The 5 obstacles
In my previous blog on simplicity I floated the idea of there being a ‘simplicity index’ with increasing levels of simplicity and generosity at the high end and more complexity, clutter and resultant stress at the lower. The challenge I believe is to choose to move towards greater simplicity. Big leaps up the scale by selling everything or becoming a radical minimalist may appeal to some but for most of us in the real world of jobs, families, mortgages and other responsibilities this is not practical, sensible or kind to those who rely on us. In most cases it would result in less simplicity not more.
However, for many of us even small steps towards uncluttering our lives are incredibly difficult and that is for a number of reasons:
- Our upbringing
Sometimes there will be deeply entrenched attitudes that originate from our formative years. How did our parents approach money and possessions? Did they value relationships more than things? Whether they were rich or poor tends to matter little; if their conversation, values and energy revolved around money and material possessions then you may well grow up believing that accumulating these things is of utmost importance.
- Our culture
Another major influence will be the wider culture and the way it shapes our values and beliefs. It is very difficult to resist the all-pervasive and constant propaganda that happiness and success depend upon our wealth. There is also an assumption that being busy is directly linked to significance. Billions are spent annually by advertisers that promote values that are the complete opposite of living simply.
But if we will commit ourselves deeply to an alternative vision, travelling purposely with a community of like-minded rebels we can find God’s grace is more than able to free our minds and hearts.
- Our friends and colleagues
If we are only spending time with people who share the values of the consumer and workaholic culture we will find it hard to head in the opposite direction. This will be especially true when the people whose opinions we value the most think in this way.
One remedy for this dilemma of course is to spend more time with people who see things differently. Find some inspiring people who are further on this journey towards simplicity than you are. Spend time with people from different cultures where spiritual values are esteemed more highly than our own.
- It’s addictive
A large proportion of the population are addicted to shopping to one degree or other (8-16% according to this Guardian article). An addiction is an undisciplined compulsion. It’s not something that you can easily control. We have socially unacceptable addictions like drugs but an addiction to shopping is the most culturally acceptable of the addictions and even regarded as amusing unless serious debt is incurred.
It’s not difficult to identify this compulsion: just try not shopping (except for essentials) for 6 months and see if you can give it up and avoid withdrawal symptoms too.
Once we have acknowledged there is a problem the solution is not too dissimilar from other addictions. Certainly a first step is to become accountable to others who can journey with us.
- Our identity
Closely linked to the problem of addiction is our identity. Our shopping, our possessions, our lifestyle and the status that they offer can very easily become a key part of how we value ourselves. Fashion is an obvious example but furnishings, cars, holidays, house location and size, sports gear and all sorts of designer accessories can all become markers of our sense of self-worth.
It’s not that difficult to find out where our sense of identity truly lies. What do you wake up in the morning thinking about? Is there anything you own that you can’t imagine doing without? What purchases do you find hardest to resist? If you can’t pinpoint it I bet your partner or closest friends would point you in the right direction!
In a future blog we will look more closely at this issue of identity and how we can find simple steps to change it.
Why not take a moment to identify which of the 5 obstacles you find most challenging and what steps you might take to overcome it.
The journey towards a more generous and simple lifestyle is not one to take alone. Find some fellow adventurers and commit to help each other overcome the obstacles.
God, of course, also promises to assist those who ask!
In a future blog I’ll look at the values that we will need to consider as we start out on the journey towards more simple living.