Simplicity has turned out to be one of the most complex subjects I’ve ever studied. On the long drive back from Texas this past weekend, Becky and I talked more simply about what exactly we mean by “simplicity” than we ever have before. Here are two questions we asked ourselves and the whittled-down answers we came up with:
Why live simply?
- 1.To free up resources which should be spent on those presently in need. Less time, thought, and money spent on ourselves means – in theory – more time, thought and money that can be spent on others. Example: Getting rid of cable frees up enough money to meet the needs of two children every month and enough time (about four hours a day) to play a game with the kids, go on a date with my wife, exercise, take a real Sabbath, and get to know the neighbors.
- 2. To prevent need. The less energy, natural resources and store-bought stuff we use, the less negative impact on the environment, health and economics of others. Example: There is said to be a link between my consumption of stuff, the deforestation of South and Central America, and drought in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- 3. To invest in personal health – mental, spiritual, relational and physical. Living with less stuff, fewer chemicals, and more time increases the odds that we’ll also enjoy more spiritual dependence and focus, less stress, more and stronger relationships, greater freedom in decision making, and improved overall health. Example: Not having a text plan or a phone that allows me to text easily keeps me fully present in conversations, making those I’m with feel listened to and important.
How do we live simply then?
- 1. Subtract most/all of what’s not needed from our lives. Step one: Take stock of where our time, money, and resources are currently spent and how much stuff, time and money we presently have. Step two: Determine what “need” is. It helps to see people living on the bare essentials firsthand. Step three: Commit to subtract excess from our lives incrementally and tally up the savings of time, money and environmental impact as we go. Example: This month, get rid of cable and count up the hours and cash saved. Next month, nix caffeine and count the savings. In the winter, plant a garden and notice how much better it feels to eat more chemical-free food. Take baby steps and measure the difference they make.
- 2. Add most/all of what we have to the lives of others. Simplifying saves money and time. Put money aside for the needs of others: The friend who can’t afford counseling, the neighbor who can’t afford medical care, the crisis pregnancy center that needs a sonogram machine. Put aside time to invest in people. Choose not to use all the time once wasted watching TV on getting more work done now. Spent that time with family, friends and neighbors, alone relaxing, on a hobby or serving somewhere. Interestingly, if I don’t have the time to be with people I won’t be aware of the needs of people.
Even more simply put: Take less. Give more.