Simplicity is an elusive goal. Especially in the suburbs. Despite my best efforts, I am constantly bombarded with the temptation to buy more, use more, own more, etc. Yet for some inexplicable reason, God has placed in my heart a burning desire to live simply.
I guess I could say my journey towards living a simple life began when I lived in Kenya, though the seeds have been present all my life. In fact, I have always been the family member uncomfortable with spending too much money on vacation or at a restaurant. I used to frustrate my parents many times because I was always so annoying when they were trying to indulge a little and have a good time.
So in some senses, it’s always been there. My experience in Kenya, however, was the spark that truly set the desire alight. Fueled by my own tendencies and a deep distaste for the way most white people live in that country, I began to explore what it would mean for me to live simply. That exploration continues to this day.
I have by no means fully grasped the concept of simplicity, nor do I fully live it out, but I have learned a few things that help me in my journey towards a simple life…
- Simplicity requires humility. There’s no way around it. To live a life free from the suburban spiral (possess, desire, spend, possess, desire, etc.) while living in the suburbs, I need to be humble. There must always be the understanding that I’ll never have the “nicest” or “newest” or “coolest” things. My possessions and lifestyle will never “measure up” to the people around me. No one will ever look at me and think “he’s made it.” Often I will need to depend on others for my needs to be met.
- Simplicity requires sacrifice. If I want to live this ideal life of simplicity, it means that I must be ok with eating the same inexpensive meals over and over again. I must sacrifice my time and energy to save gas. I must wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat. I must sacrifice my reputation by shopping at places like goodwill and thrifty threads (as if that ever really mattered to me!).
- Simplicity requires a call. I honestly don’t believe that a simple life is attainable if a person is not deeply passionate about living one. Although many people are intrigued and even impressed by a simple life, I know that I will never get recognition or praise for the many small sacrifices I must make every day. Also, while making a few lifestyle adjustments can be thrilling and enjoyable, changing the entire way I live often loses its excitement. If there’s no call to live simply, it’s not going to happen.
- Simplicity makes “stuff” so much better. If I am truly living a simple life, I will inevitably enjoy everything so much more. My possessions take on deeper significance and enjoyment, since I am not constantly looking for the next best thing. The food I eat tastes better, and rare “treats” like cheesecake or filet mignon have become out-of-this world sensations.
- Simplicity creates margin. Because the way I value time must change, I find that simplicity opens my life up for others to enter. I get tons of enjoyment from giving to others and caring for their needs (and since I’m not spending my money like I used to, this is actually possible!).
- Simplicity allows for solidarity with the poor. I am not poor. I do not have the same problems as the poor and have no right to identify myself with them. However, I have discovered that by choosing to eat generic foods, carefully rationing my use of electricity, and giving from my abundance to care for those in need, I have developed a modicum of solidarity with those in need. In a way, it’s as if I am saying “though I have much, I will be content with little, knowing that because you have little, God has given you so much.”
Again, these are observations from my own journey. Some of those thoughts have become true in my life, while others are only desires. I pray that my life will continue to grow into simplicity and that God can break me free from the suburban spiral, so that my life can radiate hope to those I meet and lead.