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How To Know You're Living Simply


Simplicity stresses me out. 

I know. It’s counter-intuitive.

When I focus on the word, it conjures images of a sparse (and very well organized) closet, friends laughing around a table (no TV in sight), and lots of neutral colors. Not for you? Well, for me then.

But here’s the thing. I don’t have a nearly empty closet of perfectly hung white and beige outfits. No, on the contrary, I’m tripping over items I decided not to wear, baby clothes waiting to be passed on, random toys that have lost their way.  

When my husband and I were dating, he was helping me move. As he hauled yet another box overflowing with jeans and t-shirts out to the car, he casually mentioned, “Ah, so I see you like to talk about simplicity….” He wasn’t being mean. He wasn’t even really teasing me. He was just noticing. Ouch!

You’d think with all this talk about clothes that I’m a particularly stylish person. But the reality is simply that I accumulate things and then I accumulate some more. The reality is that I’m a really cheap person, so I live in fear that I will give away that one item that I’ll need (read: want) later on and then have to “waste money” re-buying the same thing again.

No, I do not really know how to live in the freedom of simplicity. (Freedom of Simplicity – great book by Richard Foster, by the way!)

You see, the thing is I want rules. I want someone to tell me exactly what I have to do to live simply, and then I can know how I measure up. You can take the girl out of the fundamentalism, but you can’t always take the fundamentalism out of the girl.

I have trouble extending grace in the area of simplicity. There’s always something I could be doing better… living more simply. There’s often something holding me back to truly celebrate and enjoy pleasures that I know are luxuries.

But the thing about simplicity, as with most things, is I have to draw the line back to relationship. God is not waiting for me to walk enough places that wars over petroleum come to an end. I cannot leave enough empty space in my closet that sweatshops close down around the world. And I cannot drink enough cups of fair trade coffee to end the exploitation of farm workers.

This reality does not mean those actions are worthless. I do think it’s important to make intentional choices to live life in a way that supports justice. However, these are not items on my “to do” list that I can cross off when I have lived “simply enough.”

No. I must choose simplicity because it draws me to the heart of God. When I deny my materialism and consumerist spirit and turn instead to the Lord, what will I learn? When I silence the noise and the notifications, what will God speak to my heart? And when I choose simplicity out of solidarity with my neighbors, what will I experience in relationship with them?

There’s always someone who will live more extravagantly than me. And there’s always ways I could live more simply. But as much as I may want it, there is not a cookie cutter checklist to “know when you’re living simply.” I must submit everything to God and allow Him to work in my heart, to ask me to give up possessions and distractions, and to meet me where I am.  

How do you measure simple living in your life?

4 comments

  1. Oh this sounds so much like me!!!!

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    1. Haha! I appreciate the camaraderie, Becca!

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  2. After reading The Irresistible Revolution a few years back, I so wanted to purge everything from our home...irrationally everything!

    But I have a husband who not only likes having stuff...but loves using his stuff to help people and be in ministry. So, it's kind of an awkward balance for us too. We've settled into a place where it's ok to have stuff as long as we're still being generous with it and blessing others along the way.

    And, you're right, it can be paralyzing to try to fix every injustice with our purchases and lifestyles, but I've been learning that the Lord will call us slowly one idea or purchase at a time and that each of us can be called to different injustices. And that helps me not feel paralyzed.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Mary. I definitely feel tension between willingness to follow God's call to sacrifice and the freedom simplicity offers.

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