Almost weekly something new pops up with tips and tricks to help simplify life. A quick Internet search of “simplify your life” will yield article after article full of clues—some easy, on the surface (i.e., less clutter in your home) to more challenging, in depth (i.e, quit your anger). I subscribe to a number of magazines, Real Simple being one of them, that features at least one article a month covering this very topic. Whether it be simplifying your office space, your closet, or your daily calendar, the idea of a simple life is an attractive one that gets plenty of press.
I, for one, love the idea of living more simply. In addition to all the instructional articles for the simple life, now there’s an app for that. The top 10 “simple life” apps cover all areas of life—your loyalty cards, grocery list, to-do lists, papers, files, bills, and more. There’s even an app that tallies your grocery list before you get to the check out line. When my computer bit the dust late last year, and I replaced it with a Kindle Fire. I have apps for organizing, writing, and cooking, among others. The apps are great, but the simple life still feels a bit elusive. And so I look for more apps and read more articles and apply more decluttering and organizing techniques.
While attractive on the outside, the pursuit of the simple life is not so simple. Basically, the desire for a simple life often becomes your life.
Recently, I read this post over at The New York Times written by Graham Hill, who wanted a simple life. He has a tiny studio apartment in New York, a no-frills kitchen, and a sleek wardrobe. He was even part of a project (a year or so ago) aiming to showcase a simpler way to do life. Here’s a bit of what he said in the article: “Somehow the stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me. My circumstances are unusual—but my relationship with material things isn’t.” Compared to the life he lived a few years ago, his life now is simple and he loves it. Hill writes that he has more time and more money than before. And as a result, he’s happier. Instead of boasting in surplus, he has the opportunity to boast in what he doesn’t have.
Is that really what it means to have a simple life? Get a little house; purge your kitchen; a no-frills closet. Do these things and get rid of those things. It’s not my material wealth or lack thereof that’s the hindrance to a simple life. The issue is the state of my heart; the complexity or simplicity of my life doesn’t stop at the surface but is a picture of my heart’s treasure. Scripture teaches that our boasting in this life is to be that of Christ and not in our earthly possessions. But both consuming and not consuming, simple living and cluttered living, can become a source of pride. We have to guard against the message of our culture that screams at us that our identity is found in what we own, and likewise in what we do not own. We fault, as Christians, when we love the creation (or lack of it) over the Creator and find that to be our treasure, above Him.
Likewise, when we go from gathering possessions and resources to purging possessions and resources, all that’s taken place is a shift in focus. Trading one for another but not really simplifying anything in our lives. The simple life we all long for can easily become a set of laws that run our lives. I am all too easily swayed to think that if I just had less in my life that I would somehow love God more. Whether I have much or little, if my treasure is not rooted in all that Christ has done for me, then it will be rooted in all that I have achieved for myself.
The simple life our culture longs for is a facade, a shift in those idols at the very center of our being. It’s easy to like our possessions too much, and it’s dangerous when we do. It’s just as dangerous to think that we can escape the bent of our hearts by substituting simplicity for consumerism.