Blessed by Less: A Review

Blessed by Less. This is certainly not the mantra that many of us will be living by as Christmas approaches, and we prepare to give and receive gifts. In her book of the same name, Susan V. Vogt offers readers a challenge, to live more lightly on earth. If there is one thing that a year abroad taught Amy and me, it is that that lightness can be a blessing like no other.

Fueled by her own Christian faith and traditions, Vogt undertook a Lenten challenge to give one possession away for 40 days. She blogged about it and continued the practice after Lent concluded. She has turned that practice into a book, which offers readers advice on how to live with less, the spiritual/religious injunctions for us to do so, and the blessings that will follow. Vogt, like many, has been inspired by the teachings of St. Ignatius of Loyola for a spiritually healthy and balanced life, which include:

  • detachment from the things and worries of this world
  • spiritual freedom from all that might distract us from the ultimate purpose of our life in order to focus on what is essential–a deeper relationship with God
  • the practiced ability to find God’s presence ‘in all things’–in our ordinary situations. (2)

Yet she reminds us that the deeply rooted instinct to live more lightly upon this earth transcends any one religion and abides in conscientious people of good will (xi).

While discussion of material things takes up much space in her book, they are not the sole focus of Vogt’s vision of a de-cluttered life. Vogt encourages her readers to make space in their hearts, minds, and souls and to let go of feelings of guilt, fear, worry, or shame that crowd our waking lives. This frees us up to move lightly through the world and more effectively minister to those with whom we come in contact. Vogt writes, “The spiritual paradox is that the less tightly I hold on to my stuff, my way, and my concerns, the happier I become” (109).

Just as difficult as giving up worry is letting go of some of the tangible possessions about which we usually worry. Vogt divides her advice for readers in either the first or second half of their lives. Younger readers might focus on buying/accumulating less, whereas older readers might want to begin cleaning out the closets. Of course, recycling/repurposing goods plays a big part in Vogt’s “plan,” and can be practiced across all age ranges. But the real challenge for many of us Westerners is to buy smarter and less.

There are few better times to read Vogt’s book as we enter the holiday season and a new year. Perhaps we will be encouraged to consider alternate forms of giftin or giving away goods we no longer use to people who may need them. Perhaps we will embrace a New Year’s resolution to buy less, recycle more, or simply de-clutter our lives. Whatever we choose to do, Vogt encourages us to take those small first steps and to be kind and forgiving to ourselves (and others) when we fall short of our goals.

Much of Vogt’s advice is common sense, but given the ways in which we over-consume and waste, we need such reminders. She makes a powerful statement that, at the dawn of creation, God probably didn’t imagine landfills (80). Pairing the call to live less with insight into spiritual benefits is a welcome, encouraging juxtaposition. The goal is not the superheroic act of “saving the planet,” but of practicing justice and changing ourselves in the process. Vogt writes, “When we own things that we no longer need but others do need, it becomes a matter of justice” (4). Throughout her brief, but helpful book, Vogt provides a variety of suggested practices that we can all easily undertake. Believe it or not, I’m even starting to minimize my DVD collection!

Blessed by Less (122 pages) is published by Loyola Press.

About J. Ryan Parker

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