Looking for “more” or “less”?

There’s a rock and a hard place unfolding in the global economy.  The rock: We need to buy lots of stuff to keep the economic machinery going, so that there will be enough jobs, because when there are lots of jobs, people will buy stuff,which will create more jobs, blah blah blah.  The market’s down about 240 (a big number if you follow it) as I write, because of worries people aren’t going to buy stuff.

The hard place: The most popular article in the NY Times this morning questions the premise that we’ll be happy if we buy more stuff.  The article catalogs the major life shift of Tammy Strobel, who jumped off the work-spend treadmill with her husband.  She’s now living simply, as one of the growing number minimalists who try to limit their number of possessions to around 100, including 0 cars.  They’ve evaporated 30k of debt, are exercising more, eating better, volunteering their time, taking walks in the woods, and have never been happier.

Welcome to our economic world.  We’re stuck, collectively, in a consumerist model that depends on buying stuff, and now we’re discovering that, like unfermented soy products, maybe stuff isn’t so good for you after all.  If we all start living like Tammy, what happens to the auto industry, and the rest of the ‘stuff’ that creates our economy?

There are books about this subject, which you might want to check out here (if you’re interested in the book picture) and here (if you’re interested in lifestyle changes) and here (if you’re interested in just reducing your own debts).

I hope all of us work to become more like Tammy because this is what, I think, the Bible commends. I spent $30 at Goodwill last week, and have a new fall wardrobe, but this doesn’t do much for big economic machine.  That too many are becoming like Tammy is the great fear of wall street.  My response:  Moving towards the light is like rappelling off a cliff.  There’s some uncertainty regarding all the implications, but there’s a knowing, a trusting, that doing it right will be best, in the long run, for everyone.

Are you simplifying?  How?

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  • I went through my closet not too long ago and donated clothes that I had not worn in a long time. I went through my book collection and donated a stack of books that I will no longer read but are still worthy of passing on.

    I love living just down the road from a Goodwill.

    Excellent NY Times article – thanks for passing it along.

  • GDG


    Great advice, great topic.

    In 2006 I started to get an uneasy feeling about the economy following an article I had read in Harper’s Magazine. Before things got sticky I decided to start changing my mindset on how exactly I wanted to raise my children, and how my wife and I could live simpler.

    In this process we decided to rent out a level in our house. This downsized our living space, but brought us closer together, as we did not need a separate room/level/area for each of us. This brought in extra income, gave someone an affordable place to live in an moderately expensive area in the city, and showed that we didn’t need to move to the 4000 sq/ft McMansion in the burbs. 1200 sq/ft was plenty.

    Following the free principles Dave Ramsey mentions on his website allowed us to pay off 75k in house debt, credit debt, and another 20k towards my wife’s masters degree. We paid it in cash! No loans for us.

    Currently we are 100% debt free with the exception of our house.

    We only have one vehicle, and it is paid off. We fix it instead of buying another one.

    The biggest obstacle was making these choices BEFORE we had to. We made these choices because we wanted to. We wanted to be financially secure, but more importantly debt free. It would seem that you can’t have one without the other, but so many of us are drowning in consumer debt that if times continue to get tough there will be no choice in how they live.

  • Your post is eerily well-timed, not that you are scheduling your posts around my schedule or anything. I have just quit my job and am trying to figure my life out, and it sure would be nice if my journey toward the light would lead me out of debt, but so far, it appears I am plummeting further in. It is particularly difficult, I think, for mothers, or should I just say parents, who are being told that they don’t have time to raise their children. Just drop them off at daycare and go make money and all will be well. I don’t think it works that way. As an aside, I am giving away a $5 gift certificate to Better World Books at http://worldcentricliving.blogspot.com if you are interested!

  • Oh, and I meant to tell you … my daughter’s name is Holly! 🙂

  • Hi Pastor Richard,

    I also just wrote similar blog about that story if you’re interested. Its a bit longer (I tend to be wordy) but you might like it.

    http://www.sharonandtyler.wordpress.com – “Uncomfortable with Being Comfortable”

    “See you in church,”

  • Betsy Pinney

    Thank you Richard! I appreciate your thoughts and I am now looking forward to reading, Simpler Living, Compassionate Life.


  • ATA

    I too believe that living simply is better for me and my family, and can lead to greater contentment, but I think we need to be wary of making this an end in itself. I think we can liken simplifying our lives to the “chosen fast” talked about in Isaiah 58 – it’s not the fast itself (or the living simply) that counts, it’s what we do AS we fast or live simply. I have become increasingly convinced that living simply is valuable for many reasons, one being that it can help us identify with those who are less fortunate, both here in the U.S. and in other countries. The more we can simplify our own lives (live in small places, cook using simple ingredients, walk or take public transportation), the closer we can come to understanding and empathizing with those who have a lot less “stuff” than us… which hopefully in turn leads to crossing boundaries and helping those in need. A great and convicting book related to this topic is “The Hole in our Gospel,” by Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision.

    As for me, I’ve recently been using the cookbooks “More-With-Less” and “Extending the Table,” which use simple ingredients to make healthy meals. They are coupled with stories of people from around the world, and as I make Ethiopian flat bread or Belizean chicken stew in my home, I find myself reflecting on the lives of the people who make and eat this food every day. These people become more “real” to me, and thus I am more motivated to pray for them and against the systems of oppression and injustice that keep so many people in the cycle of poverty. I am also more motivated to examine my own life and how I may unintentionally contribute to those systems. For example, living simply and spending less by getting the best bargain on food or clothing or coffee may actually perpetuate an unjust system. These are things I need to be aware of and delve deeper into as I seek to live in a way that honors God and my fellow man.

  • Jim A.

    As I am so often reminded by the love of my life, I may be missing the point. But as we downsize and move to 1,100 square feet I have made sure that I can walk to Dick’s, the bookstore, the library, the grocery store, restaurants, and the movie theater.

    Our only difficulty has been in getting rid of our “stuf.” We find the kids don’t want it, the relatives don’t want it, anyone under the age of 30 doesn’t want it, and quite possibly the stuff we already unloaded at BCC is more than they ever wanted. Alice has found a place called “Sharehouse” that picks up your old furniture, etc. that you don’t want. Sharehouse then provides the furniture and furnishings to folks that have been homeless, but now have a job, and are setting up a new household. It is a wonderful program and a great organization. And so far, they have not sent any of my “stuff” back. Pretty neat. Please ask Alice if you want details.

  • ATA’s comment reminds me that while I want to live simply, and we are trying to do that, there are other “injustices” in the world that almost go against that. I want to buy local produce at the farmer’s market. It’s healthier, supports the local farmer, but it’s also generally more expensive, and apparently produces more of a carbon footprint for all the little trucks running around as opposed to the large quantities that can be shipped. Interesting conundrum.
    The same is said for clothing, fair trade coffee, chocolate, etc. All of these are actually more expensive to me… yet better for the world in general. It becomes, what is your definition of living simply?