Insanity antidote: simplicity

our economy: climbing without a rope

If you’re reading these words, you’re likely among the top 10% of wealthiest people in the world.  You’re probably not spending much time thinking about how you’ll get water to drink, or whether you’ll have a place of shelter tonight.  Though it may come at steep price (depending on where you live) you have access to health care; and food; and more than one pair of shoes.  We are, in other words, blessed.

This kind of wealth creates choices, and the wealthier you are, the more choices you have.  Live here or there?  Marry or stay single?  Stay in this relationship or leave?  Change jobs?  Change majors?  Upgrade to an iPad 2, or keep the old one?  Buy that new thing or not?  Go to that concert or stay home?  Go skiing or sailing?  Premium cable or basic?  54″ flat screen or only that meager 32″ one?  Buy organic or cheaper? Depending on your wealth, and where you live, these choices just keep multiplying.  Toss in exposure to thousands of ads saying, “see me,”  “touch me,”  “taste me,”  “buy me and be happy,” and the options increase even more.

“Which shoes will make me happiest?”

“Which apple tastes best?”

“Where should I go on vacation?”

For all this wealth, you’d think we’d be content, but the fact is that our habits reveal that we think we don’t have enough.  We spend more than we earn.  Our nation does the same thing, insanely so.  Collectively, we believe that we need more than we have, believe that one more vacation, or one more bomber jet, or one more whatever, will finally make us happy, or secure, or able to stand on the moral high ground.

Though it’s not really news, you’ll forgive me for putting it this way:  NEWSFLASH–It’s all a lie!  

The exponential explosion in both choices and spending over the past several decades has created a situation analogous to climbing without a rope.  We’re higher off the ground, but our elevation, while creating a false sense of superiority over those below, hasn’t eased our anxiety, but multiplied it.  We’re afraid of losing:  our stuff, our choices, our freedom to travel, our freedom to consume far more than our share of energy, our guns, our coffee shops, our big churches, our access to endless pharmaceuticals, our cheap food.

It appears though, that we’ve come to a place on our climb where others are shouting to us that we’d better “down climb.” back to some safer places on the wall.  They’re telling us that if we keep climbing, we’re going to climb ourselves into a situation where there’s no way up, and the only way down is to fall.  S&P warned our nation yesterday, and we said, “Don’t worry–we’ll climb down.  We’ll live within our means.”

Maybe.  But if not, we’ll still come down–just a lot faster, with a harder landing.

I’d suggest that, however our government solves this problem, or doesn’t, each of us would be wise to distance ourselves from the insane consumerism that’s plaguing our culture.  What kind of steps:

1. Live WELL within your means.  If you need to take a class to live within your means, then take a class.  But the simple principle of not spending more than you have is a starting point.

2. Sweep the table clear of choices, so that your considerations each day about what to do with your time and your money are answered by a single question: “What is the will of God?”  Paul speaks of the liberating simplicity of this here and here.  Of course, this takes practice, and but as this listening for God’s will becomes part of coffee with God, I find myself writing things in my prayer journal about simplifying, letting go of stuff, along with things to do with the time/money saved.

3. Learn contentment. Whether the earthquake, tornado, or tsunami, is literal or metaphorical, the reality is that we need far less to be content than we think.  As we shave our lifestyles down to live within our means, we find that we don’t just save money, we save time, health, peace.  But we need to believe that we don’t need as much as we think we do.  My friend Josh Becker has an entire website devoted to helping you with this.  Take steps to find contentment in simple healthy foods, good conversation, basic clothing, and a car, or bike, or scooter that gets you from A to B.  Enjoy creation more than TV. Clean out a drawer.  Paul says contentment is a learned art, so start learning.

These are crazy days.  This climbing without a rope can’t continue and whether we fall quickly or slowly, I believe the chance to invite people into a better story than the lie of consumerism will be huge, but only if we ourselves are living a better story.

It starts today.  How are you simplifying?  

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  • Roy

    I’m pretty good at living within my means but food is an area where I tend to splurge, especially in going out to eat. Eating out is usually a social affair and a way to connect with friends etc. One of the things I’m trying to do is, instead of reconnecting a friend at a cafe etc, is go for a walk together or make dinner at home and invite people over. It’s cheaper, healthier etc.

  • Never try going into debt; it’s the worst form of poverty (coveting goods beyond one’s means, being slave to debt—hands of another master).

    I simplify by doing things accurately (one time get done, not with perfectionism), with detailed planning (written results, expectations), and specific prayers (submission to God the details). 🙂

    Thank you for writing this post! Have a great week ahead.

  • thefoutz

    Good words Richard. This kind of consumerism is not just an American problem, though – especially in a culture that is becoming increasingly global – but rather a problem of any affluent country. You preached a sermon sometime in the last few months where you mentioned Pslam 27: 4 and think it’s highly relevant to this topic.
    “One thing I ask of the Lord,
    this is what I seek:
    that I may dwell in the house of the
    all the days of my life,
    to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.”

    You said something to the effect of David’s insistence that the “one thing” he wanted wasn’t more stuff or more wives or more power or more glory, but just to, basically, know God. Even though I’m a college student and don’t make a whole lot of money, I still get wrapped up in the “stuff” of life. It’s hard to find my pleasure in God, rather than the circumstances or materials around me. But I do have good days to counter the bad days and I feel that, on the whole, I’m much more content now than I was two years ago. After a providential DUI, I was forced to sell my car, which seemed like a bad thing at the time – we Americans, especially on the West Coast, love our autonomic automobiles – but it’s turned out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I walk a lot more, which means that I pray a lot more as I walk. I’m in better shape, as well. There’s a freedom in not having an automobile that I never could have imagined. As it turns out less actually is more.

  • Jim A.

    Downsizing has been on our minds a lot in recent months as the last child left home. You do have to be careful because they often return for a while; as did one of ours. And you keep hoping they are still 9 years old.

    But we knew it was time to change, to live simply, and to unload 25 years of accumulated “stuff.” So we sold the house, sold the office building, closed the business, sold one car, gave away material items to family, friends and strangers, and moved to a flat on Capitol Hill. 2,500 square feet less than the house. My best friend had some trepidation about living in 1,100 square feet. Pretty close quarters and no way to escape from me. A friend from from her Bible study told her to never let your husband retire; he would just be a nuisance. So I go to work every day.

    Now we wonder why we didn’t do this years ago. We walked from Capitol Hill to the Pike Place Market on Saturday. We walk to the grocery store, theater, and all others services. We use public transportation. She has more time to care for her elderly parents, participate in MOPS, and Skype with our daughter in London.

    I think she is becoming acclimated. The other day she wanted to know when we could clean out the storage locker and get rid of all that stuff. Yikes!!

  • Jim A.

    Richard: have you seen the movie “I Am?”