Less is More for Those Who Choose Simple Lives
- Monday, July 02, 2007
It’s easy to make choices that are choreographed to the beat of our materialistic culture declaring “more, more, more!” But some people who have chosen to simplify their lives march to a distinctly different beat, declaring with quiet confidence that “less is more.”
Those who choose simple lives have discovered that while purposefully living below their financial means may make them seem poor on the outside, it enriches them on the inside. As they free up their resources to focus on what matters most, some said, they grow closer to God than they could otherwise.
“When we’re buying into the fast-paced consumerism that says we’ve got to do more and acquire more, there’s a point we reach at which our lives no longer have much meaning or integrity anymore,” said Beth Braxton, who tries to make simple choices both at home and on the job at a church in Burke, Virginia. “Life is, at its roots, basic and simple. True happiness comes from things like sharing the joy of conversation with a friend or watching a cardinal out on a birdfeeder.”
Living simply frees people to align their lives with their values and pursue what matters most to them, said Jack Davis, who chose to forgo lucrative job opportunities after retiring from the Central Intelligence Agency so he could devote his time to more meaningful volunteer work. “My sense of worth and self-esteem is increasingly based on my values and not material things and possessions. I no longer feel any need to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’” he said.
No matter how entrenched a person is in a complex, consumptive lifestyle, it’s always possible to change to a simple one that’s focused on core values, said Daisy Birch, who was able to follow her dream of starting a home-based business after cutting distractions from her schedule. “It’s very possible to shift from a hectic, distracted life to a more rewarding one,” she said. “It’s possible at any time in your life. One question to ask yourself is, ‘What do you really want?’ and another is, ‘Isn’t it right under your nose?’. Sometimes that’s the scariest place to look, but once you look there, it’s not scary anymore.”
Davis said that choosing not to constantly buy more and better products means less stress to distract him from pursuing his values, because he doesn’t have the financial pressure of having to earn large amounts of money or the anxiety of dealing with debt. “The most profound change that comes to those who successfully adjust to a simpler life is a sense of freedom,” said Davis, who refrains from buying items he doesn’t truly need and tries to repair or reuse items he already owns rather than replacing them.
The freedom that comes from living simply has given Braxton more time to spend with God. She carves out time from her schedule that she could have spent shopping and uses it for extra prayer and reflection instead.
By making simple choices (such as by recycling to help care for the environment), Braxton says she’s able to better answer God’s call to stewardship than she could otherwise. “We have a cultural mentality that we have to own, to possess. But life is a gift. We don’t own it,” she says. “The earth is the Lord’s, and we’re caretakers. We’ve been entrusted with this earth for stewardship, not ownership.”
A simple lifestyle has given Mary Ayres (name has been changed at her request) something more valuable than she could buy at a store – contentment. She and her husband Sam have stayed in the same small house they bought before their four children were born. Mary said she wanted to move to a larger house, but, “now (after 18 years of raising kids) I'm kind of glad we didn't. There are some good things about a smaller home . . . things have to constantly go out the door (sometimes in big black bags and under cover of darkness!). Everyone agrees that having too much stuff is suffocating, even if you have a place to put it. So it can actually help if you do not have a place to put it. Also, not having any room for houseguests can sometimes be a disappointment, but can also free you up greatly – let’s be honest.”
Mary and her family discovered they got along fine after getting rid of gadgets many people take for granted –like a microwave and a television . “Sometimes I just cut out various items or categories of things that other people think are essential. I haven't had a microwave in years and I don't miss it a bit. It took up too much space and mostly what we made in it was popcorn. You really can make popcorn in a skillet, and you really can re-heat food on the stove very quickly. … We got rid of TV about 15 years ago, but our kids watch plenty of movies on our DVD player or on the computer.”
They also defray the high cost of gasoline by eliminating unnecessary car trips and riding their bikes instead. “With traffic, parking, etc., you can often do your errands faster on bike,” said Mary. “Of course, you can't bring back groceries for a family of six on your bike. But there are quite a few errands you can do with a backpack on your back and a rack on your bike. My husband rides his bike to work (6.8 miles) and he uses Google maps to discover really workable, safe, and little-known bike routes to his office and other destinations within a 10-mile radius.”
Making a successful transition to a simpler lifestyle is possible for anyone who makes just one simple choice at a time, said Birch. “The changes don’t have to be drastic. You don’t have to suddenly start wearing burlap. Find little changes to make and start there. Underneath those will be more little changes, and then you’ll uncover your values.”
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