Not long ago, a friend went through his closet and gave away literally half of his clothes. Rather than missing the items, he said life felt less complicated. Instead of feeling deprived, he felt freed up.

Jane Hammerslough, author of Dematerializing: Taming the Power of Possessions, describes how a roof repair gone wrong forced her family into a quick move to a small, sparsely furnished rental house for six months. She writes of their surprise that they didn’t miss much of what they left behind. Rather than feeling depressed by the “hideous living room” and “mismatched plates” in their temporary quarters, they felt liberated. And when they returned home, she felt “overwhelmed by the utter excess of stuff.” A purging of things soon followed.

She concluded that, “When ‘enough’ is always just a little more than you already have, you don’t have a lot of room left for the truly great pleasures of life: family, friends and the time to enjoy them.”

Making Room For What Matters

Of course, too much stuff can also leave too little room for God. With all the time required to shop for, use, store, clean, maintain, organize, insure, and worry about our stuff, there can be little time left for reading God’s Word, prayer, ministry, church, and reaching out to others.  Is it any wonder that the Bible encourages simple living?

I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple —in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out. – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (MSG)

In his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster agues that, “The majority of Christians have never seriously wrestled with the problem of simplicity, conveniently ignoring Jesus’ many words on the subject. The reason is simple: This Discipline directly challenges our vested interests in an affluent life-style.”

But the recession may have started to change that, sparking a renewed interest in simplicity.  In recent years, writers ranging from mutual fund company foundersto spiritual thinkershave weighed in on the question: “How much is enough?”

Simplicity Is More Than Uncluttered Closets

Of course, there is no clear line indicating exactly how much is enough.  But one thing is for sure: simple living does not begin with a trip to The Container Store.  Instead, Foster describes simplicity as “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” It’s “a life of joyful unconcern for possessions” and “the one thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.”

Foster, who explores the meaning and practice of simplicity in more detail in his book, Freedom of Simplicity, says there are three heart attitudes related to possessions that lead to peace. “If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety.”