051 Feeling Pulled in Too Many Directions? Here are 10 Ways to Simplify Your Life
We are the options generation. Most of us can pursue any career we wish and live almost any lifestyle. The latest smartphones are in our pockets, cheap airfares allow us to see the world, and our problem isn’t of thirst but of which brand of bottled water to choose. Previous generations knew little of this. Neither do those in the developing world today.
No one wants to live in poverty, but our increasing affluence has led to other problems. We can want too much, be pulled in too many directions as a result, and lack clarity of mind and purpose. In this post and podcast we’ll look at Jesus’s remedy to materialism, explore 10 ways to simplify our lives, and hear from collaborative consumption expert Rachel Botsman on how to buy less and share more.
10 Ways to Simplify Your Life
As I explain in Resilient, Jesus’ answer to materialism is simplicity: putting God first, not money, and living a simple lifestyle. How do we do that practically? These ten principles have been drawn from Richard Foster’s excellent books Freedom of Simplicity and Celebration of Discipline with some additional ideas of my own. You’ll find an expanded version in my free ebook Five Practices for a Resilient Life.
1. Define life in terms of “being” rather than “having”
Start by refusing to measure life by the abundance of your possessions. Enjoy nature and animals, not just streaming video and shopping malls. Cultivate solitude and silence. Develop close friendships. Value music, art and books. Stress quality of life over quantity.
2. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status
Discern the difference between a need and a want. Choose a car for its utility rather than its prestige. When looking for a home, consider its livability over its power to impress. Wear clothes until they wear out instead of being a slave to fashion. Impress people with your life instead of by what you own and wear.
3. Join the happy revolt against the modern propaganda machine
Identify marketers’ attempts to sell you products you don’t need. Buy things to last. Avoid upgrading a product because the next model has a new feature—most new features are added only to make you dissatisfied with what you have. Learn to make things like clothes, furniture, and toys. Identify with the poor.
4. Avoid debt
Apart from a house (or maybe a car), buy things only when you’ve saved the money for them. Be skeptical of all “interest free” and “buy-now-pay-later” schemes. Buy a good second-hand car instead of a new model on monthly payments. If you can’t pay off your credit card each month, cancel it. Fix things rather than replace them.
5. Develop a habit of giving things away
Be generous. De-accumulate. Give away not just money and possessions, but time and expertise. Donate a day a week to your church or a charity. Sponsor a child in poverty. Note that simplicity doesn’t necessarily require reducing one’s income. Some are called to increase their income so they can give more away.
6. Learn to enjoy things without owning them
Enjoy the beach without plotting to buy a piece of it. Enjoy public parks and libraries. Borrow a neighbor’s lawn mower. Lend out yours. Consider car-sharing and carpooling. The belief that we enjoy things more when we own them is an illusion.
7. Make recreation healthy, happy, and gadget-free
Ride a bike. Go for a walk. Take a swim. Go for a jog. Hike, camp, or backpack, avoiding any unnecessary gadgets or apparel touted as “essential” to these simple activities. Competitive games have their place, but try out cooperative games and play too. Winning isn’t everything.
8. Eat sensitively and sensibly
Buy locally produced food to reduce your carbon footprint. Grow your own food. Be sensitive to the food chain and eat foods like fruits and grains that don’t do violence to its balance. Grain-fed animals are an unsustainable luxury, so reduce consumption. Tend some pots on your window sill. Compost and recycle.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others
Research the supply chains of your regular purchases. Are our clothes made in sweatshops? Was trafficked labor used to bring them to us? Are supermarket chains profiting from deep discounts by paying farmers and producers less and less? Do the companies we support foster racism or sexism, or unjust labor practices?
10. Keep God and his kingdom central
Remember, a resilient life of simplicity flows from putting God and his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). “Nothing else can be central,” says Foster. “The desire to get out of the rat race cannot be central, the redistribution of the world’s wealth cannot be central, the concern for ecology cannot be central.” Only by putting God and his kingdom first do we have the inner reality to drive the outer actions. Without that, simple living can descend into soul-crushing legalism.
Rachel Botsman is the co-author of What’s Mine is Yours and in this bonus interview you’ll hear her discuss the wonderful world of collaborative consumption: freecycling, couch surfing, car sharing, and all manner of other ways to buy less and share more.