10 Principles to Live By
In his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster shares 10 principles that can help you cultivate an attitude of simplicity over consumerism:
- Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.
- Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
- Develop a habit of giving things away. De-accumulate.
- Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.
- Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Enjoy public parks and libraries.
- Develop a deeper appreciation for creation.
- Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.
- Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.
- Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
- Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.
A Birth Of Hope
“The reason I am a minimalist today,” Troy began, “is because of the color of my house.” I’d never heard that one before, so I asked Troy to explain what he meant. Troy was a tall man of about forty with red hair and a red beard cropped close. The two of us were at a simple-living conference in Minneapolis when he shared his story. Troy explained that, a few years earlier, he had bought a house with the understanding that his friend would move in and help with the payments. But then, because of a change in life circumstances, the friend moved out.
Rather than try to find a new roommate, Troy opted to take a second job and increase his income to support the home all on his own. “Eventually,” he said, “the situation began to take a toll on me. I had more money but less time. And to make matters worse, I was not able to save any of the excess income. It was practically all going into the mortgage payment.” Troy entered a season of despair.
He began to buy and collect things to satisfy his craving for a sense of control. Garage sales and clearance end caps became his drugs of choice. Looking back, he says, “I was out of control, totally numb to what I was doing to myself and my living space. Until I noticed the paint on my window trim beginning to chip.” In preparation for the window repair, Troy opened his browser during a lunch break at work and searched for paint colors. The search returned so many color choices that at first he felt paralyzed.
As he scrolled down, however, he happened to notice one image on the screen that did not look like the others. It showed the smallest house he had ever seen, just a few hundred square feet — a Tiny House on wheels, with chickens in the front yard. Troy was intrigued. With just a few clicks, he was immersed in a world of people purposely living in smaller homes with less stuff. It was the start of Troy’s journey to minimalism. His immediate goal was to make his existing home more livable.
Over the next month, Troy removed 1,389 things from his home. By the end of the summer, the number of items he had removed totaled more than 3,000 items. “It has not always been easy to let go of stuff,” Troy told me, “but it is a process I want and I need.” He ended our conversation with tears in his eyes. “I was really hurting for a long time, Joshua.
I needed simplicity. I needed to get out of debt. I needed to get rid of the stuff cluttering up my life. But mostly I needed hope — hope that life could be different, better. This process of becoming minimalist and living with less has given it to me.” There it is: Minimalism is about what it gives, not what it takes away. It’s the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them. It’s a new way of living that fills us with hope.
During a retreat at the Taizé compound in France, a young American shared a remarkable discovery. He said: “Back home, surrounded by all my possessions, I often feel uncertain about many things. Here, with only a backpack, in the company of people who want to be together in the presence of God, I feel rich in every way. With the prayers, the songs, the silence, and the honest conversations about faith and life, I have everything I need.”
Harvard Stephens, Taken from Wondrous Love: Devotions for Lent 2020, Augsburg Fortress Press, 2020, Kindle Location 866.
A Prayer on Simplicity
The prayerful cultivation of simplicity is every Christian’s business. And as it is increasingly experienced, its untold value is increasingly seen. May we apply its principles to our life, as we seek to travel a more excellent journey. These principles are reflected in an inspiring poem by William Ellery Channing:
I will seek elegance rather than luxury,
refinement rather than fashion.
I will seek to be worthy more than respectable,
Wealthy and not rich.
I will study hard, think quietly,
Talk gently, act frankly,
I will listen to stars and birds,
babes and sages, with an open heart.
I will bear all things cheerfully, do all things
bravely, await occasions and hurry never.
In a word I will let the spiritual; unbidden
and unconscious grow up through the common.
Quoted in Jon Johnston, Christian Excellence: Alternative to Success, Baker Publishing, 1985. Source Material William Ellery Channing, My Symphony
The Problem with Simplicity
In his excellent little book, A Testament of Devotion, written almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Kelly describes the true heart of the problem related to the complexity of our lives:
Let me first suggest that we are giving a false explanation of the complexity of our lives. We blame it upon the complex environment. Our complex living, we say, is due to the complex world we live in, with its radios and autos, which give us more stimulation per square hour than used to be given per square day to our grandmothers.
This explanation by the outward order leads us to turn wistfully, in some moments, to thoughts of a quiet South Sea Island existence, or to the horse and buggy days of our great grandparents, who went, jingle bells, jingle bells, over the crisp and ringing snow to spend the day with their grandparents on the farm.
Let me assure you, I have tried the life of the South Seas for a year, the long, lingering leisure of a tropic world. And I found that Americans carry into the tropics their same mad-cap, feverish life which we know on the mainland. Complexity of our program cannot be blamed upon complexity of our environment, much as we should like to think so.
Nor will simplification of life follow simplification of environment, I must confess that I chafed terribly, that year in Hawaii, because in some respects the environment seemed too simple.
We Western peoples are apt to think our great problems are external, environmental. We are not skilled in the inner life, where the real roots of our problem lie.
Simplicity vs. Frugality
Sometimes we confuse simplicity with frugality. Frugality is another term associated with owning. A frugal person is someone who makes wise decisions with money and food. “He is frugal in his spending,” proud mothers sometimes say of sons who use their chore money wisely. Simplicity is akin to frugality in that it involves being economical and thrifty in owning. People who practice simplicity are often frugal with what they have.
However, simplicity goes beyond frugality in one important sense: simplicity is a lifestyle, and frugality is an act. Frugality is a way of acting that can be applied to any lifestyle, but simplicity is a lifestyle that results in frugal actions. A lavish person could certainly be frugal with his resources and use them very sparingly, even stingily. But the one living lavishly cannot live simply. For that would be living the exact opposite of how he lives. To live simply is not to live lavishly.
So Many Things
The story is told of Socrates walking through the market in Athens, with its groaning abundance of options, and saying to himself, “Who would have thought that there could be so many things that I can do without?”
Taken from A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future by Os Guinness Copyright (c) 2013 by Os Guinness. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com