I recently took one of those quizzes that was trending on my Facebook feed. You know the ones I’m talking about: “Which Frozen Character Are You?” (Elsa), “Which Decade Should You Have Lived In?” (the 1950s), and “Which Color-Number Combination Best Represents Your Philosophy on Cooking?” (I may have made up that last one).
This quiz was called “Which State Should You Live In?” (By the way, I was hoping for California.) According to my quiz results, I should really live in Hawaii. I’LL TAKE IT. Here’s the explanation that went with it: “The slower pace of island life is just perfect for you—the busy culture of corporate America makes you sigh.”
Yes and amen.
And I’m moving.
Searching for True Simplicity
In these first few posts, I’ve been doing a lot of talking about what simple living is not. I promised that I would define what simple living actually is for me, but I’m realizing that there isn’t just one definition for simplicity. A definition is something prescriptive; you can look it up in a dictionary or find it with a quick Google search. But meaning is made when we layer in our life experiences, beliefs, and values. We make meaning when we wrestle with, try out, and apply our ideas to new situations.
(I used to be a teacher. Clearly I subscribed to the constructivist theory of learning.)
Simplicity, like many other concepts, is what you make of it. I’m not on this journey to live simply just because I happen to like the dictionary definition. I ascribe to a simple life because of the joy, meaning, satisfaction, and beauty I find in it.
For me, the meaning of simplicity is to live a life with an uncluttered soul, house, and schedule. To live in alignment with my values and beliefs. To live within my financial means and within my personal reserves of energy.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” —Henry David Thoreau
I live simply because I don’t want to get bogged down in the details that aren’t important.
“Live simply so that others may simply live.” —Mahatma Gandhi
I live simply because then I can give away my abundance, instead of acquiring more for myself.
“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.” —Richard Rohr
I live simply because it helps me live my way into contentment.
I’m not naturally good at being content. I’ve always tried to be more, do more, achieve more, have more. And I’ve always admired people who have more money, less body fat, prettier homes, nicer cars. I’ve calculated how much more income I need to bring in to have the life that [insert literally almost any name here] has.
For what? So I can feel like my life is meaningful? So I can be fulfilled?
Exactly one year ago, I prayed, “Lord, let this be the year I become content.” What I really meant, deep down in the part of my soul that I like to pretend isn’t there, was, “God, provide a pay raise for me and a promotion for Dan so I can finally have enough to be content.”
It’s really, really difficult to admit that publicly.
Jesus could have scoffed at me, but instead, he graciously led me by his example: “Live simply. Cut back. Don’t care so much about your possessions. When you give them up, you’ll find something better. You already have everything you need spiritually and physically.” (You can find more about this here, here, and here.)
So I slowed down and cut back. I resigned from a leadership position that didn’t fit my talents, skills, or schedule. I purged my apartment and got rid of possessions. I quit my breakneck-paced job and took an internship. I started writing again. I spent more time with Dan.
God taught me to be content when I started living on less, pursuing my passions, and investing in people. He prompted me to change my actions, and my thinking followed suit.
In the process of living a simpler life, in the process of eliminating and cutting back, I found that I had more “enough” as I lived on less.
I lived my way into being content. Grateful. Free.
Big things happen when we believe the truth that we already have enough.
A Formula for Living Simply
I’m a girl who likes rules, procedures, and a logical sequence of events. I’m that person who actually reads the instruction manual before jumping in. But simplicity has no perfect, one-size-fits-all formula. Here’s the best I’ve come up with so far:
- Define who you are, what you value, and what you care the most about.
- Define the actions you do when you prioritize the things you care about most.
- Do those actions.
- Skip the rest as often as you can.
My life vision, my mission statement, my core values provide a filter for me. As opportunities, spending decisions, and everyday choices come my way, I filter them through my vision. (You can read more about my time filters here).
Does this new sweater fit within my clothing budget (which I recently reduced to free up money for travel)?
Does this church-wide event take up space that I need to devote to someone else one-on-one?
By passing up the Christmas decorations at Target (and thereby saving myself from a $50+ purchase), what can I do with this money that will honor God and take care of his sheep?
Does this new job I’m considering allow me to pursue my values (either at work or in the time I have off of work)?
What can I give up this week to create space to see my sister/friend/husband?
We can’t do it all. An attitude of simplicity acknowledges this and prioritizes what matters most.