Since I was in high school, I’ve been fascinated by the concept of simplicity. Sometimes this is called “voluntary” (as opposed to “involuntary”) simplicity. Either way you cut it, the idea is to not complicate your life with too much stuff.
But “stuff” can be interpreted in many different ways. Most people think “stuff” means physical possessions, and the more hard-core simplifiers believe all you have to do is jettison 75% of your things and you'll have a simpler life. While most of us could unquestionably toss a lot of stuff, to me simplicity goes much deeper.
Christians often shy against the term “simplicity” because of its New Age associations. When they hear the term, folks immediately think of a cabin in the woods, tie-died clothing, Birkenstock sandals, hairy armpits, and dreadlocks. Most Christians don’t want to go vegen, eat tofu, read auras, wear hemp clothing, bow to their “inner universe” (whatever that is), anticipate the harmonic convergence, or raise their consciousness on a daily basis with sitars playing in the background.
So what's left? Here are ten steps to simplify your life.
1. Make Good Choices
The essence of simple living can be summed up in these three words: make good choices. Think of it as having Jesus peeking over your shoulder, approving or disapproving of what you do. Remember, you reap what you sow; and if you sow bad choices, your life will not be simple.
For example, I know a family who lives far, far beyond their means. They are in debt past their eyeballs. Everything – including their clothing and furniture – has a lien on it. Yet they act as if nothing is wrong. They continue to spend and spend and spend (on credit, of course). When I mention that perhaps they should scale back, they shrug and say they’ll be okay.
They won’t be okay. They are very close to losing their home. And – here’s the thing – they will be totally shocked when it happens. They will think it unfair.
This is not a tragedy. Their financial situation was not caused by medical hardships or job loss or something similarly out of their control. No, it was caused by their poor choices. They will shortly reap what they sow.
Simplicity is understanding that we are all a product of our choices.
2. Don’t Have Kids
…until you’re married, that is.
This should go without saying, but it’s worth reviewing the facts and figures.
According to Blake Bailey of the National Center for Policy Analysis, about thirty-one million Americans live in households below the poverty level. He says, “Poverty is more than a lack of income. It is also the consequence of specific behaviors and decisions. The 2001 Census data clearly show that dropping out of high school, staying single, having children without a spouse, working only part time or not working at all substantially increase the chances of long-term poverty. Certain behaviors are a recipe for success. Among those who finish high school, get married, have children only within a marriage and go to work, the odds of long-term poverty are virtually nil.”
Get the gist here? These are all choices. These are things that are (mostly) within our control.
Don’t have children until you’ve finished (at least) high school and gotten married, in that order.
3. Choose Wisely, Treat Kindly
There are few things that will simplify your life more than a solid relationship with your spouse. A strong marriage will uplift you through all of the stresses, misfortunes, difficulties, and bad luck that life throws your way. It has the added advantage of improving attitude and behavior, another key factor in simplifying one’s life.
Those of us with happy marriages did not win the lottery. We didn’t just randomly pick someone, get married, and by jingo our spouse happened to turn out terrific. No, we chose well. Then we worked hard to keep our spouse happy.
Read those last lines again: we chose well. We worked hard to keep our spouse happy.
Once you choose a good spouse and then work hard to keep that spouse happy, it is staggering how much simpler your life can become.
4. Live Within Your Means
There’s a lot involved in these four simple words. Living within your means brings tremendous peace of mind from debt, from fighting over money, and from stress from being over-extended financially.
It also implies obedience of the Tenth Commandment. When we don’t covet (a bigger house, a nicer wardrobe, a fancier car, etc.), then we can learn to be satisfied with what we have, however modest.
This doesn’t mean we can’t strive for better things. It means that we acquire those better things only when we can afford them without going into debt or depriving our family of necessities.
5. Cut the Clutter
Look around your home. What do you see? Craft supplies, magazines, knickknacks, statuary, gewgaws, framed photos by the dozen (or hundreds), duplicates, collections of tools or bowling trophies or stuffed animals…
Our homes are often filled with things at too high a cost, both physical and emotional. We stuff our houses with more and more items, thinking they will bring joy. The result, of course, is a living space that squeezes the “living” right out of it.
Dump the clutter. Simplify your housework. Reduce your possessions to only the useful or the beautiful. Make your home lovely, peaceful, open, and welcoming. Because, after all, that’s the whole purpose…isn’t it?
6. You Aren’t What You Own, Do, or Wear
How much of what complicates our lives ultimately derives from our efforts to impress others? This ego-driven desire to display can push us into careers that may not satisfy, homes that may be too big, cars that may be too expensive, and possessions that may be unneeded.
As Christians, we need to put our treasure elsewhere besides our homes, careers, and wardrobes. We need to acquire the confidence that allows us to march to the beat of our own drum, one that allows us to be pleased with a smaller house, used vehicle, and modest job. Our Christian confidence should allows us to not be affected by any snobbish barbs that come our way from those who feel that what we do, own, or wear signifies our importance.
7. Stop It!
I once caught a Bob Newhart comedic skit in which he played his usual role as a psychologist. A woman came to him with a myriad of problems because she’d heard he could cure her in five minutes. She poured out one dilemma after another and then asked for his advice.
His reply? The sum total of his advice for all her problems? “STOP IT!!!!”
The skit was hilariously funny simply because it was Bob Newhart, but underneath the humor there was some merit to his advice. Sometimes we just need to… stop it.
Stop living beyond your means. Stop overeating. Stop nagging. Stop driving too fast. Stop drinking so much. Stop smoking. Stop gossiping. You get the idea.
If we could just magically “stop it,” life would be simpler. Now our job is to make those “stops” come true. This isn’t rocket science. If you’re doing something that makes your life too complex…STOP IT!!
8. Discipline Your Children
The concept of discipline for children has become watered down in recent decades. As a result, many children run amuck, wreaking havoc in parents’ lives.
The fact of the matter is that children need strict, loving, consistent discipline. They need to learn the parameters of acceptable behavior in our society.
The Bible (particularly Proverbs) is full of sensible advice on disciplining kids. The problem of unruly children clearly dates back thousands of years. Remember: you reap what you sow. If you sow leniency with your kids, you will reap brats.
Discipline your children so that they can be a source of pride, not embarrassment. Believe me, your life will be simpler.
9. Stay Healthy
The entire health industry that attempts to keep us healthy can largely be reduced to four major things:
• Don’t smoke
• Keep to a healthy weight
• Eat five to six portions of fruits and vegetables daily
• Exercise regularly
That’s it. Very simple. Doing these four magical things will reduce or solve the health problems of 90% of us. Studies have shown that people who do all these things live an average of fourteen years longer than people who adopt none of these behaviors. Yet surveys have shown that only 3% of us do all four.
The nice thing is that all four of these things are within our control. Obviously not all health issues can be solved by adopting these four things. But it certainly can’t hurt.
10. Count Your Blessings (and Give Thanks)
If we counted our blessings as often as we counted our problems, we would be overwhelmed with gratitude. Sometimes it takes a simple readjustment in our way of thinking before we recognize the incredible blessings we have in our lives.
Our pastor once said in a sermon, “If you lost everything you have right now, and then suddenly had it all restored, you would be one grateful person.”
This is so true. Suppose (like Job) we lost our health – our home – our way of life – our neighbors – our job – our voice – our children – our spouse – our food – our water…
…And then had it suddenly restored again…?
Would we ever grumble again? All our petty annoyances are so petty in light of what it would be like to lose everything.
Gratitude is an important part of simplifying. Cultivate it now – before you lose anything more.