Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ten Steps toward Christian Simplicity

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.


  1. This resonates with me. Thank you!!

  2. Love this! And try to live this as best I can.
    Also, I'm always surprised by all commercial stuff that does one task only and often wonder who needs it. For instance,I saw a "slider burger grill" for sale today and pondered the difference between a George Forman grill, panini grill, pancake grill, sandwich grill, waffle iron, etc and a frying pan on the stove!!! I still do all my cooking on the stove (including boiling water - although I've seen hot water dispensers for sale too) It seems like a giant waste of money, resources and space (who can keep track of all that appliance clutter anyways?)

    As an aside, I remember getting an electric wok as a gift years ago -big, bulky and impractical. I kindly thanked the gift-giver, but suggested I might exchange it (i was just setting up my first apartment and didn't have much) Not only was I shocked how much the person had spent on it, but they said thought of it because I always made the best stirfry's (a nice compliment) but I always thought this funny because stirfry's were always the ultimate fast food for me. I'd grab veggies, whatever leftover meat and some sauce and throw it in a pan on the stove for a couple minutes. No hassle! Very Simple! The stirfry Wok just seemed like a giant hastle to clean, store, etc I guess I'm just a simple girl at heart :-)

  3. No time like the start of a New Year to reduce clutter and simplify...thanks for the reminder that simplifying things can make such a huge difference!


  4. I'd change #4. to live below your means. My Mom's rule was live on 70% of your income, 10% to charity, 10% to yourself and 10% for emergencies.
    My brother is losing his home. It was his own fault he thought his house was a perpetual piggy bank and Dad's always bailed him out, except this time Dad can't afford it. Still it's not "his" fault. It's the bad economy or bad luck. house gone, car gone back to the bank, yet he still won't wake up.

    Good news though I think his oldest kid is waking up.

    All of my presses involve a cast iron skillet and a tinfoil wrapped brick. Also works great for keeping stuff warm in a beer cooler. Just put a little newspaper down first, then oven heated brick and that cooler becomes a warmer.

  5. This one's definitely a 10, Patrice.

    Bill Smith

  6. Excellent post Patrice!

    1. So true. We still have credit card debt we are working towards paying off.

    2. By the grace of God I was blessed despite having a child outside of marriage. Some children are not so fortunate.

    3. It helps to have a spouse who is on the same page as you are. You have to love each other and even more, love the LORD together!

    4. What do you mean live below your means? Ha! People still don't understand how we support 6 children on my husband's income. It is because we are blessed but also because we do not believe we are entitled to the American way of doing things. One car, we rent, buy secondhand and limit things.

    5. We do that all the time. We live in 1100 square feet. I wouldn't mind a bit more room if we bought a house but our current home is very livable and comfy too! I don't think I would want more than 1700 square feet unless we added on when the grand babies started coming.

    6. I think this is hard for people to understand. I don't care what brand is on my clothes only that I have some. I actually find it disturbing when someone is proud they paid full price on something, or worse, is thrilled when they buy D&G and brags about it. They are paying to advertise a product!

    7. Agreed!

    8. This is a big issue for our family. I am really strict. People think I am too strict. I think it is important to teach discipline early. What they do at 3 is what they will do at 13 if there is not training and discipline.

    9. This is something our family is working on. I am really overweight. I lost 20 pounds but gained it back. We are making baby steps though. Eating whole wheat instead of white, eating more veggies and fruits. I hope to improve on this more in the New Year! I feel very encouraged about this area.

    10. I think that we all take a lot for granted. It is easy to go with the flow until all is lost. We were almost in a wreck today. I was literally inches away from this other car before I came to a complete stop (someone stopped in the middle of the interstate!) but what I came away with from that is God protected us. I-40 is such a busy Interstate that it is a miracle that we were not plowed into. God is good and merciful forever!

    Thank you for the great post Patrice. You are a amazing woman!

    Ouida Gabriel

  7. Great post...I totally agree with everything you time like now to start putting those things into action.

  8. It all seems very much commonsense. I have mostly followed this advice myself even without Jesus peering over my shoulder. Number 5 is still a bit of a problem. I'll try the Jesus trick and see if it helps.

  9. Great post! We do these things, but sometimes it helps to read a reminder of the reasons for doing so. Although it did make me think of the decision we made to wait out the current administration to start seriously planning a family. I don't know that I could forgive myself if we brought a child into the world and then the 'you-know-what' really hits the fan!

  10. I just found your blog, I look forward to reading some of your older posts.

  11. Hi Patrice,

    Great post. I must say I disagree with #5. We have clutter. I save wrapping paper, tin foil, jars, paper to reuse, rubber bands, etc. I save money by reusing what I save. My DH saves all sorts of parts, metal, wood, screws, bolts, used everything. He has shelves of cans full of the sorts of things you find at a hardware store. You would not believe how often we don't have to buy something because we had it laying around the shop, the kitchen pantry, craft cart, etc. My husband tests batteries before throwing away. He makes things out of the metal he saves- he made a beautiful votive holder for my living room wall last Christmas and is making a gorgeous cross for our dining room.

    So, my office is cluttered with totes that have odd and ends, and our shop is cluttered with saved items. I guess we're pack rats of sorts. But since we save things, we can be creative and save money at the same time.

    We do not have the sort of clutter that I call knick knacks. Those odd collections of items that people have (spoons, dolls, Beleek china, trains, etc.) Those type of things are dust collectors. We see our clutter as "We'll find a use for it someday."

  12. Excellent post and to those folks that think these points are common sense--news flash--they are not, to a LOT of the population.

    Case in point, a friend's daughter just had a baby yesterday. The baby was born out of wedlock with a man/boy that has 3 other children out of wedlock with 3 different women. The baby was born by emergency C-section, all at the taxpayer's expense. Now she gets to go back and try to complete her senior year in high school with a brand new baby to attempt to take care of. Can you just imagine how complicated this young lady's life just became because of her complete lack of common sense and stunningly bad choices? And now she is replicating herself in this new baby.

    I am very sorry to say she is considered very normal and this is very accepted in this day and age.

  13. Ah, but Rose - you're saving USEFUL stuff. Like you, we have a plethora of things we keep that are useful. Clutter, by definition, is not useful. But then, maybe I have a bias against knick knacks (smile).

    - Patrice

  14. Excellent post and great advice, even for non-Christians (I'm Jewish). I am working on reducing the clutter in my house, and I think that when we keep things simpler we keep things in better perspective.

    It is easier to see what is important in life when you get what is not as important out of the way.

  15. I have some knick-knacks and I have some useful stuff. I don't believe we have to foresake all of our beautiful things in order to live simple Christian lives. Just as I won't ignore the beauty of a sunset because I have dusting to do. It's called balance.

    As for the 10 things you've listed, I've been working on a couple of them with mixed results. The others are standard operating procedure.

    Quedula, it's good to see you back and expressing your thoughts without denegrating Jesus and/or Christians. Happy New Year to you.

    Anonymous Patriot

  16. Patrice, this is wonderful. Thank you for reminding us.

    I'm really trying to practice "Let go and Let God" - no worrying about what is ahead, no trying to make things happen, no expectations - just relax and put myself in the hands that are MUCH more capable than mine.

  17. Most of my "knick-knacks" are family heirlooms. No particular value except as reminders of my forebears. So they will have to stay and be dusted (or not, depending on my mood ;))

    Happy New Year to you AP.

  18. We are moving this year, so for the past few years I have been decluttering and making many trips to Goodwill or craigslist curbalerts. I have many things already at the new place across the country (moving east coast to west). Most moved already are books and memories and tools. The things we are missing the most are the books and some of the tools that we could use but are using others in their place. We have about 65 boxes packed and in the basement ready to move and still have enough unpacked in the house to live comfortably. It is nice seeing how big the house really is now that a lot of the furniture is gone. We have room to move around and really are enjoying it. We will be moving from a 3 bedroom house of about 1200sq ft house to a 525 sq ft apartment made in our polebarn with another 370 storage. This is where we will live until the house is built. I stayed there this summer and had plenty of room but didn't have a lot of junk unpacked. I also was picky about things I unpacked, another box went to Habitate for Humanity out there cause I decided I didn't need the stuff. We have way more than we need and I have gotten rid of about half of what we had. Of course we are a blended family so we did have duplicates on a lot of things and I won't throw or give away something I will have to replace when what I am using breaks.(hope that makes sense) I am learning that I don't need what I thought I did that it was only a want that came and left shortly after acquiring what I had wanted. Hubby said I can get what I want but to wait a few weeks to see if I still want it. Most times now it is no I don't. I still do want my Pioneer Maid stove though and he agrees with that one. It feels good to get rid of clutter.

  19. Patrice-
    As a rural mom of 4, I appreciate your blog and points of view. I agree with this list wholeheartedly and do my best to practice most of these items daily. Reading this post was a great reminder of so many things that I strive to do -- especially #3, which hit a nerve with me!! Hubby and I have been married for nearly 12 years, and been friends for 20. Our marriage is not perfect, but we respect and value each other as individuals and have the perspective that "we're in this together." My SIL was just here for the holidays -- a twice-divorced single parent (and now dating again, yikes!!) who let two great men pass out of her life because she felt that they were the only one in the relationship that needed to work or sacrifice. Tolerating that sense of entitlement has been tough -- not to mention OUR loss of two great BIL's!

    Thanks again for your uplifting post. Happy New Year to your family.

  20. I agree with all of this to some degree, most of it in whole.

    What I would really like to know is from where the stats in #9 come?

    "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."

    I do not doubt that these numbers are real. I would very much like to be able to reference the studies and surveys and use them myself.

    The American diet does far more damage than terrorists.

    Thank you for the blog!

  21. While I can't share your belief in deity, there are some sound pieces of advice here.

  22. I just recently gave away 3 cement garden statues of angels, the Holy Spirit prompted me to do this. I like victorian decor so I had alot of knick knacks, teacups and stuff. I sold and gave away alot, but i kept some, my curio cupboards would be empty if i get rid of more. I know it's wrong to have statues, but what about knick knacks of chickens and children?

    1. Why is it wrong to have statues? It's not like you're worshiping them. Remember, the useful or the beautiful. If you think your knickknacks are beautiful (rather than just "there"), then keep them!

      - Patrice

    2. The prior question should be how do believers distinguish between the promptings of the "Holy Spirit" and their own inclinations be they rational or otherwise?

  23. As christians we can use, as a guide, how (or if) our possessions mess with our relationship with God. This is a simpler guide than almost anything written about simplicity, as many complain that they can't follow this or that "rule" about simplicity. If we chuck the rules and remember our relationship with God it simplifies things. And, oddly enough, you will find yourself following many of the rules anyway, because not following them messes with our relationship with Him. But seeking a relationship with God motivates us in a different way than simply looking around for rules to follow. Seeking a relationship opens us up to not just looking for wisdom but also seeking comfort or strength when the best course of action seems to be something we simply can't do.
    I'm one who, for some reason, is living a rural, self-sufficient life, built my own house and barns, 8 kids, only 1 wife, and so forth. And those are all good things. But I realize not everyone will be able to do that. Some folks already have elements in their life that violate the rules. So the advice to first consult your relationship with God is more universal. It's not that "rules" are bad, they are just limited. And we live in a fallen world where we cannot control everything. Our message that the salvation of Christ is not a result of works is more persuasive when we acknowledge it's not perfect behavior we need, but the grace of God. And nothing I say should be taken to imply that the "rules" about moral behavior have in any way changed. What was listed as wrong in the Ten Commandments is still wrong. When I suggest ignoring rules it's not that we should feel free to do some wrong things just for the heck of it. It's rather meant to be an acknowledgement that we should try to live under grace, not law. And when we realize that we live in a fallen world we will realize that some of our surroundings, or situations we didn't cause but must face, are not to our liking but are not under our control.