Why does it take so much time, effort, and resources to live simply? There are a zillion books out there about how to pare down one’s possessions: hold each item and ask yourself is it useful, do you love it, etc. Make three piles of your stuff: keep, maybe, discard. Certainly culling one’s possessions simplifies ones life. To live more simply in a world of fast and convenient is a full-time job. There is a wonderful book and film called “No Impact Man” written several years ago about one family’s attempt to live for a year in New York City with as little impact as possible. It took a whole lot of research and a whole lot of time. And in this world of one-use items, it is expensive for anyone to choose products that have less environmental impact than one-offs. Living simply in today’s world is a full-time job.
But simplicity is about much more than product choices. It is at its core, about values. Duane Elgin, often regarded as the architect of the voluntary simplicity movement, writes, “Simplicity that is voluntary—consciously chosen, deliberate, and intentional—supports a higher quality of life.” He points out that the movement is often oversimplified as a “back to nature, regressive movement.” He says that in recent years, simplicity in the mainstream has been merely cosmetic: “putting green lipstick on our unsustainable lives.” In other words, changing the kinds of light bulbs we use and recycling skim the surface of the deeper problems of consumerism run amuck. Deep simplicity “is a conscious simplicity that represents a deep, graceful, and sophisticated transformation in our ways of living… it seeks to heal our relationship with the Earth, with one another and with the sacred universe.”
Simplicity is about mining for meaning in a world full of “shiny pennies” and pulls on our time. It is about realizing that no one else is in charge of our calendars. It is about valuing relationships and putting time into forming and sustaining them. It is about being intentional not just about what we will consume but in determining what will consume our time. It is not necessarily living without technology but deciding how much of our lives will we turn over to it.
One of Elgin’s key points about voluntary simplicity is that it is liberating. There comes a time in our lives when it seems that our possessions own us, demanding our time, energy, and money. But letting go not just of things but also of time-sucking activities allows us freedom. Simplicity is not about sacrifice; rather it is about a richness of life lived with intention and attention. It is about living in alignment with one’s values.
The theme for this month of May in our worship and religious education is “simplicity.” I invite you to ponder what it means for you and how you live your lives. Does the idea of simplicity terrify you or intrigue you? What can it look like in your life?
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,