Spiritual Disciplines: Simplicity and Frugality
"The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain." Ecclesiastes 5:10
In my late 20’s, as I was moving into a new apartment, my mom commented on how much storage space I had for a one bedroom apartment. Not only did I have a decent amount of kitchen cupboards but I also had a huge entry closet, a huge hallway/linen closet, and a good sized bedroom closet. In addition, each apartment was allotted a storage space in the basement laundry room area. My mom asked what I was planning on putting the storage area to which I replied that if, as a single person, I needed more storage than the 3 big closets already provided me in my apartment, it was a sign that I had too much stuff. Seven years later, when I went to move out of that particular apartment, I still remember hauling five car loads FULL of stuff to Goodwill. Isn’t it amazing how much stuff we can accumulate?!
And isn’t it amazing how much more stuff we seem to need? In the mid-1990’s, Photographer Peter Menzel undertook a unique project which is still very relevant today. He traveled to 30 different countries, sought out statistically average families in each country, and photographed them with all of their earthly belongings outside of their homes. Cataloged in his book, “Material Word: A Global Family Portrait,” a powerful series of images was created revealing just how differently people from around the world lived. It seems that living much more simply with much less stuff was the cultural norm for the majority of the world outside of the United States.
The spiritual disciplines of simplicity and frugality have a lot of overlap and so we are looking at both of them in this week’s post. They both invite us to live with only what we need, to live a life free from the clutter of earthly possessions. They both invite us to consider how we utilize the resources available to us when it comes to answering God’s call to share His love with others. They both invite us to look to and trust God as the source and provider of our needs in this world.
Simplicity is a practice which teaches us to let go and helps us loosen our attachments to owning and having. In practicing simplicity in our lives, we are hearing Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 to not store up treasures on earth but to store up our treasures in heaven. If we can let go of the things of this earth and focus more exclusively on the things of heaven, life naturally becomes simpler. If you are looking for ways to begin practicing simplicity, some suggestions include:
- Downsizing possessions
- Cutting back on shopping and discretionary spending
- Eating simple foods
- Enjoying activities that require little or no expense such as taking a walk, visiting with a friend, or even letting yourself rest and take a nap
Frugality differs from simplicity in that it focuses a bit more on how you use your finances and other physical resources. If simplicity focuses on loosening one’s attachment to things already owned, frugality could be said to focus on not owning so much stuff to become attached to from the start. Those who are striving to practice the discipline of frugality will, before spending their money, stop and ask themselves if they really need that item or if they just really want that item. They will purchase something used or borrow it from someone rather than spending the money to have the newest, latest, and greatest for a one time project. They will choose to content with the TV they have rather than fight the lines on Black Friday for an even bigger one. When they go out to eat, they don’t have to go to the newest, fanciest, more expensive place when the food at the local diner is just as good for half the price.
Someone who is practicing the spiritual discipline of frugality isn’t doing so the build up a large nest egg for retirement or financial security. They are doing it so they are better able to direct their resources as God has called them to do. They are doing it so, when a friend is hit with an unexpected burden, they can provide relief. They want to be able to give generously to their church, a missionary, or other ministry which is sharing the love to Jesus with the world. They want to be able to take the time away from work to share their skills in construction, computers, health care, or teaching without having to worry about their bills getting paid because they have chosen to have as few bills as possible.
Both of these disciplines, simplicity and frugality, are largely contradictory to our American society. You don’t have to watch TV for more than an hour before you likely have a list of a dozen things you are told you need to be happy either through direct advertising or product placement. A quick scroll through your social media will undoubtedly add to your list. Again and again we are promised that the latest smart phone, or faster download speeds, or newest car will bring happiness and contentment. To be fair, those things often do bring happiness and contentment for a time. But then they break, or are replaced by a newer model, or the novelty simply wears off and we are left, once again, wanting more.
But if we chose to focus on Jesus, to view His love as more than enough for us in THIS world, then we realize that all the other stuff is just stuff. There is an old saying that goes, “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.” We can’t take our stuff with us, we can only take our faith. Heaven will not be filled up with our clothes, electronics, automobiles, collections, and family heirlooms. It will be filled with the people we loved, those who we shared the Gospel with, the treasures we have stored up through answering God's call to view the material wealth we have been given as belonging to God instead of ourselves.
- A great story to start talking with kids about the importance of living a simple life is the VeggieTales classic “Madame Blueberry.” Check out a clip by clicking HERE.
- Through my years in music classes and choir performances, the song “Tis a Gift to be Simple” has been repeated in various arrangements but I always have loved its simple truth. Take a couple of minutes to listen and ponder the lyrics.
- What is one space in your home you could simplify? A room, a closet, that drawer with all the mis-matched Tupperware containers and lids? Schedule a time this Lenten season to simplify one part of your home.
Primary Resources Used:
- "Overview of the Practice of Simplicity/Frugality" on SoulRevolution.net
- "Spiritual Practice of Simplicity" by Steve Sikkink on Faithward.org
- "The Discipline of Simplicity" by Richard J Foster