Simplicity can be quite complicated.
I realized this when a friend asked me for some of my thoughts about it during the Lenten season this past March. (Simplicity is one of the outward Spiritual Disciplines practiced by Christians – but it can certainly apply to others as well. However, in this conversation, I’m rooting discussion in my faith tradition.) I started to write him a facebook message, but stopped after it stretched on for over twelve paragraphs. I can sum up what I think Simplicity is in one sentence –
Simplicity is a life stripped of excess; excess that separates us from what really matters. In the context of Christianity, it’s easy to define what really matters – Loving God. Loving People.
But the practical business of partaking in this weeding process can be thorny. First off, what is a weed? Or rather, how do we recognize simplicity when we see it?
So that I better recognize what simplicity is – I started out by identifying 5 things simplicity isn’t.
Simplicity doesn’t mean Easy.
The first thing I determined was that simplicity doesn’t mean taking the easiest route. It is always easier to do things the way they have always been done, to not question our decisions, our choices.. It is always simple to do what is most convenient – but that does not mean it will allow us to excise excess. It is always simple to do what everyone else is doing, but does that mean we should all be doing it?
Simplicity is not always Cheap.
If simplicity ultimately involves loving other people then in good conscience it is difficult to participate in practices that enslave other people. Because of the convoluted and global practices of trade these days – unfortunately much, but not all, of the time it is necessary to purchase something that has been made by slaves. One of the biggest practices of simplicity involves the work of discovering how to avoid these things – and purchase items which reflect just labor. This is usually more expensive than cheaper alternatives.
Simplicity involves Work.
One element of simplicity is investigating alternatives to current practices. The mental work to decide to live simply is the first step, and hard enough. Beyond that it’s hard to rethink habits, and to try new practices. It’s always work to discover goods that are ethically made and sourced. Furthermore, it is mental work to say no to upgrading your goods, and sometimes forgoing labor-saving devices in the practice of simplicity. Relevant Magazine presents one of the biggest labor saving devices which is slowly eroding the practice of simplicity and silence.
Simplicity is not the same thing as Minimalism, or Sustainability.
Sometimes I get really into all the similarities between Simplicity and Sustainable living – forgoing upgraded technology, finding locally sourced vegetables, home cooked meals, thrifted clothing, one car lifestyle. I want to be able to say that these two things are the same – and there is some crossover – but they aren’t the same – because the Discipline of Simplicity is, again, rooted in faith.
The definition of sustainability is to be sure that the current generation doesn’t compromise the ability of future generations to live on the earth. Sustainability’s goal is that people will have enough resources to continue indefinite life on this planet. Simplicity is ultimately not about resources or goods at all, and Christian simplicity is not about this planet primarily – but about God, and People.
Simplicity is not just a state of mind.
I like what Richard Foster*, author of Freedom of Simplicity, writes – “The Christian discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.” Although I can think about simplicity all day long, if I don’t change my habits it is nothing but talk, and nothing has been gained. Simplicity must be but into practice with small choices implemented one after the other.
What do you think about Simplicity – or have you even thought about it before?
*I am very indebted to Foster’s thoughts on Simplicity. I cannot recommend Foster’s book highly enough. His book was the first I read on the topic, and I think it is the best.
You might also like this post: About how to keep Holidays Simple by focusing on People.