The past two weeks I've been attending a new small group. I was invited by one of my fellow church-nursery volunteers. In between holding babies and picking up chewed Cheerios, we had discovered some common interests, and he thought I might enjoy this group. So far, it's been good.
Last week, one of the group members invited us to his home - which he brought to us. It's a converted bread truck in which he has been living for the past three years. A white painted board on the back proclaims "Simplify" in green letters. Five portholes punched into one side provide light; the inside is spare but inviting and clean, with a faint smell of varnished wood and a camp-out feeling. He explained that he used to have a three-bedroom house full of stuff--but became convinced he really didn't need it. He plans to spend the summer on the road, sharing his home and his "simplify" message with whoever happens to be open to it. He pointed out to us that the average US family has decreased in size since the 1950's, while living space has increased - to the point where we now have 6 times the living space our grandparents had. "Give away your stuff!" he encourages. "You'll be amazed at how good it feels."
Refreshing - and challenging. I love the fact that this guy is living out his convictions--"walking the talk", so to speak. I've always liked the concept of living simply, though I haven't practiced it consistently. I sincerely enjoy the process of de-cluttering, and I think if I lived alone I would prefer a smaller, emptier space - but since kids have entered my life, the process of accumulation has already accelerated. How much time do we spend just trying to sort through and clear away the sheer jumble of stuff that comes at us?
I remember reading an article about the psychological stress of all the choices we have to make now - from buying a digital camera to simple grocery shopping. Is it possible to have too many choices? I remember trying to choose a health insurance plan when I was hired for my current job. It literally took me an entire day. I pored over the fine print trying to compare apples to oranges and weigh multiple types of benefits against each other. Choosing a cell phone plan, or buying a computer, is the same way. Even if we didn't own a lot of stuff, or gave most of it away, just living in this world requires us to navigate complex systems on a daily basis.
So, besides giving away your stuff, and not buying junk you don't need in the first place, what other ways can we simplify? Should simplicity be an end in itself, or should we focus more on managing the complexity we necessarily face - taking from it what we can and minimizing its potential to overwhelm us?