This week, author and speaker Dave Bruno guest blogs on simple living as a discipline. Dave writes a regular blog of his own and frequently guest blogs at The Rabbit Room. He is also author of the critically acclaimed book The 100 Thing Challenge. Check out Dave’s TEDx talk here!
The Value of Simplicity
A number of weekends ago I happened to be in a middle-class neighborhood where a garage sale was taking place. On the driveway and spilling over onto the front lawn were a hundred items for sale. Electronics, furniture, tools, clothes, household utensils, and innumerable knicknacks. Though we call these events “garage sales,” few sales actually happen inside a homeowner’s garage. And that was the case here. All of the stuff for sale was outside of the garage. But the garage was nevertheless full of items not for sale. It was stuffed. Hardly navigable. A hundred items for sale outside; hundreds more things collected in the garage. It was not hard to imagine what might be the condition of the rooms inside the house.
I am an advocate of simplicity. While it would be easy to criticize a household like the one I saw, it probably would not be fair on several accounts. For one, my garage does not look like a gallery in a museum of minimalism. If someone like myself who gives no small amount of his time to pursuing simplicity cannot keep a tidy garage, who am I to scold others? And that brings up another reason to be slow to point out the speck in another consumer’s eye. How is it that a practitioner of simplicity ends up with logs of stuff in his own garage?
It makes one wonder what the nature of consumerism is that even someone who proactively resists it nevertheless cannot seem to avoid the consequences of it.
What are the ramifications of consumerism? Perhaps it is too simplistic to jump all the way to the most scary and negative examples of our consumer culture. For example, Hello Barbie who records and analyzes a child’s words so that she (Barbie) can talk back to the child “for hours and hours.” On the other hand, it also would be too simplistic to counter that the negative impacts of consumer culture are overshadowed by the positive applications of consumer products. For example, mobile phones are not just trendy gadgets in developing countries; mobile phones give people a chance at a better life.
The truth is most garages are filled with things in between. Through our consumption we bring things into our lives that are not entirely bad for us and not entirely good for us, either. But here is the rub. Too many of us bring too much stuff into our lives. That is how our excessive consumer culture works…excessively. It suffocates our discernment. We so overwhelm ourselves with stuff that our hearts and minds are consumed by the mere possession of it all. We get foggy brained and cannot easily tell what is a piece of junk and what is truly sentimental. Our hearts get distracted and we cannot easily tell what things we covet and what things we cherish.
A primary value of practicing simplicity in our world of excessive consumerism is that simplicity gives us space. And we need space. Not just physical space, but also emotional and spiritual space. Excessive consumerism presses in on us. Our hearts and minds need room to feel and think, and simplicity makes room.
It can help to think of simplicity as a discipline. Like physical exercise or setting a budget or daily devotions, doing simplicity can help us build strength. The goal of a discipline is not perfection. We do not work out so we can be stronger than Bear Grylls. We do not mind our money so we can be richer than Warren Buffett. We do not read Scriptures daily to be more spiritual than Billy Graham. A discipline is not about comparison. We practice a discipline in order to achieve more freedom. In the case of simplicity, we develop the strength to resist our excessive consumer culture in order, as I have already described it, to free up space.
Personally, I am not the best at discipline. The disciplines I practice often happen in fits and starts. But I have experienced this, any discipline only requires a small action to get going. If I determine to start running again this weekend, one or two miles will do; there is no need to run a marathon. The discipline of simplicity works the same way. No need to sell all your possessions and move into a tiny house, at least not right away. Start by purging a closet and committing to a three-month moratorium on visits to the mall. Build your simplicity muscles slowly. Successfully implementing a discipline takes time. It also takes time to learn how best to use the freedom which the discipline creates. So patience is required on both ends of any discipline. Be sure of this though, looking back from the far end of the time it takes to implement a discipline is always a satisfying experience.