Simplicity, Part 3: 11 ways to practice simplicity

This week I started by contrasting simplicity with minimalism. And that the basis of simplicity is trust.

And I like real-world examples. I like steps we can take. And I’ve gathered 11 of them. I encourage you to try one out this week.

Most of the steps are from an author named Richard Foster. The rest I’ve added in. The most useful book in this process I have found – other than the Bible – has been a classic on the Christian spiritual disciplines.

It’s called Celebration of Discipline. I have more than one on my shelf. And in the spirit of simplicity, I don’t need multiple copies!

So if you want a copy of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline? Leave me a comment here – or on Facebook – about why you think simplicity is important. Or leave me a comment about why you disagree, but you want to read the book anyway!

I’ll randomly draw a person from the comments and mail you the book – or give it to you in person!

These aren’t rules. They aren’t 11 things I have to do right now. They are different ways we can grow in simplicity. And as you read, you will probably find you are already doing some of these steps!

Here are 11 ways to practice simplicity:

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  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.

Sometimes a good brand is worth it: I’m a big fan of good boots and ten-year-old Hondas, for example.

Not always, however.

One summer, I worked in a pasta factory. I was on the conveyor line as the ingredients were dumped into the machine.

First, the name-brand pasta was produced

And then we switched the bags.

The store-brand was from the exact same factory. But the brand name bag sold for 1.5 times the price.

To buy the brand name was literally to pay for prestige.

Where else do we do that?

As we grow in simplicity, we will start to discern where we are buying for prestige or fashion – vs. buying for real need or utility. Do we need name-brand everything? Are there particular brands or items where we want the prestige of owning the “right” item? Even if it is the exact same stuff?

What about our other habits? Are we buying coffee or lunch because we truly enjoy it or support the business? Or because it looks better to come in with Starbucks or get takeout than a travel mug or lunch bag? Are there hobbies or activities we no longer enjoy, but keep doing because of their status?

The answers will be different for each person. The questions will bring up different areas. Most of us could stand to regularly examine our habits this way.

2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

We need a lot of things to live: food, drink, pleasant surroundings, good relationships.

But its easy for us to get hooked on things. Even good things!

Are we addicted to checking Facebook? Sports? Money? A hobby?

My grandfather walked away from an alcohol addiction – miraculously changed by God. The rest of his life, he kept an eye out for anything that would produce dependency in his life.

He was a coffee drinker.

Low blood pressure runs in my family. As does a good sense of humour – thankfully.

If you have low blood pressure, sometimes consuming coffee and salt is the only thing that makes you stand up straight. Either that or a good argument. Me and my siblings know all about that.

Usually, we opt for the coffee.

One day, my grandfather walked into the kitchen, looked at my grandmother and joked dramatically:

“Marta, either make me a coffee… or let’s have a fight. I gotta go to work!”

(You have to have a good relationship to joke like that, eh?)

But my grandfather didn’t want to depend on anything. Not even coffee.

So from time to time, he would stop drinking coffee for a while. Until he didn’t need it anymore. Because he did not want to be mastered by anything.

The practices of fasting (temporarily) from good things, and giving them away? They are meant to give us freedom. Reject anything you are beginning to depend on too much.

A good habit I have found is to attach getting to giving. If you get a tax refund, plan to give some away. If you enjoy making things, give some away. That’s the idea behind tithing and giving. Begin the habit of giving away as you receive.

3. Refuse to believe the claims of most gadgets and programs.

A massive advertising industry exists to sell us stuff. Most is totally useless. The environment and economy alone should stop us from buying useless, unfairly manufactured junk.

Think of the fitness industry: billions of dollars are spent on supplements, shakes, plans, DVDs and more. Advertisers convince us we need all sorts of stuff to get in shape.

And some of us have real hormonal or medical problems that keep us from getting in shape.

But in reality? Most of us just need a pair of running shoes.

I remember one Sunday Todd Cantelon talked about running, and how most people find they are so intimidated to start running.

But the one thing you need? He took a pair of running shoes and put them on the pulpit.

If you have running shoes, you can run.

(For the ladies, I’d add a particular support garment may be necessary. Some inventions are worth it! 😉 ).

If you can’t run, you can buy a swimsuit and go to the pool, or walk around the block. You get the point. And if you’ve been running a while you may want special socks or a windbreaker or other things.

But you don’t need much to start.

Don’t overcomplicate things. Don’t believe the claims of most gadgets, programs and devices.

If you want to cook, all you need are a few items – not twenty complicated kitchen gadgets.

If you want to make things, most of us won’t need the fanciest shop tools or the latest crafting inventions. It’s just more stuff to store, clean, dust, insure, replace, repair.

 

4. Reduce decision fatigue

Are there parts of your day you can simplify or change?

 

I decided a while ago to eat only oatmeal for weekday breakfasts.

While I boil the water for tea or coffee, I can pour some plain minute oats in a bowl.

When I make my tea, I pour hot water overtop the oats. It is ready in 30 seconds. A minute if I add salt, cinnamon and sugar.

I don’t think I’ll hit a better intersection of cheap + nutritious.

Then I saw this post about cost, too.

Money is another area:

  • Instead of handling bills, I’ve changed them to e-bills. I can look at them once a month now.
  • The 2-account system means fewer money decisions.
  • When we squirrel away a bit for Ben’s education or our retirement, index funds usually beat actively managed savings… and it means pretty much leaving them alone and letting them grow over time.

If I can avoid an un-necessary decision, I’ve kept my mental energy for what matters.

Where can you reduce the number of decisions you make in a day?

 

5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them.

“Owning things is an obsession in our culture. If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure. The idea is an illusion.” – Richard Foster

What can we enjoy without owning it?

Can we go to the beach or walk along the river? Get books from the library? Rent out a beautiful camp? (That’s a “cottage” or “cabin” for those in Southern Ontario 😉 )

6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.

Sometimes this struck me the most when I lived in Toronto. The contrast of a massive sunset along the lake, or seeing little sparrows forage at the base of skyscrapers? Amazing.

So I go for a hike. Watch Planet Earth docs on Netflix. Read studies by scientists about new and exciting discoveries and proposals. Creation is absolutely awesome.

7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes.

Debt is another way our lives get complicated.

Sometimes it’s next-to-unavoidable: mortgages, student loans.

Sometimes I’ve had to borrow to pay my bills, or to eat.

And it is so good – so freeing! to finally pay off that debt. The borrower really is servant to the lender, and it’s one more way our lives get complicated.

This is a massive area of weakness in my life: I have lots of student debt. Jarod has lots of student debt. And we pay a stupid-huge amount on them every month. I don’t want to forever be enslaved to debt and living a complicated life. I want to be free.

8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech.

‘Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil.’ (Matt. 5:37)

“If you consent to do a task, do it. Avoid flattery and half-truths. Make honesty and integrity the distinguishing characteristics of your speech.” – Richard Foster

This is hard, right?

A couple years ago, I noticed that I was over-promising and under-delivering. I would talk big plans and not be able to follow through. And I could see how it was frustrating other people.

I committed to give myself a deadline whenever I promised to do something. “Yes, I’ll have that to you by next Tuesday” instead of “Yes, I’ll do that.”

Am I still working on it? Yep. I hope we all are.

9. Practice leaving space in your schedule + your home

Think about a typical week. Are you rushing from activity to activity? If one or two things go late, is the entire day ruined?

Is there space for God?

Is there space for yourself?

Is there space for others?

A few strategies I’ve tried are:

  • Leaving one day a week for rest. the principle of Sabbath. I’m convinced this has sustained me and enabled me to work really hard at other times. A day to rest, go outside, play? It’s amazing.
  • Leaving twenty minutes early for work, and sitting in the parking lot when I get there to read the Bible
  • Taking the bus or train and using that as break time.
  • When I’m nursing my son, its a pretty awesome bonding time. But it’s also 45 minutes long! For part of it, I can use one hand to read my Bible or browse the Internet and take a break from the day.
  • Irregular work week? If you set your schedule, divide your day into “morning,” “afternoon,” and “evening” blocks. Most of us will work two out of three. If you have morning and evening work, take the afternoon off.
  • I’ve heard the advice many times: as a pastor, be home 4 nights a week. I have usually found 3 nights is more reasonable. But if I’m not home at least 3 nights a week, I know there’s a problem.

Everyone’s schedule is different, and what we can handle is different. The principle of leaving space is the same.

The same principle applies to our physical space. This is where simplicity overlaps with typical “minimalism.”

Try clearing out drawers, drawers and shelves. Leave some white space. It looks better – and it’s much easier to organize and appreciate what is left.

Some of us like 10% white space, and some of us like 80% white space. The principle of leaving space is the same.

New opportunities always come in. If we leave space, it is much easier to say “yes” to good things.

New stuff always comes in. If we leave space, it is much easier to use and enjoy.

10. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.

It’s pretty popular to think about fair-trade when it comes to coffee. It’s easy to find a product that has been made by paying someone a fair wage instead of slave labour.

What about other areas of life?

Are all the employees treated fairly at our workplace?

Are our family members all equally valued?

Do we support caring for people who are poor, new to the country or out of work?

Are we willing to avoid products made with slave labour or support policies that help others?

I’m not doing much with this yet. In my own life I am only starting to scratch the surface on this one. I certainly find it a challenging question!

11. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

I’ll finish this list with a final quote:

“It is so easy to lose focus in the pursuit of legitimate, even good things. Job, position, status, family, friends, security—these and many more can all too quickly become the center of attention..

May God give you – and me – the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number-one priority in our lives. To do so is to live in simplicity.”

 

Want a copy of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline? Leave me a comment here – or on Facebook – about why you think simplicity is important. Or leave me a comment about why you disagree, but you want to read the book anyway!

I will randomly draw a name from the comments and mail you the book – or give it to you in person!

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One Reply to “Simplicity, Part 3: 11 ways to practice simplicity”

  1. For me, simplicity lately is differentiating between want and need. As in, “I need a study book or program to get into reading God’s word”. Nope. All I need is the Bible, which I have multiple copies of, beyond that is a want.
    I like what you wrote about choices and decision fatigue – this is something I’ve been thinking about in things for my kids. Even things like their clothes. There is no way a 4 or 6 year old needs 10 pairs of pants…it’s just too many things to choose from in the mornings…I find less choice for them fosters independence and ownership of their own tasks.

    The pasta packaging shocks me! Time to reevaluate what I buy/own/acquire for status.

    Thanks for the series – appreciate your thoughts and the way you laid things out 🙂

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