In the last few weeks, my social media feeds have been filled with images like this:
With the widespread popularity of the new Netflix show “Tidying Up,” it seems like everyone around me has become captivated by Marie Kondo’s practices of decluttering and organizing. People are asking whether or not certain possessions “spark joy,” while clearing their houses of clutter. Kids are learning how to fold their clothes and put them away, Kondo-style. And some of my friends are even thanking their items before getting rid of them forever.
I personally have not gone through any type of Kondo process, partially because I resist certain things that feel too “trendy” and partially because we just moved in the last 6 months and already went through a massive process of decluttering. But her appeal, especially at beginning of a new year (smart move, Netflix!) is not surprising.
Most of us can recognize how much unnecessary “stuff” fills our homes, and consequently our minds and hearts. The widespread tendencies towards over-consumption, hoarding, and clutter are byproducts of our capitalistic, individualistic, and advertisement-filled culture . Our society constantly equates our possessions with our status and/or our happiness, and now we receive hundreds of personalized and targeted ads on our phones on a daily basis. Moreover, people are increasingly disconnected from their neighbors (when’s the last time you went to a neighbor to borrow an egg or a lawn mower?) and manufacturers are intentionally creating things to break so we will have to keep buying more (this is called planned obsolescence, btw), and we find ourselves in an unending cycle of purchasing, consuming, and discarding stuff.
As FirstPres goes through a sermon series on “Radical Generosity” for the next 8 weeks, I’m reflecting not just on practices of de-cluttering and purging, but also on what ends up in our homes in the first place. How do we sustain lifestyles of simplicity and disentangle ourselves from toxic patterns of consumption and waste?
Can we choose to purchase less, not just for the sake of de-cluttering, but so that we can give more away to others? Can we be better stewards of the earth we’ve been given, to reduce the amount of waste we are producing? Can we foster interdependence and community by relying on each other for concrete needs, rather than buying everything on our own?
The reality is, that living simply is part of our formation as disciples of Jesus. It prevents us from storing up treasures on earth, breaks the idols of consumerism in our lives, and makes room for us to love our neighbors in generous and concrete ways. It reminds us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24) and that everything we possess is ultimately a gift from God.
Simple living allows us to consume less, so that we might give more.
So as I enter 2019, here are a few practices of simple living I hope to engage:
· Minimize Online Shopping: As a mom who works full-time, it’s become easy for me to do a lot of my shopping online. It’s fast. It’s easy. It’s convenient. I don’t have to go anywhere or deal with parking. With sites like Amazon, I don’t even have to pull out my wallet so it doesn’t really feel like I’m spending any money.
But I’ve noticed that in the last several years, I have been quick to buy items that aren’t what I thought they would be. Without being able to see or try an item before buying, we end up accumulating a lot that we don’t really use. So in addition to supporting local business and rejecting the bad labor practices of companies like Amazon, I hope to intentionally reduce the amount of online shopping that I do in the coming year, to make sure that what I purchase is limited to what I truly need.
· Utilize Community for Sharing and Borrowing: A lot of the things that we buy are items that are used infrequently, or only for a season. A winter coat in size 18–24 months. A particular gardening tool. A specific book needed for a specific occasion. A bundt cake pan. Snow clothes for a weekend trip to Tahoe. This year, I hope that before I buy a very particular item that I may only use once or twice, I will engage community to see if there is somebody I can borrow or swap from, and that we will practice collective generosity with one another. I also hope to utilize communal resources such as the public library, clothing swaps with friends, Facebook groups, and tool lending systems more in the coming year.
· Buy items used: In the coming year, I’d like to try to buy more used items- particularly when it comes to clothes, household items, and kids’ items. I’d like to only buy new clothing items when completely necessary (socks, bras, running shoes, etc.) Similarly, I’d like to get items for my daughter (who’s 18 months currently) — books, clothes, and toys- secondhand rather than new. I hope to eliminate environmental waste by participating in intentional efforts to reuse and recycle.
· Have “Foodcycle parties” with friends: One of the biggest areas of waste for us as a family is in regards to food. While our Instagram culture makes us believe that every meal should be perfectly crafted and evoke food envy, I often end up spending a lot of money on food that goes to waste- particularly when I host parties and people. This year, I’d like to try to have more meals with friends that creatively repurpose the food in our fridge and our pantry, rather than always buying new food when we host. It may mean that our meals are simpler or hodge-podge at times, but also created with the intention of prioritizing presence and reducing waste.
· When I do buy something, purchase higher quality: As somebody who always feels strapped for money, I often tend to buy things cheap. But this often means they don’t last as long or that I don’t actually appreciate or enjoy them as much. I am hoping that in the new year, that on the rare occasion that I truly need something, I will buy a higher quality item that I actually value and can endure over time. This will be new for me, and may feel a bit more costly at first, but will lead to me expressing greater care for my possessions and owning items that will last for the long haul.
Obviously, these practices are just a small start to sustaining a lifestyle of simplicity and generosity. I am also praying through the impact that such practices of simplicity have on my actual giving practices, as I want to chose both abstinence and engagement. But I hope these practices endure beyond a Netflix craze, and guide me into living a more simple, meaningful, generous, and grateful life.
What are some practices of simple living that you’d like to engage in 2019?