Simplicity and Virtue (Part 4)

Here I separate virtue from ethics in this way: I have used ethics to refer to the good simplicity does “outside” (in the world), whereas virtue refers to the good that simplicity does “inside” (in the heart of the one who practices it).  More than any other article I have written about simplicity this depends almost 100% on my personal experience throughout the past 6-7 years.

Work Ethic
One of the things I’ve learned on my minimalist journey is how much laziness is responsible for our profligate living.  There was a time where I bought more clothes simply because I didn’t like having to do laundry so often.  There was also a time where I appreciated owning a lot of dishes because that meant I rarely had to wash the dirty ones.  As sad as it is I would rather have bought new things than spend the time washing/maintaining what I already had.  When you have few things, however, you are forced to keep them clean.  While I was single and living simply I lived with one plate, one bowl, one cup, one fork, one spoon, one butter knife, and one paring knife.  I had two pots (one small and one large), one skillet, one dutch-oven, one casserole dish, and one pan for baking.  This forced me to wash my dishes immediately after they were used or else I had nothing on which to eat the next meal.  It helped me overcome the laziness that once ran my life.  Now that I’m married we have a few more dishes but I learned the lesson.  It is better to wash what is dirty than to multiply dishes/clothes for the sake of convenience.

Self-Control
When you commit to living with less you begin to notice how much shopping has ceased to be a decision.  Rather, it has become an impulse.  A habit.  You are constantly compelled to buy this or that and you do so without thinking about it.  Even after I committed to living with less I found that the impulse continued, just in a different way.  Whereas before I bought all sorts of things I now saw “the error of my ways.”  I began to ask myself what was important.  I asked myself what I was called to do.  When I knew that I was called to be a teacher of some sort I stopped buying things that did not support that calling.  Practically that meant that I only bought books.  But here’s what I mean when I said the impulse continued: I bought books faster than I could read them.  If I found a valuable insight as I read I would check the footnote to discover from whence the quote came and I would immediately buy the book.  I had a huge fear of missing out.  I always felt like this next book would be “the one,” the key to wisdom, the answer to all of my questions.  I averaged between $800-$1,000 a year on books alone.  It seemed like I was buying books at least every two weeks, sometimes more often than that.  And what happened?  I still have unread books on my shelf.  So this year I’m making a change.  At the end of last year (2016) I took stock of about how many books I read in the year and I realized that I have more than that many books left unread at home.  I quite literally have over a year’s worth of unread books.  So I decided that this year I am not buying any books for myself.  In fact, after I committed to buying no books for myself I thought, “Why stop there?”  I decided that I would not buy anything for myself this year (bills and groceries excepted, of course).  Not even a coffee at Starbucks, which I always count a luxury.  And I’m learning about self-control.  I’m learning how often the impulse to buy still rises up.  But simplicity is changing me.  It’s helping me learn to say “no” and over come the fear of missing out.

Courage
It may seem odd to think that it takes courage to live a simple life but it’s true.  And I don’t think you can appreciate how much courage it takes until you’ve tried it.  Because as often as people applaud the idea of living simply it turns out that most people don’t like it very much.  For some reason they feel judged just being around you.  If you decide to live differently they feel that you are somehow implying that you are better or more enlightened.  And (in my experience) they usually respond in at least one of two ways, and usually both.  1. They try to convince you not to live simply.  They come up with every reason why you need a television, why you need two cars, why you need more dishes, why you need knick-knacks on your walls and on your shelves, and why you need more clothes.  2. They ridicule you.  Words like “naive” and “impractical” are often used.  They can’t imagine living with less, not to mention how someone could possibly be happier living that way.  So, in the face of all of this, courage is necessary.  In the face of ridicule and the many arguments trying to convince you that you need more you will have to be able to stand your ground and say no.  And the pressure is incredible.  I never realized how much it matters to other people that I be “like them” until I decided that I didn’t want to be.  People have even gone so far as to offer to buy things for me.  Whether that was because they thought simple living was just a mask for involuntary poverty or because they can’t stand the existence of something different, I don’t know.  Either way, people often try to force you to assimilate and they are offended when you resist.  If living simply has taught me about work-ethic and self-control it has taught me ten times more about courage.

Conclusion
Though I have only focused upon these three virtues I’m sure that others could be named.  And whereas people applaud work-ethic, self-control, and courage they often live lives which mitigate against the development of those virtues.  They choose the convenient way, even if it means spending more money.  They give in to the impulse to buy-buy-buy because it feels good.  And they are often afraid to stand out.  By no means is minimalism the only way to develop these virtues but our rituals make us who we are.  And the discipline of simplicity certainly helps develop the virtues necessary to be simply human.

 

©M. Benfield 2017

Simplicity and Ethics (Part 3)

 

Minimalism is more than just a selfish endeavor to help make my life better.  It also helps the wider world.  Two areas where simplicity makes a big difference are ecology and human rights.  And the two simplicity principles which will guide this conversation are: 1. Buy less.  2. Pay more.

Ecology
Annie Leonard, in her now famous 20 minute video “The Story of Stuff,”1 discusses the impact the materials economy (extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal) has on our environment.  Recycling is good and she praises its virtues.  But she also points out that recycling is not enough.  Partly because some things are just non-recyclable, or at least very difficult to recycle (K-Cups for example).2 The answer to the problem?  Buy less.  Pay more (if necessary).

First, buy less.   “The Story of Stuff” discusses “perceived obsolescence.”  This means that certain things are designed so that they will be perceived as obsolete, even though they are not.  When the world around us changes so quickly it doesn’t take long before the stuff we buy easily becomes dated.  But dated doesn’t mean worthless.  Our clothes, our computers, our phones may work just fine but we often get rid of them because they don’t look like every one else’s.  This is no accident.  It was engineered that way.  In fact, it was engineered over 60 years ago.  In the 1955 Journal of Retailing Victor Lebow (mentioned in “The Story of Stuff”) wrote, “The greater the pressures upon the individual to conform to … accepted social standards, the more does he tend to express his aspirations and his individuality in terms of what he wears, drives, eats, his home, his car, his pattern of food serving, his hobbies.”3 The point is, we often buy stuff when we don’t need to. We buy stuff to “fit in.” But is fitting in worth neglecting our moral obligation to care for God’s good creation (cf. Gen. 1:26-28; 2:15)? Of course not.  So what do we do?  The equation is simple: Less Stuff=Less Waste. Therefore, buy less.

Second, pay more (if necessary). I say “if necessary” because sometimes wasting less is cheaper. Sometimes we pay high prices for convenience, not quality. If we are willing to put in a tad more work then we can get the same effect for less money. E.g. the refillable K-Cup is actually more cost efficient than the convenient single use cups which are difficult to recycle. But sometimes, paying more is necessary. Just like perceived obsolescence, there is also planned obsolescence. Manufacturers sometimes actually make things which are intended to break/wear out easily so that you’ll be required to buy more. “But,” we think, “it’s cheap.” Is it? See, you may get a shirt for $5, but how long will it last? And do you really want it?  Cheap prices encourage us to “take a change” on buying something that we don’t really want because if we getting rid of it then we’re only out a few bucks, so no big deal.  In fact, according to Annie Leonard’s findings, we only keep 1% of the things we buy longer than six months. But lets assume that you do keep it until it wears out. How long will that be? Sometimes cheap things are cheap both economically and qualitatively.  So before long you return to buy another $5 shirt. Granted, that’s not much. But eventually it all adds up. If you buy 7 shirts at $5 each that’s $35. Not so cheap any more is it? So instead of buying 7 cheap shirts why not take the exact same amount of money and buy something durable, sustainable, and eco-friendly?4 This creates less waste (those shirts you toss out have to go somewhere) and it decreases the likelihood that you’ll get tired of the shirt. If you are going to spend $35 on a shirt you are more likely to think of it as an investment and less like to buy it on impulse. Since you can’t drop big bucks on an expensive piece of clothing every time you need one you are more likely to consider whether or not this is something that you want to wear over and over again. You are making a commitment up front not to toss it out. Who has the money to constantly replace expensive clothing? Paying more lowers the likelihood of impulse buys that end up in the trash, or worse, never worn at all.

We’ve only focused upon “stuff”, and mainly clothes.  But living simply helps the environment in other ways.  If you have less stuff you need less space and if you need less space that means you can live in a smaller house (much smaller than you think)5 and if you live in a smaller house that means you use less energy heating, cooling, and lighting it.  The gains of living simply compound, especially in regard to protecting our environment.

Economy and Human Rights
Have you ever walked into a mega-store to buy something and asked yourself, “How in the world is this so cheap?”  If you haven’t then maybe you should.  And if you have then chances are we should ask that question more often (myself included).  In the end there is only one way we get things so cheap on our end: someone must be paying for it on their end.  This creates a human rights dilemma.  So, what’s the solution?  It’s too complex an issue to offer the solution but we can at least do this: Buy less, pay more.

First, buy less.  If we buy a lot we either earn more or pay less.  Most of us are not earning more which means that in order to buy more we must pay less.  So buying a lot means getting it cheap.  But if our stuff is cheap we need to ask, “Why is it so cheap?”  Chances are the people who make our stuff are not getting paid fair wages.

Eighty percent of the workers in the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh were women between 18-20.  The common working shift was 13-14.5 hours per day.  That’s 90-100 hours a week with only 2 days off per month.  Entry level earned 12 cents an hour, second tier workers earned  22 cents an hour, and the seniors workers earned 24 cents per hour.  This plaza housed a factory responsible for making clothing for the US, Canada, and Europe.  So, how did we get such cheap things on our end?  Because they paid for it on their end.  But on this occasion, they paid not just with their cheap labor.  They paid with their lives.  On April 24, 2013 about 3,639 workers refused to go to work because of the threatening cracks which had appeared in the walls.  The owner of the plaza then hired professional thugs to beat the people in order to force them back to work.  Just 45 minutes later the building collapsed.  There were 1,137 confirmed dead and 200 remain missing to this day.6  You do not have to have a degree in economy to understand supply and demand.  If we don’t want the stuff companies don’t make the stuff.  We created the demand that created Rana Plaza.  Somewhere someone (maybe even me) is wearing a shirt that was sewn in that factory.  How would you feel if you knew of an absolute certainty that the shirt you bought today would contribute to someone’s death tomorrow?  We asked how we get things so cheap.  This is the answer.

Second, pay more.  If we have done the first  (bought less) then we retain more money.  This allows us to pay more for what we buy and ensure that those making our clothes are getting paid a fair wage for their work.  But how do we ensure that happens?  Someone may say, “Make sure it is made in the US.”  And I say, that’s a good idea.  It’s true that US companies often move business off shore so that they can pay their workers less there and sell it for less here.7  But the label “Made in the US” doesn’t solve this problem.  As Heather Franzese points out in her TED Talk, “Changing How You Think About Clothes,”8 being made in the USA only means that “substantial transformation happened here in the USA.”  But, she asks, “Where did they come before that?”  Where did the fabric and dye come from?  We have worded our definition of “Made in the USA” in such a way that it is possible to have a pair of jeans “Made in the USA” using “cotton grown with forced child labor in Uzbekistan and yarn dyed in China … The country of origin doesn’t always tell you what the conditions were like in the manufacturing.”  Franzese suggests that we ask questions where we shop.  She insists that we have a right to know where and how our clothes are being made.  She challenges us to “vote with our dollars and ask for fair and sustainable clothing.”

She also challenges us to investigate our priorities.  Is it most important to us that our clothes be made in the US or that the workers are being treated well and paid fairly regardless of where the clothes were made (including the US).  As much as I would love to see more business done in the US most of our clothes are currently made overseas.  So what do we do?  We can look for the labels (which, admittedly, often do not exist) that indicate it has complied with fair trade standards.  “Fair trade is a third party certification and membership process that assures a business is meeting strict labor, environmental, and developmental standards,” as Benjamin Conard discusses in his talk, “Fair Trade: A Just World Starts with You.”9

I have mostly focused on clothes here but much of what was said can apply to other goods: appliances, produce, coffee, chocolate etc.10 Now buying fair trade goods means paying more because it is the only way to ensure that the farmers, harvesters, manufacturers, and other workers get paid what is just. But the alternative is fueling tragedies like the Rana Plaza. So ask yourself, “Is my cheap shirt/banana/chocolate/coffee worth the enslavement/poverty/death of another person?” I think the answer is obvious.

Conclusion:
Simplicity helps because one of the characteristics of simple living is buying/having less which runs counter to “American” living.  The guiding principles of much American living are “Buy more, pay less.”  These principles are related because the only way we can buy so much is if we buy what is cheap.  But cheap ruins the environment and enslaves people across the world.  This is the “high cost” of being cheap.  And it is not worth paying.  So we invert the principles.  Instead of “Buy more, pay less” we say, “Buy less, pay more.”  This minimizes our environmental foot-print and maximizes the quality of life for those on whose backs our nation is founded.  Being human means being created in God’s image and our original vocation as his image is taking care of God’s good world through love and creativity.  This way of life encourages both.  So, buy less, pay more.  It’s human because it’s humane.

 

©M. Benfield 2017


1. Annie Leonard, “The Story of Stuff.” Available at http://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/ ; Internet; Accessed 12 January 2017.
2. K-Cup creator, John Sylvan, expresses some regret for creating the single-serve pods. You can read about it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/03/the-abominable-k-cup-coffee-pod-environment-problem/386501/ ; While the cups are now recyclable it is unlikely that consumers will do so because of the special device required to separate the plastic, aluminium, paper, and organic material. You can find information about this device, the Recycle A Cup© cutter, here: https://www.recycleacup.com/faqs/ ; Internet; Accessed 12 January 2017. Also, reusable K-Cups, which I use, are available online and through certain retailers, e.g. Bed Bath & Beyond.
3. Victor Lebow, “Price Competition in 1955”, Journal of Retailing, Spring 1955. Available at http://www.gcafh.org/edlab/Lebow.pdf ; Internet; Accessed 12 January 2017.
4. Linen, wool, and cotton are all sustainable and eco-friendly. These are exceptionally important because, as Maxine Bédat points out in her talk “The High Cost of Our Cheap Fashion”, apparel is now the second leading polluting industry. Her talk is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r8V4QWwxf0 ; Internet; Accessed 12 January 2017.
5. Among the Tiny House Movement there is not an agreed upon definition as to what constitutes a Tiny House but one blog considers Tiny Houses to be under 500 square feet. Available at http://www.tinyhousetown.net/p/about-blog.html ; Internet; Accessed 12 January 2017.
6. “Rana Plaza: A Look Back and Forward”, Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. Available at: http://www.globallabourrights.org/campaigns/factory-collapse-in-bangladesh ; Internet; Accessed 16 January 2017.
7. Ted Fishman, “Why the Jobs Are Going Over There”, USA Today. Available at: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-05-17-Multinationals-send-jobs-overseas_n.htm ; Internet; Accessed 16 January 2017; Alex Lach, “5 Facts About Overseas Outsourcing”, Center for American Progress. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2012/07/09/11898/5-facts-about-overseas-outsourcing/ ; Internet; Accessed 16 January 2017.
8. Heather Franzese, “Changing How You Think About Clothes.” Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rbUQj81dFY; Internet; Accessed 16 January 2017.
9. Benjamin Conard, “Fair Trade: A Just World Starts with You.” Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xT6TQSxlDOY ; Internet; Accessed 16 January 2017.
10. Jason Garman, “Ethical Consumerism and the Power of Having a Choice/Voice.” Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAG-t-kXcqE ; Internet; Accessed 16 January 2017.

Simplicity and Calling (Part 2)

 

In the previous article we offered a definition of minimalism which took the focus off of stuff and placed it upon purpose.  It isn’t about getting rid of things per se, but about getting rid of the things which do not contribute to our purpose in life.  This is the reason that minimalism looks different for every person.  Every one has a different purpose.  This is also the reason that no one can give you a list entitled “The Things You Must Get Rid Of.”

Also in the previous article we suggested that simple living is beneficial because it provides the time and space you need to pursue what you love.  But this assumes that you know what you love or what your purpose is.  That knowledge seems to me a necessary beginning.  If you don’t know what you want to focus on you cannot proceed because you cannot know what is necessary and what is superfluous.  You will always be plagued by the question whether or not you might need this or that thing, whether or not you will regret getting rid of it.  So, this article intends to explore the relationship between calling (or passion or purpose, whichever term suites you best) and simplicity.

Passion, Purpose, or Calling?
Passion.  It is common amongst self-help books about happiness, business, and success to read about following your passion.  I prefer, however, not to talk about passion (though I may use the word occasionally).  This is because passion is too often equated with excitement.  To follow every “passion”, thus defined, would be a license for mere self-indulgence.  While I believe that a person will indeed be passionate about his place in life, self-indulgence is a world away from calling.  Also, excitement is often fleeting whereas true passion is a steady sense of desire and direction.  Though I think Cal Newport oversteps when he says, “there is no special passion waiting for you to discover,” I think that he is on the right track with a number of his observations.  His chief contribution, in my opinion, is that he mitigates the glib use of “passion” in our contemporary society.1

Purpose.  Another word used to describe one’s place in the world is “purpose.”  The benefit of this word is that it moves beyond the syrupy-sweetness of excitement-mistaken-for-passion.  It extends beyond the emotion of a moment and considers the farther reaching vision of an all important goal.  Another advantage to “purpose” is that it carries the idea of an individual place.  It suggests that there is something that you are uniquely suited for in the world (contra Newport).  The disadvantage of the word, however, is that purpose is sensible without any reference to God.  Much of the literature in the self-help genre discusses purpose with no talk of God whatsoever.  Further, because it does not require reference to God one’s purpose can only serve two things: self and society.  The best of the literature points out that fulfillment is only found when talents are used to serve others (society).  The worst of it makes discovering one’s purpose sound as if its only goal is to make money (self).

Calling.  I prefer to speak of “calling” or “vocation.”2 I prefer “calling”, first of all, because of its obvious religious connotations. I am a Christian and I believe in calling because I believe there is a Caller. Second, I prefer “calling” because it has the virtues of “purpose” with none of its vices.3 Insofar as we are called we receive it as a gift, not an achievement (this need not, however, preclude effort/development of our call–Newport is good here). Though it remains possible to brag about one’s calling, acknowledging the Caller helps to suppress the prideful impulse. In the Corinthian church it appears as though there were some who thought highly of themselves because of their gifts, indicating that it is still possible to brag. But that one should not brag seems obvious in Paul’s retort, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Os Guinness describes this necessary humility when he writes, “God normally calls us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness.”4

General and Specific Calling
Both our general and specific callings are correlates of our being human.  First, as human beings we all share a common purpose, i.e. to image God into the world (cf. Gen. 1:26-28).  We are to imitate him by shining his love and creativity into the world.  This is our general purpose.  It is incumbent upon all men and women every where.  Regardless of whether a person is an author, a health coach, a bank teller, a garbage man, a surgeon, a musician, a dancer, or an elementary school teacher, he must always perform his duty with love and to the glory of God.

Second, as human beings we are also finite.  This is the condition which requires our specific callings.  No one person can do all that needs to be done.  The skills necessary to create a peaceful and productive society do not all reside in one person.  This requires that each person have a specific place.  A politician may have little interest in mechanics but when the politician needs her car repaired she will be thankful for the mechanics in the world.  Likewise, the mechanic may have little interest in economics but when those issues are debated he will be thankful for those who are well versed in such things.  We need one another.  We ought to be thankful for those in the world who have different interests and talents than we do.  We need them all to preserve and improve the world in which we live.

Discerning Your Calling
In some sense discerning one’s calling is equivalent to seeking the answer to the question, “Who am I?”  Four answers5 are commonly suggested: A. I am who I am constrained to be.  This is the idea that I am the result of my circumstances.  I was born into this family in this country in this neighborhood to these parents at this time.  That is who I am and I cannot be otherwise.  B. I am who I am constituted to be.  This is the idea that one’s DNA determines one’s life.  C. I am who I have the courage to be.  This is the idea that you are the master of your fate.  Your identity is not fixed by anything but your own will.  D. I am who I am called to be.  This is the Christian belief.  While acknowledging that circumstances and DNA play their part, and that courage is necessary in answering God’s call, it does not make any one of these things the whole.  Our identity is found in God alone, our creator.  Therefore, we may only properly discern our call with reference to him.  I offer here three suggestions for doing so:

  1.  What do you enjoy?  God is involved in forming who we are from the very beginning (cf. Ps. 139:13-18; Jer. 1:4-10).  God also loves us and expects us to enjoy the life he has offered us (Php. 4:4; 1 Tim. 6:17).  It stands to reason then that we will likely enjoy doing whatever God has set for us to do.  As John Piper is fond of saying, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”  If you don’t know what you love to do, take the time to find out.  Try new things.  Dream dreams.  Imagine a life that you would love to live.
  2. What are your talents?  God grants us inclinations and abilities which reflect his varied grace into the world (cf. Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11).  This means considering both your natural abilities and those that you have worked to develop.  And while those may be the same thing they need not be.  It is important here to listen to the people around you.  The primary way God speaks to us is through his word; Second to that is through the community.  It is entirely possible that others notice in you a skill that you have never noticed in yourself.  During this time of discernment speak to others about your journey and listen to what they have to say.  All the while be sure to pray.  When Judas’ apostleship was being replaced the community nominated two to take his place.  The final decision, however, was left to God (Acts 1:15-26).  The decision was made by both community and prayer.  These will help set you in the right direction.
  3. What needs to be done?  This is immensely important.  Without this question calling is tempted to selfishness.  But there is no room for selfishness in vocation.  Our gifts are “ours for others.”6  God is on a mission.  There are things that need to be done in the world, and we are his body on earth.  We are the hands and feet through which God works to accomplish that mission.  The ultimate example of calling is Jesus Christ and his self-sacrifice.  He “came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).  Whenever Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks discusses discerning one’s calling he suggests our purpose is found “where what you want to do meets what needs to be done.”7

Purposeful Play
These suggestions ought not to be treated as a mathematical formula as if one could put the data into a computer and get the answer.  There is a mystery about life.  God is not in the habit of shouting from heaven.  Our sense of calling rarely comes with such clarity.  Oswald Chambers is supposed to have written: “If you can tell where you got the call of God and all about it, I question whether you have ever had a call.”8 This ambiguity, however, must not stop us from living. We cannot sit back and wait until “we’re sure.” There is work to be done and we must do it. Rather, this ambiguity invites us into purposeful play. If you are unsure of your place in the world then you are duty bound to pursue it, and that gives a purposeful direction t0 your life. But so long as we offer our efforts to God we need not fear his displeasure. This makes it play. We may not discovered a settled certainty until later in life but that is the nature of calling. Wisdom is always a process.  Discernment is a journey.  Life is lived forward and understood backward.

Simplicity and Calling
Simplicity relates both to our general and our specific call.  All people have been called to glorify God in their lives.  Part of that involves maintaining godly relationships and maintaining good health.  Whatever impedes the fulfillment of such a call needs to go.  If that means getting rid of bad relationships, working less, getting rid of stuff and/or buying fewer things then that’s what needs to happen.

In regard to our specific callings: if you have confidence in the particular direction God is calling you then you have a responsibility to answer that call.  To ignore it is to be in dereliction of duty.  That means that whatever impedes that purpose needs to go.  This is the relationship between simplicity and calling.  If living a simple life means getting rid of unnecessary things in order to focus upon what is most important that requires that you first know what is most important.  Hopefully this has helped to give you some perspective into what is most important and how to find it.  The only question is, will you fulfill that purpose?  Being human means sharing a purpose with all humanity (because we are all human) and have a specific purpose (because we are all finite).  So get rid of the junk.  And be simply human.

 

©M. Benfield 2017


1. “‘Follow Your Passion’ is Crappy Advice.” Joshua Fields Millburn. Available at http://www.theminimalists.com/cal/ ; Internet; Accessed 2 January 2017.
2. They both mean the same thing. “Calling” comes from an Anglo-Saxon root while “vocation” is from Latin. Given a choice between these two I prefer “calling.” Although they are technical equivalents “vocation” has often been flattened to indicate mere occupation/job.
3. It is not my intention to argue over semantics. The most important thing is not what word we use but what we mean by that word. I have made a distinction here as a heuristic device to describe different conceptions of “goals” although I often use these terms interchangeably. While I use vary my terms for stylistic purposes one should always understand my description of “calling” as being the background of all such usage.
4. Os Guiness, The Call, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 45.
5. Ibid, 20-26.&#*617;
6. Ibid, 47.
7. “Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Finding Purpose.” An interview for JINSIDER. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDZV6v7BLrs ; Internet; Accessed 6 January 2017.
8. As quoted in The Call, Os Guiness, 51.

Simplicity and Time (Part 1)

 

With the arrival of the New Year many are making New Year’s Resolutions.  Yet, there looms behind us all the fear, indeed the almost certain knowledge, that most of us will fail to keep our resolutions.  Why?  Admitting that my evidence is anecdotal and unscientific, the most common reason (excuse?) I hear is, “I just don’t have the time to …” and fill in the blank.  “I don’t have the time to …” work out, cook healthier food, write my book, visit my mom, etc.

It is curious, however, that there are people in the world who do have time to work out, eat healthy, write books, and visit family.  Is it because they have more hours in the day?  Of course not.  Each one of us is granted the same 24 hours every day.  No more.  No less.  So, if the problem is “not enough time”, yet others seem to have it, what do they do differently than the rest of us?  They do not extend the day (though if you ever figure that one out, let me know), they just make the time.  Although making time does not magically effect working out, eating healthy, or writing books it does make those things possible and it takes away our excuses.  The question, then, is how do we make time?  Though I am no expert1, I want to suggest the practice of simplicity (often labeled “minimalism”) as the best way (only way?) to make time.

What the Heck is Minimalism?
First of all, it’s important to know that minimalism looks different in different lives.  Undoubtedly there will be some minimalist snobs who look at another minimalist and proclaim, “That’s not minimalism.”  But that assumes a rigid and shallow definition of minimalism.  For those people minimalism probably means something like “living with as few things as possible.”  Though living with fewer things is the most obvious characteristic of minimalism it is not its essence.  The foundation of minimalism is simply this: the commitment to ridding yourself of all superfluous things so as to provide the freedom you need to pursue whatever is most important.2  The key word here is “superfluous.”   Minimalism is not living without things; It is living without unnecessary things.  But how does one determine whether or not a thing is necessary?  That will have to be tackled in another article.  For now consider only this question: “Does this contribute to my purpose in life?”  If not, it is unnecessary.  Now let’s move on to consider, just briefly, how minimalism “creates” time.

Less Work=More Time
One reason people do not have the time to pursue the life they want is because they work so much.  But what if you didn’t have to work as much?  We work so much (often at jobs we hate) because we need money to buy stuff (that we often don’t need).  But what if you began to think in terms of time instead of money?  Next time you want to buy something take a moment to convert the price into time.  For example, say you earn $10 an hour at your present job.  That means that if you buy something that is $20 you have, quite literally, given away two hours of your life.  When you buy the $75 pair of jeans?  That’s seven and a half hours of your freedom.  That $5 coffee from Starbucks (guilty)? That’s 30 minutes you have to work off.

But what if you didn’t have so much to buy? What if you lived in a smaller house, with fewer luxuries?  That would mean that you need less money to live.  And if you need less money to live then that means that you need to work less to make a living.  Working less frees more hours in the day to pursue the things that you really love.

Less Shopping=More Time
One market research firm found that women spend 190 hours per year shopping for clothes, shoes, and window shopping.  Those same women spend only 95 hours shopping for food.3  That’s twice as long shopping for sport than for shopping for the necessities of life!  In addition to the time we must work to earn the money to shop, we also lose time doing the shopping.  If we shopped less we would have more time.  Granted, not all shopping is unnecessary.  But so much of it is.  While shopping it is helpful to keep in mind the Swedish proverb, “He who buys what he does not need steals from himself.”

Less Cleaning=More Time
Another way that “stuff” steals our time is the time we spend cleaning/maintaining it.  We have a lot of stuff so we need a bigger house to hold the stuff (much of which we don’t use).4  Because we have a bigger house we also have more to clean (assuming we clean).  This means that the time that we do have off from work is often spent maintaining order at home.  Depending on the size of the house cleaning could take up the entire day.  Vacation is spent cleaning instead of relaxing or pursuing our passions.   Whereas in a smaller house cleaning would take far less time and leave more time for doing the things we love.

Conclusion:
This blog was originally conceived as a minimalist blog and the logo reflects its origin.  The red spiral symbolizes paring away all that’s unnecessary.  The figure in the middle is representative of being human.  The idea is that we are only fully human by fulfilling our purpose but so often useless and/or unnecessary things distract us from fulfilling that purpose.  Living simply creates the mental and temporal “space” one needs to follow his calling.  The world is filled with people who live mediocre lives at best and outright unhappy ones at worst.  Those people work jobs they hate to buy stuff they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.  If you have already found your purpose and are living an immeasurably happy life then ignore the above.  But if you find yourself caught in the rat-race, maybe it’s time to get off the track.  Begin to ask yourself the hard questions about what is really important.  When you have your answer the question remains: what in my life distracts from my purpose?  Whatever falls into that category needs to go.  Only then can you give your full attention to living the life you are called to live.  So live simply.  Then, you may simply live.

 

©M. Benfield 2017


1. I consider Joshua Fields Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus, Colin Wright, Leo Babauta, Joshua Becker, and Courtney Carver, and Jessica Dang the experts. These have all inspired my minimalist journey in some measure, most especially Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus.
2. This is similar to Millburn and Nicodemus’ “elevator pitch” which goes as follows: “Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.” They also affirm the previously made point that minimalism looks different for different people. See “Minimalism: An Elevator Pitch.” Available at http://www.theminimalists.com/pitch/ ; Internet; Accessed 2 January 2017.
3. Emma Johnson, “The Real Cost of Your Shopping Habits”, Forbes, 15 January 2015; available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/emmajohnson/2015/01/15/the-real-cost-of-your-shopping-habits/#55b3e61121ae ; Internet; accessed 2 January 2017.
4. Ibid.  Johnson documents how our shopping habits have required building bigger houses. She also cites one study which revealed that 3 out of 4 garages are so filled with stuff that they have no space left of a vehicle.