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Learning to Live with Less

March 23, 2009

“I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “If I miss one payment on my riding lawnmower, one payment on my plasma television, and one payment on my four-wheeler, I’ll have enough money to make a down payment on a new bass boat.”

 

Sound familiar? It has come to be known as the great American way to achieve the great American dream. The result is the great American recession.

Recently I was asked if I think we are going to learn anything as we go through this economic downturn. One of the things we need to learn is that living on credit, on money we do not have, leads to disaster.

 

 I hope we will learn to live with less. Some go to an extreme known as a freegan lifestyle. Adherents employ alternative strategies based on limited consumption. Freegans embrace community, generosity, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to materialism, competition, conformity, and greed.  Radical freegans salvage discarded, unspoiled food from supermarket dumpsters.

 

While few of us have the appetite for dumpster diving, all of us can learn to simplify and to live with less.

 

Chad Hall, a writer from Cary, North Carolina, learned about the concept in a Newsweek article. What caught his attention was the reporter’s resolve to buy nothing for one month. Chad and his wife made a similar pledge. They stocked up on the basics. Then, except for dairy, produce, gasoline, and a few other items, they bought nothing for one year.

 

 Americans are big eaters, big spenders, and big wasters. Our combo meals are super-sized. Our Sports Utility Vehicles are gas-guzzlers. Our home entertainment centers require a room all their own. Our bigger-is-better mentality has created some big problems. Our souls suffer the poverty of abundance and our planet suffers the collateral damage. Landfills are full, the air is thick, and many rivers are polluted.

 

Maybe in the current economic crisis it is time to make our lives less hectic, less cluttered, less selfish, and less toxic. Maybe now is the time to simplify, to live with less. Maybe in choosing alternatives we can regain sanity and make the world better for all people.

 

Where to begin? Here are ten suggestions gleaned from a variety of sources.

 

1.      Make a list of five things you want to accomplish in the next five years. Make sure the list squares with your personal sense of integrity and with your faith. Coordinate your list with your family members so that you are in agreement.

2.      Take a hard look at your calendar and your checkbook. Eliminate any expenditure of time or money that does not move you toward one of your five goals. Avoid over commitment and debt. Mismanagement of time and money cause stress.

3.      Remove clutter from your office and your home. Begin with one drawer. Then another. Then clean a closet. Finally remove clutter from your basement, your attic, and your garage. 

4.      Discard any clothing you have not worn in the last three years. Other people can surely use unwanted and unneeded items from your home. Give away to charitable agencies household items that can be used by others. Turn trash into cash. Have a family yard sale, and give the proceeds to a good cause.

5.      Handle every piece of paper only once. Open the mail and make a decision about what is junk and what needs your attention. Read newspapers and magazines as they come into your home.

6.      Recycle paper, glass, metal cans, and plastics. Compost your vegetable scraps.

7.      Have a set time to perform routine tasks. Checking e-mail, paying bills, cleaning house, feeding the pet will all be less tedious if they are a part of the routine.

8.      Prepare nutritious food in your own kitchen. Eat out less often.

9.      Set aside time for your spouse, children, and friends. People are more important than things.

10.  Take care of yourself. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, time for laughter, and Sabbath time are all important.

 

Chad Hall and his wife learned to ask the key question, “Do we really need it in our lives?” That one question has lead them to choose a push lawn mower rather than a power mower, to get rid of an extra television, and to experiment with line-drying laundry. As they simplified they soon discovered the joy of having fewer bills to pay, fewer trips to make, and fewer agendas to manage.

A young pastor was invited to preach a revival at a rural church in the mountains of Kentucky. An elderly couple who lived in a log cabin provided lodging for the pastor and his wife. On their first evening the young couple sat near the fireplace with the older couple. Before glowing embers, the elderly gentleman said, “Me and my wife are going to bed now. You young folks can sit here by the fire as long as you like. If you need something, make yourself at home, and get whatever you need. If you need something, and you can’t find it, wake us up, and we’ll get it for you. If you need something, and you can’t find it, and you wake us up, and we don’t have it, well, then, we’ll teach you how to get along without it.”

 

All of us have a lot to learn when it comes to living with less.

 

Kirk H. Neely

© March 2009

 

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