I am not really sure when it began.
Maybe when I noticed my friends at Sunday School wore different outfits each week – I only had one set of clothes for ‘Sunday best’. Or perhaps when my English teacher in high school told us how TV advertisers always tried to manipulate us to, “Buy, buy, buy!”
Whenever it was, very early on, I decided it made a good deal of sense to live more simply.
These days I still frequently make minor, often silent, protests. Why must I buy a packet of two nail brushes, when all I need is one? Should I even have ‘Sunday best’ clothes – or can I turn up to church wearing what I usually wear on weekdays? Back in my teens I really reacted to that persistent Aussie desire to own a house. Before we even got married, I convinced Stephen it was better to maintain our flexibility and not opt for a lifetime of debt with a house mortgage.
Sadly, it seems like going into debt is as natural to Australians as enjoying a barbie on the back deck. According to a recent article by ABC News, “there are about 16 million credit and charge accounts in Australia. Over the past 20 years the money owed has risen from just under $6 billion to almost $50 billion.”1 This staggering sum indicates how spending in Australia is out of control, and most of it for the accumulation of ‘stuff’ to keep up with the Jones’s – whoever they are.
Early in our married life I came across the catchcry, “live simply so others may simply live.” That’s good, I thought. So I further reduced my spending on ‘stuff’, I learnt to cook meals with unprocessed ingredients, and bought essentials from op shops and sales. Stephen took a pay cut, working for a not-for-profit – and opted for a salary tailored to our needs rather than our wants. We reaffirmed our commitment not to buy a house in order to increase our flexibility to serve God in another location, if and when the time came, without the trappings of house and mortgage.
But there was more! “The poor hungry children overseas who have to go without,” featured strongly during mealtimes as I pecked at my food when I was growing up. Now as adults, and feeling ready to personally experience extreme poverty, we took a church group to India for six weeks. To my surprise I discovered it was better to leave food on my plate! Leftovers were given to the cooks and their families to eat. The more we ate, the less they had. “Living simply so others may simply live,” was suddenly not quite so straightforward, and I realised with a jolt that unless we actively sowed our excess back into the global poor, our simple living choices have limited impact on others.
At last I got it: living simply in order to benefit others is a layered concept. At the most basic level I choose to live simply to help myself and my family. I grow vegies; refuse/re-use plastic bags; walk instead of drive. By living more simply, financially and materially, the outcome is that I feel better. However, I have a marginal impact on others.
A more pro-active view includes passing my ‘extras’ on to help others. Donating unnecessary or outgrown clothing; sponsoring a child with Compassion or World Vision; packing a shoebox gift for Operation Christmas Child to spread the gospel; giving of myself, AKA volunteering, in the local community. Not only do I feel better, but many others are directly impacted by my actions.
The deepest level includes personally embracing global responsibility. It is where I myself assist others who are struggling – whether in Australia or overseas. The result is that I feel better, others feel better and my giving of self directly affects more people. It is more than just my extras. It is an all-encompassing way of life where my family and I sacrifice ourselves for others’ benefit.
This deeper level is not possible for everyone, often requires a call of God, and is usually not sustainable indefinitely. For us it happened after more than 20 years of simple lifestyle living when we began full-time voluntary work with Fusion Australia, a Christian youth and community organisation. This required moving interstate and leaving our extended families behind. Having no financial ties to a house did make things easier, but ironically when we arrived in our new location we felt the time was right to buy one!
We succeeded in living as full-time volunteers for five years – many of our former co-workers have managed it for decades. It is costly, but the rewards are too many to count, and not just for ourselves but for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of others.
So where do you fit in your efforts to live simply? Wherever you are, let me challenge you to take on progressively deeper levels of simple living. If you do, your life, and the lives of many others, will never be the same again!
“I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.” Mother Teresa