These two books just go so well together, I thought I’d pair them up. I apologize for the length, but hang with me. I think, and hope, it will be worth it.
In pursuit of my SIMPLIFY theme for 2013, I found two books that did a doozy on me in recent months. The first, which I absolutely adored, was 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. In fact, I adored it so much that I think I recommended it to just about anyone who would listen to me during the time I was going through it. I was fascinated and obsessed. (If you’re reading this and haven’t picked it up yet, get to it!)
In the book, Jen confronts both the issues of having too much and what to do about it. She chooses seven areas to focus on: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste and stress. I can relate to all of those, so I knew I was in for a ride.
Jen focused on each of these seven excess areas for one month. So for 30 days, her world revolved around the subject of food excess, as one example. She gave her self clear parameters to follow, and blogged about the social experiments as a way to both write her book and stay accountable. Before you think it’s too overwhelming to consider in your life, let me tell you that she had several women going through this process with her, and they chose milder forms of the experiment. They served as her sounding board, encouragement, supporters and accountability partners. They kept her going. And because they were doing some form of the project, she had people to relate to along the way. That had to make it a lot easier, though it was still pretty extreme.
FOOD: She and her husband were in the process of adopting two children from Ethiopia, and she knew their lives were much more restrictive than her own. They were limited in what was available to them in many ways, including what they could eat. So she chose seven food items to eat for the entire month. As you can imagine, she got pretty sick of everything rather quickly, but still realized she got to choose her options rather than having them determined for her due to her geography and social status.
CLOTHES: Jen saw all the clothes in her closet that she didn’t wear regularly, and determined that would be another great area to tackle. She chose, you guessed it, seven items to wear for the month, including PJ’s, shoes and accessories. Wow. And this is a woman who speaks on a regular basis. This month she realized how much she worried about her appearance, and what others thought of her.
SPENDING: We all spend on silly things or wasteful things or inconsequential things. And we just spend too much. Debt is a huge problem in our society. So, Jen’s family went on a spending freeze. They bought essentials only, and realized how much extra they buy because it’s available or just because they can. They even started carpooling more to spend less gas money. This month allowed her to donate money to places she really felt good about giving it, and where it would make a real difference.
MEDIA: Over-saturated and over-stimulated. She looked around and saw all the gadgets her family used from phones to computers to iPads to gaming systems, and put a halt to it. She was worried about this month in particular because it was summer, and she was afraid she wouldn’t know what to do with three small children. But it ended up being a great month with a lot of new memories and time for their family to be together. They rediscovered their creativity, and found lots of ways to have fun together for less because of the previous month.
POSSESSIONS: The clothes month really helped shape this one. Jen discovered she had, after hand counting everything, over 200 items in her closet that she rarely if ever wore (including shoes, accessories, etc). So she decided to give away seven things each day for the entire day. It seems like a lot, but just looking around my apartment, I could probably do it when you get down to the drawers and under the bed. This action cut excess from everyone’s closet, things forgotten about in the basement, and extra stuff in the garage, and she realized that she still had more than enough afterward. And their church has a large homeless ministry, so many of the items, especially clothes, were immediately used by someone else with immense gratitude.
WASTE: Jen lives in Austin, and it’s a pretty green city. She’d never been one who recycled or lived green in any way, so she learned a lot from friends during this month. One of the best things she did for her family was getting them to eat better. She realized all the foods in her pantry and fridge were processed, and harming their health. So they began eating more healthy and learned to take better care of their home and neighborhood. She said she was sort of dreading this month, but really ended up learning a lot and loving it. (I would probably be classified as a “tree hugger” by my friends and family, and this chapter was definitely one I think most anyone would enjoy nonetheless.)
STRESS: Seriously, who can’t relate? Jen learned to say no a lot to things this month, and really focused on the necessary and her family. Her time was more free to enjoy what was happening in front of her, rather than worrying about a lot of other things.
OVERALL: It’s an awesome book. I will read it again. It’s fun and funny and easy to read. I think a lot of people would enjoy this, maybe more than they expect to. And again, I think there are so many lessons for all of us living in a blessed society.
My biggest takeaway? It was something that I’d heard before, but it hit me at just the right time—and now it plagues me. She referenced a quote or study, can’t remember because I’m more about the gist than the precise, about the fact that if you have more than your means and you’re only wasting it on yourself, you’re actually stealing from others and from society. People may have issue with the fact that they earned it, and should be able to spend it how they see. And I guess there’s room for that argument. But when there are so many people living without their basic needs being met, and so many others of us live in excess, there’s a real problem there. That weighs on my heart, heavily. We’ve already seen, and know at money doesn’t buy happiness, and having “things” don’t equal contentment. Yet we keep acquiring. US is largely a wealthy nation, and even still, things like prescription drugs and depression are on the rise. (See my previous Tweet from this week.) That has to tell us something. That needs to make us act differently.
Jeff Shinabarger is someone I’ve been around for several years now. He’s spoken at several conferences I’ve attended, is friends with some of my friends, and I’ve also been to his Plywood People event three times. (I’m even carrying around one of their bags right now as my summer purse.) I love what he’s up to here in Atlanta, and have great admiration for his social ingenuity and ability to bring people together to do great things.
So when he teased this book, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, I was ready to and waiting for it’s release. And it didn’t disappoint. Of course, how could it with a forward by Bob Goff? Plus, fun stories about people and places I personally know! (There are a lot of extras on the book website, which is really cool.)
Jeff, like me I think, sort of stumbled upon this notion of cutting the clutter. Not that it’s a new concept, but it’s the birth of something new within us. It’s a step that led to a path that led to a crossroad that led to a journey. It’s become a part of us. He was led there by a homeless man in his neighborhood. I think I was led there by a thousand things over many years. (It takes me a while.) But the outcome is the same, the tension between more and less. It’s not always a comfortable place to be, but it is a place ripe for growth, and as he points out, generosity.
I think the thing I appreciated most about this book were many of the creative ways he and his friends are learning these lessons, and what they are doing differently now. It’s about learning these lessons in the context of community. You may think, and you are largely right, than Jen Hatmaker’s experiment is extreme. But Jeff’s version is much more subtle. It’s about dinner parties and wedding registries and community gardening and conversation. It’s about the art of discovering along the way. It’s about the journey. And it’s about generosity.
Over the years, I’ve tried to work on my budget. I’ve tried to spend less and acquire less. I’ve tried. I’ve more often failed. But I think when I started to tip the scale, it became about focusing on a life of generosity. I wanted it less for me, and more for others. To borrow from above, I didn’t want to steal from others. I want to do better because I am accountable. And I have met many, face-to-face, who can have a different life if I live differently.
Therefore I choose less, so I can give more.
WRAP UP: While the two styles outlined above are very different, I identify well with both of them. I’ve done some excess purging, and I’ve done some at a slow pace. But the point is that I’m on my way, and I won’t look back.
If you’re still hanging with me, first of all, I appreciate it. Second of all, I honestly hope something I said will make you think, and therefore act, differently. It’s never too late.
I am a Christian, and therefore, I believe all that I have is not mine but that I am a steward of it. Unfortunately, I think I’ve too often acted like it is mine, and therefore, it was hard to start letting go. I always seem to want more! But now I feel much more comfortable with it. I love donating clothes and items, knowing personally the people it will benefit. And I do suggest that, know the people when you can. Dropping off items at Goodwill is a tax ride-off. Taking items to a shelter you volunteer for is a whole new world. When you’re invested, compassion abounds. And we all benefit from more compassion.
I know we’re a bit past spring cleaning, but summer is a great time to make changes, too. Consider living with less to gain, and give, more. I have no regrets. Nothing I’ve donated or given away has been missed. There’s always that fear, I think, but don’t let that rule your actions. Try it, and see how it goes. Start small. You probably won’t look back either.
BONUS MATERIAL: During my four hours of watching Ted Talks today (How does 17 minutes become four hours!?!?!), I stumbled across two really awesome videos that describe these principles well. Have a look.
Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness
Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies
(Some of the second was a little over my head, but still really good and interesting so hang with it.)
(Note: Amazon links are affiliate links.)