In Part 2 of Practising Simplicity, Servants NZ team leader Murray Hoffmans-Sheard goes on to describe the areas of your life where change can have the biggest impact.
Just by writing a budget we start to identify and control our money outflows, and come up with ways of saving. Work out a weekly budget including hidden expenses – especially ones you pay only once a year. By using the services of a budget adviser, work out your strategy to scale down your expenditure, reduce debt, and aim at a savings target.
The biggest possible dream home is the greatest source of financial slavery. Don’t become a prisoner in and to your own home. A good hard look at our homes and their appliances is the most fertile ground for growing into simplicity.
Decisions about houses are probably the biggest determinant in where we spend our money. Some could consider moving to an area with a lower cost of living. When home hunting, you could aim to pick the smallest (yes, smallest) amount of space in which you are comfortable. This will limit the amount of stuff you can accumulate, and take far less of your time and resources to furnish, clean, maintain, insure and pay for.
For others, living and working in the same neighbourhood can help you save and integrate your life. Do you find yourself living in one suburb or town, driving to visit friends in another, shopping in another, working in another, driving the kids to school in another?
I think most of us feel more part of our country than part of our street (especially during rugby season). Integrating life and locality – and being able to walk or bike to the places you need to – yields a sense of place, a grounding. You’ll also get to know locals and start to dream together of how your neighbourhood could be.
I’m in favour of alternative housing. Co-housing projects where each family has their own space and the group has communal space have begun popping up. Splitting large houses down the middle and meeting for meals is another way to save on costs as well as sharing the cooking. Converting a warehouse to residential living for a whole group is another possibility.
Any saving you can make in this area can free up funds for your favourite mission, or allow you to work less, freeing up your time. John Wesley’s simple pattern for this was:
Gain all you can,
Save all you can,
Give all you can.
Take control of time
In all this, think about the simplicity of your time. If we don’t have time for something it’s only because we’ve chosen to do something else in that time. How we spend our time reveals what we value. Begin by clearing the decks of unnecessary activity. Spend that time meditating on how God is calling you to live.
Imagination and creativity
A little imagination goes a long way toward simple living. It’s easy to dump a wad of cash in order to acquire something, but much more imaginative to make it yourself or find other ways of getting it. With a bit of creativity you can cut your spending, reduce waste and make things for yourself that reduce your need to shop.
Living simply is counter-cultural. Just because the Joneses have a BMW doesn’t mean you need one too. Instead of following the herd to the mall and grabbing the first things that pop out at you, sit back and think about your values.
Bring your friends in on the action and encourage each other. If you have kids, tell them what you’re thinking, why you’d like to change, and ask for their opinions. Expect them to understand and be enthusiastic. But be open to their ideas and honour any of their objections. Substitute new family traditions for old buying habits, but make the transition gradually.
This is nowhere near a complete guide but more of a list of possibilities to ignite your own creativity. Like many positive changes in our ethical life, it’s about practising a few new things until you become conscious of the patterns in your behaviour.
I used to think nothing of throwing a can in the rubbish rather than the recycle bin. Now I can’t bring myself to do it and it seems no effort at all to choose the recycle option. The same process is true of many decisions about consumption and waste. When we switch allegiance from the Western dream to the heart of Christ, one of the first things to change will be our priorities in the use of time and resources.
[Murray Hofmans-Sheard and his wife Natasha are the New Zealand Servants team leaders. Murray teaches ethics and social philosophy at the University of Auckland and is writing his PhD on environmental ethics. His study booklet ‘Living Simply’ can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Those wanting to network with others interested in living simply and exploring community are invited to get in touch. This article first appeared in Reality Magazine.]