I’ve noticed a recent trend in my life. After a conversation with an acquaintance, an episode of a TV show, a chapter in a book, or otherwise some other sort of small interaction with new information, I tend to immediately need to outwardly process said information with Kyle (I am an INTJ, after all—that’s one of our marked characteristics). This is especially true if it’s information with which I disagree.
Lucky him, he gets the brunt of my frustration; I like to verbally process because it helps me clarify my own opinion on an issue. And lately, he’s been hearing me talk a lot.
See, I don’t know what’s going on, but since we’ve returned from our family’s two-month road trip where I tangibly lived the joy of living with less, I’ve been decluttering like a madwoman. I just want it all GONE. I’ve remembered why I love living with only what I need—and that there really are very, very few things I really need in life.
This means I’ve been venting to Kyle any time I flip through a magazine that persuades you to buy more more more, watch a TV show where the main character is burdened by her lifestyle of excess, or most significantly, when I have a real-life conversation and the person is just oblivious to his or her dependency on Stuff.
Naturally, Kyle’s been hearing a lot from me lately. I’ve been hyper-aware of how many people are obsessed with amassing… things. Just things. I’ll talk to someone about a book I’m reading on simplicity, or about a newsworthy event that points directly to western wealth juxtaposed to worldwide poverty, and they’ll respond with a “That’s nice,” immediately following with news about the amazing sale currently going on at Target.
I just…. It’s hard.
But here’s the thing: I know I’m no better than anyone else. Our worth isn’t measured by our values, how we spend our money, or what we do with our time—those things reveal some of our heart issues, sure, but they have nothing to do with whether we’re worthy or valuable. And I’m certainly aware of my own weaknesses with simplifying.
So—what do we do when we’re frustrated with our personal interactions? When we’re psyched about living with less, how do we properly engage in our surrounding culture and relationships without being a total jerk?
Over dinner in her home one recent evening, my friend Emily said that the way she discovers her next book-writing topic is through what’s currently bothering her most. If something’s bothering her so much she can’t think about much else, that’s her sign to stop and focus her writing there.
There’s truth here. The fact that I’m bothered by every indication of our culture’s wealth and excess compared to the rest of the world’s need means this is where I need to stop and park. That’s a good thing. But I also have to live in the real world. I can’t talk about simplicity nonstop without being a Debbie Downer, without losing my grip on reality, without burning out myself. I’ll lose the joy.
Here are some ideas I’m applying in my own life to navigate and thrive in the culture I’m in, while still staying passionate about living simply.
1. Just live your life.
I can talk to my neighbor all day long about how great it feels to get rid of things I don’t need, but it doesn’t really translate well until they do it themselves. You know? I’m excited because I’ve decluttered and purged. One of the best ways to get others on board with jettisoning their excess stuff is to simply model the lifestyle. As in parenting, actions speak louder than words. Show contentment in your simpler life. Invite them over to your place. They’ll enjoy the peace of simplicity in your home, the joy of living with less.
2. Share other peoples’ thoughts.
It can be hard to share your beliefs without sounding preachy and obnoxious. But it somehow sounds better if someone else said it—“I read in a blog post today that…” or “This book about living simply is really speaking to me because…” Invite a third party into the picture, and let them be the reason for the topic of discussion, even in their absence. (I’m happy to be your scapegoat, if you like.)
3. Know you’re responsible for you.
At the end of the day, you own your own ideas, convictions, and actions, and not anyone else’s. Yes, in order to change an entire culture we’ve gotta “spread the news” about living simply—after all, our decisions do have a ripple effect around us, for good or not-so-good. But if someone prefers to shop for fun and live beyond their means, that’s their stuff. You can sleep well knowing you’re not burdened with the responsibility of everyone you know. Just do your thing and be at peace.
4. Remember the world isn’t perfect. Learn to sit with discontent. (In a good way.)
Finally, even though this may sound defeating, I’ve learned you have to come to terms with our broken world. This side of glory, it won’t ever be perfectly healed. There will always be a burden of some sort, and yes, we should channel our frustrations with doing our best to make it better, but we also need to know that all of mankind’s problems won’t be easily solved. I don’t know why God allows so many of us to live in such comfort, but we’ll work ourselves into a tailspin if we try to figure out why. He just does. Which means in the midst of our wondering, we have the means to do something about making things better.
Doing what we can with what we have—that’s where we need to park. We need to be okay that because we know about our culture’s (and therefore, our own) excess, we can’t turn a blind eye and shrug our shoulders. But we also need to know it’s not our burden to make all things right. We have to learn how to live well knowing there’s wrong in the world, as weird as that may sound.
At the end of the day, I’ll keep venting to Kyle and processing my own passions and burdens. And I’ll keep learning how to be a good neighbor, a good friend, a sympathetic ear and heart. I’m not perfect… no one is. Let’s cover each other with grace as we do our best to live with less.