Tag Archives: Simplicity

The Man Room, by Robbie Thomson

15 Apr

As our focus on simplicity draws to a close, writer Robbie Thomson suggests that some things may not be as important as we tend to think…

robbiethomsonOn more than one occasion I’ve been told that I waffle. I talk for too long, give unnecessary detail and dance around any point I’m making before finally getting round to making it. I seem to have the unenviable talent of being able to stretch into 100 words what could have been said in 20. And it isn’t just my writing or speaking that seems to be full of wadding or fluff. My life is massively over-complicated. I start projects without finishing ones I’ve had going for ages; I start new initiatives fully aware that I don’t necessarily have the time to finish them.

I am someone who can rarely say no, an issue that has two very serious consequences. When related to food it means I have an ever-increasing waistband and when related to doing something it means I have an increasingly busy life. In short – I fill my life with too much stuff (and food, but that’s a whole different story).

Don’t get me wrong – some stuff is good. Helping at church, getting involved in your community or being of use and service to other people is great stuff. Alphabetising CDs, rearranging furniture or sorting out my ‘man room’ is not great stuff. My man room is a perfect example of me over complicating things. It’s a room in my house adorned with my collection of beer bottles, sporting memorabilia and vintage cameras – a room that I’m constantly and meticulously planning to the point that I haven’t actually left myself any time to enjoy it.

And I don’t believe this is a problem limited to me. We seem to fill our lives with so much stuff we over-complicate things. We fill our lives with the meaningless things to the point that we lose sight of the stuff that matters – the extra times we could be spending with our families, on our own or the time we could be giving to that cause that actually needs our time.

I don’t think God cares what my man room looks like. I don’t believe he has a preference whether Adele and ZZ Top are next to each other in the CD rack or not and he’s not too fussed what wall my sofa goes against. And if God doesn’t care about it, should I? I should want to be in step with God so that I want what he wants, where he goes I go and what he asks I do.

Let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep God and not stuff the central focus of our lives.

Robbie Thomson is a 25 year old northerner with a penchant for pasta bakes, a good polo shirt and ‘Murder she wrote’. His life is largely made up of working for Soul Survivor, spending time with his wife Susie and trying to control his dog, Reggie.


An anonymous post on death and simplicity

15 Apr

As another week of God 52 draws to a close, this writer responds to the simplicity challenge by reflecting on what she learned from sorting her husband’s possessions after his death.

It wasn’t until my husband died that I really noticed all the ‘stuff’ he had accumulated in his relatively short lifetime.

As I started sorting through his belongings, I realised how unimportant and meaningless a lot of it was now. There was stacks of it, and most of it I didn’t feel any attachment to. Apart from of course personal cards and letters, photographs, and a few items of clothing that bring back memories, and that are extremely valuable to me, the rest was just, well, stuff.

I don’t necessarily think he had any more than most of us do. It is poignant that his belongings are nothing to him now, and it did make me realise how much time and money are invested in ‘things’. Without wanting to sound depressing, all the old cliches become very real and true when someone dies.

‘You can’t take it with you.’

‘You realise what’s important in life.’

And so on. I absolutely don’t think it’s wrong to enjoy material things, in fact I think it’s good to appreciate them. I love to have nice things, but genuinely, how much do I really need?

How much of my time do some of my belongings steal? How much importance do I place in having nice ‘stuff’?

Perhaps it is good to take stock, and not wait for a crisis to realise that the only things we can’t live without are the love and support of family and friends and above all a real relationship with God. Those are the things worth investing in.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonyomous.

Living out of a suitcase, by Chris Wilson

12 Apr

Writing in response to this week’s challenge, teacher Chris reflects on how moving abroad forced him to re-engage with the ‘nice idea’ of Simplicity.

suitcaseWhen I was about 15 I got my hands on a copy of Celebration of Discipline. I slowly read through it’s pages trying to suck as much value as I could from the ideas inside and amazed at the different Christian disciplines. The Discipline of Simplicity was one that I read, thought was interesting and decided was a good idea but never really enacted.  It was something I said was good… but when it came down to it I still made lists of the guitar equipment I wanted, drooled over the latest computer devices and hoarded “stuff” in my room.

It became worse after I finished university and started working, providing me with income to get the stuff I wanted, and guess what… I never had enough. This was despite becoming increasingly dissatisfied with consumerism and the constant pull to buy more, own more, have more, have the latest, etc.

The real factor that changed things was moving abroad.

Two and a half years ago I started teaching English abroad and moved to Ukraine in Eastern Europe. As I was moving to live abroad and faced a flight followed by an 8-hour train journey across the country, I had to be pretty choosy over what I packed to stay mobile but fully equipped to live and work abroad.

Essential clothing for day-to-day wear as well as smart clothing was a must. My laptop (which was luckily highly portable) was also a big need and some books and teaching materials made their way into my bag.

However my guitar, my knick knacks, my collection of CDs, my DVDs, and many other “things” didn’t.

I travelled back at Christmas time to the UK to spend it with family and I faced a choice. Take my bag back and collect more “things”… or leave them in the UK. In the end I went half way: I collected a few extra things but also took the opportunity to clear out some more of the possessions I had in the UK. Mainly things that I had but hadn’t used in a long time.

Finally, after thinking that simplicity was a good thing for a long time I was actually living it, reducing what I had and living with fewer things.

This continued for a while as I would reduce the number of things I had at home on every journey back and forth occasionally replacing items when they got to old. I couldn’t really justify buying anything new and big because I didn’t know how much longer I would be in that country for. I found that I was thinking about what I “needed” (see wanted) less and what I had more.

I did pick up a guitar in Ukraine but I happily lent it to a group of kids at the orphanage we visited. After all, I’d gone for months without one, I could go for another week without it.

When my colleague’s computer broke I lent her mine for a weekend so she could contact her family back home and catch up on her favourite TV programmes. I had become more generous too.

When I finally left Ukraine I had outgrown my suitcase again but it was a great chance to get rid of things I didn’t need, to give some things away and to focus on what I really needed.

I still have more things than just a suitcase and I still suffer from going a bit gaga over the latest gadgets but my attitude has changed and it was a forced change of circumstance that cause it.

Chris Wilson is an English Language teacher currently base in Badajoz, Spain. He enjoys playing music, writing, speaking foreign languages and traveling. You can read his blog at http://christopherjwilson.com

Hardcore simplicity? by Mina Munns

12 Apr

Children’s worker Mina writes in response to this week’s challenge by sharing the story of what happened when she tried to be a nun… and then wasn’t.

MInaI’m a bit of a zealot if I’m going to be honest.

My favourite saints are always the ones who give it all up and go to live in the desert.

I want to be hardcore. I want to do what the rich young ruler couldn’t. I want to be uncluttered by things. I want to be the one who relies on God and not on my bank balance and my possessions.  It’s just not turning out the way I’d planned…

I did try.  A few years back, I gave my stuff away and went to live as a novice in a religious order. I had no choice but to live simply.  It helps when they take your credit cards away for safekeeping. It was scary but there was also something strangely wonderful about it, something massively freeing. Everything was held in common, most things were homemade and little touches became things of beauty: a small vase of flowers in your place to mark a special anniversary, a homemade or recycled card, a single chocolate to celebrate a feast day. My eyes were opened to things I’d never noticed or valued before. People, not things mattered most. God had more room to show Himself and I was freer to be with Him.

But when I found myself returned to life outside the convent, suddenly the stuff came back to bite me.  How could I be hardcore about living simply when I needed to be accessible to people by email and phone and no longer had a habit to simplify my wardrobe choices? Plus, with the best will in the world, I’ve always been a sucker for shiny things and novelty items (I do work with children!) and now I had my credit card back. I needed things but I needed freedom too.

I’ve decided it has to be a journey. I’m not making giant strides, but little steps seem to work:  recycling Christmas cards for sending next year, regifting things I won’t use, making and baking instead of buying, scouring Pinterest to find a new purpose for the broken objects, trying to buy clothes only from charity shops (with a ‘one in, one out’ garment policy when I’m feeling most strong).

So hardcore is probably not going to happen. And while I accept that, it doesn’t mean that I have to let the things win. I had a glimpse of what it was like when God had more room and I’m not about to let that beauty pass me by.

Mina Munns is an ex-primary teacher, ex- novice nun and present day Children and Families worker from Nottingham. People tell her that if she was a dog she’d be a terrier or possibly a Jack Russell.  She prefers to think of herself as catlike.  Her Children’s work blog is http://flamecreativekids.blogspot.co.uk/ ; follow her on Twitter @mina_munns 

Johanna Derry on Burning Buildings

10 Apr

In our first guest post on this week’s challenge topic of Simplicity, journalist Johanna Derry explains how the 2011 London riots caused her to reflect on what she really needs. 

JohannaOther than your family and pets, what would you rescue from a burning building? It’s a classic hypothetical question, asked so you can work out what matters most to you. In theory once you know what you value, you can simplify or prioritise your life accordingly.

About 18 months ago, I found myself in the slightly odd situation of actually trying to decide what I to rescue if my flat were to burn. I lived above a Greggs bakery near to Clapham Junction in London and, in August 2011, a handful of Greggs’ in the city were burned to the ground, the carbonised product of a few nights of rioting.

That week I happened not to be staying at home, but house-sitting for friends around the corner. My flatmate was away, so our flat stood empty.

It was the third night of the riots, the night when there weren’t enough police to deal with every troubled hotspot. Friends watching the news in other parts of the country started texting me to see if I was okay. And then friends who lived near to me, started offering their spare rooms. Clearly living on a high street in London above a bakery isn’t the advisable thing to do in a time of civil unrest.

I wasn’t scared for my own safety, but I still got spooked. I decided to brave the streets and go home to rescue the things I valued most, in case my building burned that night too.

It’s weird staring at all your worldly goods, the tangible evidence of the money you’ve worked for and spent, and knowing you could lose it all. What DO you choose to save?

I filled one plastic bag with exactly these things:

two pieces of jewellery that belonged to my grandmothers

a picture of me and one of my sisters as children, painted by my aunt

two Bibles I had been given by family members as gifts

I hovered before I left, wondering if I should take more. I could have definitely carried more, but then where would I have stopped? Even then I knew that I didn’t actually need the stuff I’d put in the bag. I already had a place to stay. I knew my friends would feed me. In the bag were things that made me feel close to my family.

Shelter. Food. Love. That’s all.

Everything else can burn.

Johanna Derry is a journalist, editor and blogger who lives in London (not above a Greggs anymore) and who likes attempting to make bread (she missed the smell of it). She blogs at: http://meandthegirlfromclapham.wordpress.com/

God 52 – Week Fifteen (9/4/13)

9 Apr

A prime example. I owned this, obviously.

My garage was a temple to Mammon. One wall was completely filled with the most comprehensive movie collection a man could wish for – an alphabetised shrine to cinema, containing DVDs of the greatest films ever made (and Transformers). Not only DVDs – two-disc special edition DVDs. Limited edition collectors tin DVDs. Fold-out-Optimus-Prime-figure-edition DVDs.

I don’t think I’ve ever put the second disc from a two-disc special edition into my DVD player. But I’ve bought 100s of the things. Why?Because the marketing draws me in – like popcorn sizing that promises so much more for a modest price increase – and every time it does, it strengthens the hold of materialism in my life. So while I didn’t watch them, I enjoyed the shiny packaging – the sense of having obtained great possessions. Often I would walk into my garage, like some very rubbish version of Alexander the Great, and survey all that I had conquered (from HMV).

A few years ago, I started exploring the Spiritual Disciplines, one of which is Simplicity. Practicing Simplicity requires us to ask three questions of ourselves: a) where should I do less, b) where should I have less, and c) using the space created by the first two, what should I do more? We practice Simplicity in order to rebalance our lives – to work out where we’re badly investing our time or resources, or where our ‘stuff’ or our busyness is getting in the way of the important things in life: time with God, friends, family; resting, and feeding the soul.

God spoke very clearly to me as I tried to work out how to practice this discipline. The wall of DVDs had to go. So – very painfully – I sat one night and disassembled my collection. The films themselves – the good ones at least – went into a plain library folder to keep; the shiny boxes went into black bin liners. And all those disc twos – the things I’d paid an extra five pounds for just to make me feel smug? They went into the black bags too. I tossed the whole lot into the council tip – and as I did so, I felt an enormous sense of freedom.

This week then, we’re going to practice the discipline of Simplicity together, and focus on that second question: where should I have less? And to that end, here’s the challenge:

15: Get rid of something you want, but don’t need.

Identify one possession (or more) which you like, but isn’t actually vital to you. Don’t choose something of great sentimental value – rather find something of material worth which is hard for you to give away, but which you don’t really need. If you want to take that a stage further, see if you can choose something which actually gets in the way of your relationship with God and others – but it doesn’t need to be that complicated. Perhaps you simply want to get rid of something in order to say: ‘I own my material possessions – not the other way around.’

It’s up to you how you dispose of your possession – but I’d suggest that this offers a perfect opportunity to also practice generosity – so you could give it to a friend or to a charity shop, or sell it on ebay and give the proceeds away.

If the challenge seems too easy, make it more difficult. The act of giving up should hurt a little; the resulting sense of liberation will more than compensate.

Take that, materialism!

We’re always on the look out for guest bloggers. If you’d like to write a guest post this week on practicing simplicity, please read our writing guidelines, then drop me an email.