I’m reading the book 7 (an experimental mutiny against excess) by Jen Hatmaker. I highly recommend it, but you should know: it’s wrecking me. And even more frightening, it may wreck my family and my life as I know it. (But in a good way.)
I’m tinkering with the idea of radical reduction. This idea has been rolling around in my head for a few years, usually after Shane and I read a Francis Chan book or visit an underdeveloped country.
I reduce. I do.
I clean my closets and my attic. I sell stuff. I even pray about reduction. My personal theme for last year was “Simplify.”
My family has reduced on purpose many times, twice leaving the cushy world of outside sales for a blistering life in church ministry. I keep my work hours low to reduce stress and scheduling chaos in my home. I live in an old house in constant need of upkeep (which it rarely gets). I almost never see the inside of a mall or a department store; I shop clearance, with coupons, at already-discounted venues. I hire out almost nothing, not even my nails.
And yet, I have an excessive life by the world’s standards and even most Americans (whom I don’t know, but it’s still true).
I need a spring-cleaning of all things wasteful and self-indulgent in my life. I call my lavish middle-class living “normal” on a good day and “unfair” on a bad day. I want more, even though I have the spiritual maturity to know that “more” never ends and will never satisfy. What follows these realizations is typically the good Christian mom approach–I decide that being better organized, setting better boundaries, re-adjusting my priorities, and guarding my family time will provide the structure and results I’m craving.
Unfortunately, that mindset also reeks of a self-absorbed, middle-class Westerner who feels guilty about having too much, but doesn’t want to live like the rest of world does. After all, choices and variety comprise the mantra of the privileged. In case you didn’t realize it, that’s us. You’re privileged, and so am I. You’re sitting at a computer right now reading a blog. That’s what privileged people do. The underprivileged are scouring their countrysides for food and water. (That’s about 95% of the world.)
Even with this knowledge, I’m afraid to make any serious commitment to this idea of eliminating excess because I’m a conservative excessive. That seems like an oxymoron, but it’s true–I’m not a radical, trend-setting, follow-the-latest-trend kind of person. I hate that stuff. I’d prefer to plod along, always mindful of the perimeters around me. A little old-fashioned, if you will. Let me do my conservative artist/teacher thing and don’t make me try anything dangerous. I can’t even accept a new fashion trend until it’s no longer trendy. Like right now, I finally have a great supply of scarves, but last year, the infinity scarf thing hit the market. Really? Can’t I just keep wrapping my old scarves around my neck? (I do.)
I don’t have the personality of someone who reduces her food variety to only 7 healthy foods or discontinues clothes-buying for an entire year. That doesn’t sound fun to me, however conservative I may be. That challenge does not excite me to change myself. If I truly want a change, I will re-arrange the furniture or paint the walls. (You can always move stuff back or re-paint!)
Hence, the reason I am musing. I’m trying to work up the nerve to really reduce. And I’m not talking about streamlining our kids down to one sport so we have more breathing room, because often that’s just a euphemism for grooming a super-star (extra trainers and coaches are in the future). Here’s the question of the day: Do I really have the courage to live simply and give away the excess? Could I extricate myself from the rat race completely, without tip-toeing back onto the racetrack?
As I re-consider my excessive lifestyle, I’m struck with a new thought. Perhaps intentional reduction is a re-interpretation of freedom.
Am I free? Or am I shackled by my emotional connection to having more?
I don’t like the answer.