Saturday, July 19, 2014

living simple, living small

I don’t function well amidst clutter. I can’t work. I can’t think. I can’t sleep – not if there are piles of things laying where they don’t belong. Sometime post-college and after I started living alone, ordering my surroundings became a hobby. I’d arrange and rearrange my few belongings and all of life would be put on pause if something disrupted my sense of order.

After getting married, Jeremy and I had to work out our “stuff” related issues. While Jeremy is not nearly as OCD as I am, he still values an uncluttered life, particularly given our limited square footage.

While living simply and living small is par for the course in rural Zambia, we've noticed that many of our American friends struggle with the desire to downsize. Hip designers have rebranded small homes as “space efficient dwellings” and Pinterest has taught us a thousand new ways to creatively store all our crap. There are clearly ways to shrink your life, and yet... THE STUFF. The real struggle doesn’t seem to be in the floor plan or in finding clever storage cubbies. The battle for simple and the battle for small is waged primarily at point of purchase.

This is something Jeremy and I learned early on, cohabitating inside a petit abode. With every pending purchase we stopped to ask, “where are we going to put it?” We knew that if we were going to live unencumbered by junk (or treasure) we had to be diligent on this point. And for the most part, it has not been that hard – especially since, truth be told, there isn’t that much stuff to buy in the Luapula region.

We are able to contrast our Zambia life, however, with the  consumerist culture that so totally dominates America. Even in the few weeks of sojourning in America every year or so, we absolutely feel the marketing pressure coming from every direction telling us to buy more stuff and put it in a suitcase and haul it back to our too-small house in the bush. Every blessed time we have traveled to the states we have said, on the front end, “I don’t think we’ll have much to carry back this time…” And then we end up stuffing our luggage to max capacity. Why? Because America is flashy and we are weak and the struggle is real.I may or may not have lugged 50 lbs of Wegmans across the ocean in May. 

Staging our own form of intervention, we've given extended thought as to how to conquer America, how to stick to our guns, to keep living simply, and to keep living small. We're developing habits now that we hope will serve us well, particularly if we ever move our of Zambia and into a first world country. To share with you all some of what we've come up with, I’ve compiled here a list of ideas and tactics that we use somewhat in Zambia, but particularly in America, to combat the compulsion to buy stuff and expand storage and clutter our lives.

14 habits to develop towards simple and small living

1. Develop the mental discipline of NOT comparing. Size, quantity, expense, niceness. None of it. Comparison is the gateway drug to both discontentment and justification, both of which inevitably result in shopping therapy.

2. Turn off the TV and put the magazines down. It is near impossible to look at pictures of beautiful people and all their beautiful things without lusting after it all a little bit.

3. Change the question from, “Can I afford it?” to “Can I live without it?” The answer to the first question keeps your bank account in check, but the second keeps crap out of your closet.

the living room. that's all she wrote.

4. Make penny pinching a game. An albeit weird game, see how little you can possibly spend this quarter and then try to beat your record next quarter. Every time you pass up a sale or go without the upgrade you get to squeal, “I’m winning!”

5. Don’t celebrate how much you saved – celebrate how much you didn’t spend period. Similar to number 4, but with a twist. Many bargain shoppers love to purchase items that are on sale just for the thrill of the 50% off, not because they needed that item. Garage sale-ing is perfect for finding a very specific item but is clutter suicide when you’re just hunting deals.

6. Budget like a fiend. If all the pennies are “locked” into another category/account/budget line item, they just aren’t available for unnecessary purchases. Revisit the flexible areas of the budget often to see what else you can trim down and throw into savings – or generous giving which brings me to my next point:

the play area.

7. Find excessive amounts of joy in giving money away. When you commit to tithing a certain amount and giving regularly to charity or missions or child sponsorship, that money is less likely to be used on stuff for the basement. Establish biblical convictions about tithing and stretch your limits. Consider increasing your giving amounts each year. Don’t know where to give? Choshen Farm is a FANTASTIC option.

8. Engage the one-in-one-out rule in as many areas of your life. Fine, buy the new dress, but another one has to leave the closet before this one comes in.

9. Set time limits on unused items. Haven’t golfed in 5 years? To Craigs List the clubs shall go.

10. Seize the moment. That irrational/angry moment when you look around and feel like you are a candidate for hoarders? That’s when you need to go on a rampage, throwing out everything you don’t use without thinking twice about what ends up in the trash or donate bin.

the homestead at a glance.

11. Find accountability amongst like minded friends. Talk about your shopping habits and confess your materialism. Play the penny pincher game with your besties and surround yourself with people who are a positive influence – not a stumbling block – in this area.

12. Determine in advance which will be your bulky or splurge items. We built an entire separate building to house our king sized bed so that we could bed share under the same mosquito net. No qualms there because it was intentional and right for our family.

13. Hand write the values/priorities/mantras that will keep you in check.  “I value storing up my treasures in heaven,” “no new shoes until we are debt free,” “where moth and rust will not destroy…” Write it, post it, ponder it often. And as a way of creating a less materialistic vision for your life… (see 14)

14. Spend more time in the Bible letting those thoughts dominate your own. When you are compelled to mission, sacrifice and God’s glory, everything on Amazon just looks so much less attractive.

the culinary corner.

What about you? What tips can you share for cutting down on the clutter and living simply and small?

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