Monday, July 30, 2012

Simple Abundance

Yesterday I was reading two different magazines proportedly about "simple living."  One was Real Simple.  I like this magazine because of the pretty pictures (I mean, advertisements) and occassional clever ideas, although it has gotten a bit more pretentious in recent years.  Real Simple included articles about making more time in your schedule, organizing your over-full closet, redecorating your living room, and the perfect bargain shirt (only $100!) for your figure.

I was also reading Mother Earth News.  It talked about growing your own vegetables and how to find deals at the local farmers market.  One article was about how to live in a "tiny home" (these were less than 600sq feet) and another about using solar power. 

I was struck by the difference of these two magazines: One telling how to simplify your life while hanging on to your wealth.  The other telling how to live well with less.

One thing that has stood out to me this summer is the overabundance in America.  Not the American rich but "normal" middle class America, even people who feel like they are hurting.  I can't get over the average size of our houses.  The multiple family cars.  The giant closets full of clothes.  Basements, closets, and storage units for all our extra belongings.  The Chinese middle class would never dream of so much stuff.

It's been easier to live more simply in China.  We have a comparatively small apartment and don't have room for extra storage.  Moving every few years forces us to "purge" a lot.  We don't have (and don't need) a car - we can bike almost everywhere we go.  We buy very few non-consumable items during the year.

Even so, it's frustratingly difficult to live simply.  I came to China with two suitcases and after two years, gave away a bunch of stuff and still shipped 5 boxes.  After a year in the States, Kevin and I came back with 4 suitcases.  Three years and one baby later, we shipped 25 boxes to our latest location.  Where did all this come from?  How do you accumulate so many things without even realizing it?

I've been realizing that it's easy to live a China life with an American mindset.  It's easy to feel that the abundant American lifestyle we are used to is normal, even though it is anything from normal in most of the world.  It's easy to feel entitled to matching towels, cool baby toys, or a dryer, as if wealth is our birth-right.  A change of mindset and a broader perspective are a necessary start.

This past year and especially this summer I have been increasingly challenged to live more simply and and more naturally.  I have also been encountering a theme of generously, which I think is certainly related.  I don't want to simplify so I can be more comfortably surrounded by my wealth.  I don't want to simplify just for my own sake.  By simplifying my life, doing without a little of the "normal" abundance, can I help someone else live a better life or maybe just have the chance to live?


Nate and Molly said...

I'm reading Seven by Jenn Hatmaker right now with a few friends. It's a lot along those lines!

Melissa said...

I completely agree, nice post. Look forward to seeing you!