Simplicity has often eluded me. All of my life, I have devoured messages of consumerism. It has been a constant onslaught of “buy this,” “buy that,” “you need this,” and “just try it.” My mailbox is a reservoir that tugs and pulls, calling me to buy, buy, buy and spend, spend, spend.
And then I see my bathroom closet, a gravesite of broken promises and products that just didn’t deliver. All of those creams, lotions, toxin-filled solutions for life’s most challenging obstacle: the wrinkle.
It was my first garage sale that truly made me stop in my tracks. Seeing all of my “must-haves” and “treasures” laying grudgingly on the tables in front of our house. Without their name-brand price tags and flashy packaging, they didn’t look so desirable.
Had I really “needed” it all? Would my life have been that different without those things? And how much money had I actually spent on it all? How many days did I slave away at work for everything that was lying before me? How many days was I pulled from my family in order to buy more stuff?
Like I said, it’s the “unlearning” part that’s difficult. I try to remind myself that things weren’t always like this. The people before us didn’t always need the latest gadget, the latest trend that was waved before their eyes. They weren’t pushed and shoved in one direction and then the next by the all-dictating media. Their decisions were their own. Their choices, purely of instinct and community. There wasn’t the need for more, more, more. Or was there?
How exactly did we get here? How did we fill our days with so much stuff that the only answer we can give others when asked how we’re doing is “busy.” Busy doing what? Working for more stuff? Thriving to have more? Where does it end?
The problem is, it doesn’t. The addiction then slithers over to the intangible, the need for more information, more apps, more ideas, more insight into others’ lives. It’s a virtual world that encompasses us, sucks our time, energy and resources and pulls us further and further away from the truly important.
It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw as a child. It was a Yogi Bear cartoon where Yogi Bear was in a river hunting for fish. He would pull them out one by one until he finally had an armful of trout. A smile of contentment would creep over his face at the exact moment he spotted another fish. A bigger fish. A better fish. He would then throw all of his fish in the air in an attempt to grab the new one and then realize all too late that he had just lost all that was in his arms. He would then fumble through the water trying to catch as many new fish as he could. Unfortunately, there were always “new” fish, and the cycle continued to repeat itself until poor Yogi was left with absolutely nothing.
As a child, I didn’t realize how prophetic this was, how very much our lives would become cartoon-like, exaggerated slightly, in pursuit of the next best thing, waiting for the “4”, the “5”, the “6”, and so on. It has become an existence of acquiring and waiting, acquiring and waiting. Sometimes the waiting, even set aside, in exchange for a line of credit. Sometimes, the acquiring in exchange for another person altogether.
If we stood back and could see from afar, what would our lives look like? Would there be a series of jumping from one thing to the next? A life of unintentional consumerism?
Or would we have the insight to see beyond the chaos to that small place inside of each and everyone of us that just yearns for peace? Would we find that small place that yearns to be connected, not through the virtual waves of air and wires, but through physical connection and presence? Would we have the courage to push aside the madness, to shove it away? Would we be able to unlearn all that we have been taught?
In this culture and age, simplicity is difficult. It calls for action, daily action. It’s being strong enough to recycle the catalogs before pouring over them and making a detailed list of more “wants”. It’s fast-forwarding the commercials, ignoring the daily ads that flash before my eyes from every portal. It’s shopping less and only looking when something is truly needed. It’s filling my time with more productive things than yearning for something that is always just beyond my reach. It’s unlearning the need for more so that I may stretch the “moment” of contentment and blanket myself with its warmth.
It is in this warmth that I can shield my children from the ravenous world. It is in this place that I can allow them to embrace their faith, learn the purity of simplicity, and the value of family. It is in this place that I can truly make our house a home.