The Art of Simple Living

Not long ago, a friend went through his closet and gave away literally half of his clothes. Rather than missing the items, he said life felt less complicated. Instead of feeling deprived, he felt freed up.

Jane Hammerslough, author of Dematerializing: Taming the Power of Possessions, describes how a roof repair gone wrong forced her family into a quick move to a small, sparsely furnished rental house for six months. She writes of their surprise that they didn’t miss much of what they left behind. Rather than feeling depressed by the “hideous living room” and “mismatched plates” in their temporary quarters, they felt liberated. And when they returned home, she felt “overwhelmed by the utter excess of stuff.” A purging of things soon followed.

She concluded that, “When ‘enough’ is always just a little more than you already have, you don’t have a lot of room left for the truly great pleasures of life: family, friends and the time to enjoy them.”

Making Room For What Matters

Of course, too much stuff can also leave too little room for God. With all the time required to shop for, use, store, clean, maintain, organize, insure, and worry about our stuff, there can be little time left for reading God’s Word, prayer, ministry, church, and reaching out to others.  Is it any wonder that the Bible encourages simple living?

I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple —in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is on its way out. – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (MSG)

In his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster agues that, “The majority of Christians have never seriously wrestled with the problem of simplicity, conveniently ignoring Jesus’ many words on the subject. The reason is simple: This Discipline directly challenges our vested interests in an affluent life-style.”

But the recession may have started to change that, sparking a renewed interest in simplicity.  In recent years, writers ranging from mutual fund company founders to spiritual thinkers have weighed in on the question: “How much is enough?”

Simplicity Is More Than Uncluttered Closets

Of course, there is no clear line indicating exactly how much is enough.  But one thing is for sure: simple living does not begin with a trip to The Container Store.  Instead, Foster describes simplicity as “an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle.” It’s “a life of joyful unconcern for possessions” and “the one thing that sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us.”

Foster, who explores the meaning and practice of simplicity in more detail in his book, Freedom of Simplicity, says there are three heart attitudes related to possessions that lead to peace. “If what we have we receive as a gift, and if what we have is to be cared for by God, and if what we have is available to others, then we will possess freedom from anxiety.”

Once we have begun to cultivate those inner attitudes, what might the outer expression of those attitudes look like? Foster offers 10 suggestions:

  • Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status
  • Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you
  • Develop a habit of giving things away
  • Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry
  • Learn to enjoy things without owning them
  • Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation
  • Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes
  • Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech
  • Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others
  • Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God

Moving Toward Simplicity

In our materialistic, over-marketing-messaged world, simplicity isn’t, well, so simple. But as Richard Foster emphasizes, it begins on the inside with the attitudes of our heart.

What have you found helpful in cultivating a simpler lifestyle?

My first post each month explores what the Bible has to say about money and material things.  Here’s why.

If you know someone else who might benefit from this article, please forward a link.  And if you haven’t done so already, you can subscribe to this blog by clicking here.  Two or three times a week, you’ll receive ideas and encouragement for using money well.

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11 Responses to The Art of Simple Living

  1. Matt Bell December 26, 2011 at 8:32 AM #

    Glad to hear that it was inspiring, Mark. In our cluttered, noisy world, simplicity is resonating with more and more people, myself included.

  2. Mark December 22, 2011 at 2:58 PM #


    Great posting (just reading it now at year’s end). Inspirational and thought provoking. “I’m in!” That is, I will walk away committed to incorporating a simpler liefstyle for me and my home going forward. Thanks for the great, on-going services you provide…

  3. Scot Hollingsworth June 3, 2011 at 11:00 PM #


    Very timely in my life. As a matter of fact I’m reading Foster’s Celebration even now. You should see our house, though. We took in all the excess furniture from my parents when they recently moved from a house to a retirement community apartment. And our adult children left behind way too much stuff they don’t remotely have room for themselves.

    And in my consulting practice I’m telling others that “you’ve got to fight for simplicity.” Hmmm.


    P.S. I have new info on the topic we were discussing back in Feb: asset sales. Call me when you’ve got a few moments.

  4. Miranda Hubbard June 3, 2011 at 4:18 PM #

    Thank you Matt for this insightful post. Just when I think I am doing better about “stuff” getting a hold of my heart we have another baby and I get caught up in the frenzy of baby shopping. Actually I really haven’t bought anything but I have accepted way to many hand me downs. Even if you don’t pay for the things you should think twice about what you posses. Our garage is now overflowing and getting baby’s “things” ready is now just another thing to take time away from an already busy schedule and add stress to life. How SILLY! He doesn’t need all this! Thank you for the reminder to try again- funny how “un”simple it is to live simply!

  5. Matt Bell June 2, 2011 at 1:20 PM #

    Gratefulheart – Be sure to check out this article:


    Click on the Consumer Reports link and it’ll show their recommendations for the best used cars in various price ranges. Hope this helps.

  6. gratefulheart June 2, 2011 at 10:51 AM #

    Thank you Matt for your insight and inspiration. I drive very infrequently, but I guess he doesn’t want me not to have one at all. We were hoping to get a “maybe better quality” car this time, that will last longer than 7 years–even tho it was a ’98 used car to begin with. I would like to buy an American made car instead of a Foreign car which was very expensive when work needed needed done. Neverless, we will buy one that is at least 2 years old–the previous owner will have taken the depreciation on it already. We will continue to save every month even when we get our car. That way–in maybe 10 years or so (God willing) we will have enough for another one–without any car loans! God is good!
    Many thanks to you.

  7. Matt Bell June 1, 2011 at 10:07 PM #

    Gratefulheart – Good for you that you have money saved for a good used car and that you’re standing firm for not going into debt. I must be missing something, though. If you have money saved for a car, why do you need to go without? Were you hoping to buy a used car that costs more than $11,000? If so, I’m with you. If it’s an option to wait until you have the amount you were hoping for, I’d do that vs. take on a car loan. We’ve been doing just fine with one car for about 3 years now.

  8. Scott June 1, 2011 at 9:43 PM #

    Living simply,
    Sounds like a country bumpkin saying ! What a challenge it is to stay simple. WE try to think of things in the term of “basic” also. We have hobby items , like fishing stuff and hunting stuff, but we try to keep it “basic”.Last fall I decided that the family was ready to shovel snow. As our snow blower and lawn mower were showing age , I took a chance and went to trade both of them for a “basic” lawn mower for the next spring. I walked away with a new mower ! And we had a good experience with snow shoveling (really). I hope that the greatest lesson we learn from thinking about living simply is this; to simply rely on God for all we need .

  9. Martha June 1, 2011 at 2:32 PM #

    This topic reminded me of a Frontline (PBS)video, “The Merchants of Cool”, which shares how marketers target their young audiences!

    An eyeopener for me!

    You can watch it online as well as download the transcript.

    I am very concerned about our youth and how they relate to “stuff”!

  10. gratefulheart June 1, 2011 at 1:45 PM #

    I am not able to work as I take care of my mom here at home.
    My husband who is also a Christian, has a good job and we are debt free.
    We have saved $11,000 towards a good used car. We have 3-4 months emergency savings in a money market. I really don’t want to touch that.
    As of today, our car now is ready for the junk yard with over $3,000 worth of repairs that would need done on a 1998, foreign car. Too many expenses on the car all these years. Last week it was worth about $1,000 trade in, but not now.
    My husband doesn’t want me without a car, but I keep thinking about the bible verse that the debtor is slave to the lender, and I don’t want to go in debt. If I can only convince him that I can go without a car for awhile, but I don’t know if that will work. We’ll be praying about this, and would appreciate any suggestions you may have.
    God bless you in your ministry, Matt.

  11. Cindy June 1, 2011 at 10:48 AM #

    Hi Matt,thank you for this article.Yes,indeed many people including myself struggle to lead a simple life.This serves as a reminder to me..Tks again!

    God Bless You and all @ home!


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