Summer gives us some flexibility to take on projects that can mirror those of Lent, or those we wish we had done for Lent. For Susan Vogt, a Lenten challenge became an addiction. Her forty bags for forty days campaign on her blog encouraged others to join her in giving away one bag of unneeded items every day for 40 days. The discipline of giving things away began to lift the burdens of clutter, confusion and indecision about things she didn’t use. Her new freedom set in motion a new radical, simplified, ecologically-friendly lifestyle.
Living with less became a spiritual challenge for her and her husband 365 days a year. Soul-searching questions arose such as “How much is enough?” and “How much is too much?” These questions apply to everything in our lives from tithing to eating, from clothes to memorabilia, from relationships to emotional burdens of worry, sadness, guilt and fear of death.
Soon she was scrutinizing everything in her life and weighing its usefulness to the empty-nester stage of her life. Would she be better without it? Could someone else benefit more than her from having it?
She found that living lightly cleans out her home, shares the wealth, is good for the Earth and is spiritually fulfilling. Learning to live more generously, humbly and lightly became her way of making a positive difference in the world.
She lives by ten rules of thumb for living lightly:
- Living in destitution is not a virtue; helping people out of destitution is.
- Be prudent, responsible and wise.
- Be generous, unencumbered and fair.
- The less I have, the less I have to guard, clean and repair.
- If I don’t need it now (or soon), can I give it to someone who does?
- Spend in order to save.
- Decide which technologies save time, energy and money – and which ones waste time, energy and money.
- Let go of anger, grudges and compulsions to lighten the heart.
- Smile and laugh more.
- Forgive others. Forgive myself. It lifts the spirit.
She supports the ten rules of thumb with Scripture meditations. Questions for reflections or discussion that surprised me were, “What would be the basic possession I need for a decent life?” and “How do I know when I have taken on other people’s problems?” The question that hit me in the depths of my soul was, “What step could I take to tame too much information (including technology), to let go of trying to control other people or to break a bad habit?”
Susan goes into detail about the how and why of every aspect of simple living and how to get there whether you are in the first half or the last half of your life. The first steps and big steps at the end of each chapter are for those seeking what she calls “light and easy” or “extreme lightness.” The suggestions range from taking a tech fast for a few days to cultivating easy hair. She strives to carry the minimum, whether that means paring down personal belongings to fit in the smallest purse or through intentional gratitude to shake off emotional baggage. One Lent she and her husband ate on a food-stamp budget of $4.50 a day. But only once.
I found the section on taming time by giving it away sobering. Her attempts to clear her home of her children’s possessions made this empty-nester laugh.
“It’s a spiritual challenge to put our stuff and our lives at the service of others. As a Christian I see this way of life as a gospel imperative, but it’s not easily accomplished,” Susan writes. “We want to make a positive difference in our world. Learning to live more generously, humbly and lightly is a way to do this.”
© 2015 Nancy HC Ward