The process of lightening up my living

A few weeks ago, my whole life flashed before my eyes.

Well, maybe it didn’t actually flash. But, I really did feel I re-lived my 33 years of living in five days.

In those five days, I looked at all of my stuff and made a choice about whether to keep each item (not the goal), throw it away (the least ideal), or give it away (the most ideal).

I saw my baby pictures, the stories I wrote when I was in elementary school, photos and other mementos from high school, college, and my travels. I considered each item of clothing, each book, and every office supply I have accumulated over the years.

It was emotionally exhausting. And it was terribly necessary.

You see, I moved; from a large space to a smaller place. Before I moved, I didn’t feel like I was living with integrity. So, after this move, I actually blocked out some serious time to really sort through everything I had and make a choice about whether it was necessary for me to continue carrying it around.

I had a feeling it might be hard to let go of things and I was a little afraid. I thought I had psychologically prepared myself when I devised a formula I thought would be effective. My rule was that in order to keep something, two out of three of the following questions had to get a “yes” when I considered each item:

1.) Have I used it recently?

2.) Do I really like it? and

3.) Do I really need it?

Certainly this was a very time-consuming and difficult process, but it was extremely worthwhile.

I’m in my new space now and feel less crowded, thank God. Basically I am sighing out all sorts of relief. I am finally living in much more simplicity than I was–in line with the modesty I’ve desired. I’ve been longing for this simplicity for years.

Nope, ironically, since college and my study abroad experience in South Africa (when much of my desire for simplicity began) all my possessions have multiplied. They once filled a medium-sized moving truck. Or, in the most recent case, all my stuff filled a bedroom, an office, two closets, and a sprawling storage area in a basement.

I am a woman who entered religious life eager to try to imitate the radical poverty and simplicity of Saints Francis and Clare. (And Jesus Christ himself!) Therefore, the magnitude of my stuff was, frankly, just embarrassing.

It feels good that pretty much all my things now fit comfortably in a room that is about 180 square feet. In a way, I feel as if I am actually living in a cell like my elder Sisters sometimes did. And, I love it!

Plus, with the loss of clutter around me physically, I’ve noticed drastically less clutter in my mind and, correspondingly, in my prayer life. I feel more centered, more grounded. This has done a lot for my human relationships too.

My desire for greater simplicity and smaller living isn’t only rooted in my admiration for Saints Francis and Clare and their radical way of living the Gospel. I have also been influenced by my admiration for contemporary movements and trends, such as the tiny house movement, the Catholic Worker movement, and even the simplicity of the small houses in the IKEA stores.

There was good reason for me to have less, to simplify. I realize that for most people in this world, space and material stuff is a total luxury, and I want to live in solidarity with them as much as possible. I also recognize that our landfills and incinerators are quickly filling. I want to be a better steward and tread a little more lightly on this precious Earth.

This was the type of simplicity I long for: the beauty of nature. “Above La Verna, Italy” Photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Now, a few weeks into living with less stuff, I can admit: It certainly was quite a process to lighten my living, but I am finding that it was totally worth it.

My life is simpler. I feel lighter. I have less stuff but I have more freedom and joy. I feel a sense of integrity. Most importantly, I feel closer to God.

Totally worth it.

living simply to build community

You’ve probably heard the saying: “Live simply so others may simply live.”  Different sources credit the phrase to different wise people, like St. Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa. Either way, it’s a good mantra and the saying totally carries weight.

Lately a new, yet similar saying has been rattling around in my consciousness:  “Live simply so communities can simply survive.”  It’s not as poetic but I think it’s just as true and powerful. Plus, I made it up (I think) so that adds to its awesomeness. Just kidding!

Anyway, in my recent summer adventures I have been encountering this simplicity truth in a variety of ways. It’s not new stuff to me; I think about it lot.  The circumstances of life, however, just really seem to rub my face in my convictions sometimes.

Last week while I was working with the Peacebuilders Initiative I was blessed to accompany a group of teens on their ministry site visits to the White Rose Catholic Worker here in Chicago.  My friends at the White Rose totally seem like ordinary Christians to me. They dumpster dive, grow and preserve their food, give things away freely, advocate for justice, pray a lot, share everything (including their home with strangers)  and compost and recycle all their waste.  Yet, the teens kept talking about this way of life as foreign to them. It was a reminder to me how my preferred way of life (service combined with sustainability mixed into activism, grounded in good Catholic prayer) is actually quite radical.

Sometimes I forget how my vocation and passions have made me into a counter-cultural creature.  The thing is though, my consciousness doesn’t really make it into an option for me, but a necessity. There’s a fire in my belly that burns me right into action. I live the way I do- and am always seeking to increase my sustainability and simplicity- because it seems to me to be the way we need to live.

When the Peacebuilders and I visited my Catholic Worker friends last week, their community did a really terrific job of organizing programming and hands-on actions in order to help the teens gain an foundational understanding about why people choose to live simply as they do.

One day we watched this video together and discussed how environmentalism is intertwined with Gospel living:

The video left me feeling embarrassed for a variety of reasons.  It feels overwhelmingly inevitable that I cooperate with the systemic injustices related to consumerism. I don’t mean to, I don’t want to. I just seems to happen, I’m sorry.  (I feel like a whiner as I confess this sin, blah!)

But then, I know about alternatives to cooperating with the mainstream.  And I try to choose them as much as possible.  Some of the most basic ways to live simply have to do with food.

My friends at the Catholic Worker House took our Peacebuilder group to their organic farm for some good-old-fashioned labor last week and I was overjoyed (seriously!) to be placing composted manure around plants and weeding veggies.  I was also amazed while I heard the teens say that they had never done anything like it before.   Again, I was reminded that it is sort of a radical thing to grow one’s own food now days.

Then, on Tuesday of this week I was was again doing labor and bonding with Earth.  I helped my sister box up veggies from her farm for her CSA business. As we weeded, harvested, packaged and delivered foods to people in her community I couldn’t help but think the whole thing felt sort of silly- we were working so hard to feed people who also had good land to grow food. My sister echoed my thoughts as we drove around (and wasted fuel) and made deliveries.  She said she’d welcome competition and wishes that CSAs were more ordinary, as it is necessary for us to develop community through local economies. In the same way, I prefer that we’d revert to a culture of neighbors creating hand-made crafts and food for each other. The earth seems to be begging for it.

Let’s do it, Christians.  Let’s free ourselves from bills and material abundance, and live simply so that we are closer to the earth and our neighbors. Let’s build community by sharing in the responsibility of sustainability.  Let’s live life to the fullest and love one another.  The bible tells us to, plus our brothers and sisters far and near need us to help build their communities, not harm them.

As my sister, the farmer, said here, eating food (like all simple actions) is something that connects as a community, no matter where live.   So, let’s connect by living simply. God help us, Amen.