The son’s room is messy. The daughter’s room is messy. The kitchen is messy. The sink is messy. The family room is messy. The office is messy. The garage is messy. The yard is messy. The inbox is messy. The Netflix queue is messy. The cash flow is messy. The retirement account is messy. The exercise routine is messy. The plan for finding time to relax is messy. And there are some other messes besides.
But you have found the light. You have heard about simplicity. Or perhaps you have heard it called minimalism or zen or Dave Ramsey. Whatever you believe it is, you are a believer. And you are ready to jump in and fix it all. At once.
Take a moment. In that moment make a few decisions:
Make the decision to be thankful. Gratitude is a quality of being rather than a thing. We cannot get gratitude. We have to be grateful. When we receive a physical or emotional or intellectual gift we cherish, we just naturally delight in the gift. It is possible to do this without being grateful for the life that has made the gift possible.
When I was eighteen my parents helped my buy a Toyota 4×4 truck. They co-signed and I assumed the monthly payments. Admittedly, it was not the best financial mentorship; nevertheless, that is what happened. It was not that I was unappreciative of them. Sure I was appreciative. But there was an awesome red truck to admire. Reflecting back on the experience, I am not sure I paused to be thankful for the life I had been given: born to generous parents in a country where eighteen-year-olds can buy brand new Toyota 4×4 trucks. Truly there was unmeasurably more to be grateful for than that truck. I mostly liked the truck.
It is better to pause and be thankful for the core blessings of life.
Also, there is a fringe benefit that comes from this kind of gratitude. It helps us put the things we think we want into perspective. Back then if I had the maturity to pause and reflect on the blessings of my life, it might have given me enough time to consider that an eighteen-year-old really should not buy a new truck he can only barely pay for by working a sales job at a bicycle shop. A bit of gratitude could have spared me financial irresponsibility. It might have also kept me from totaling the truck playing Pikes Peak on a back road near my house, but that is another story.
Make the decision to embrace long-suffering. One of the oddities of modern life is many of our messes can be traced back to our effort to avoid long-suffering. It is the way of modernity; we add stuff to our lives to make our lives more efficient and effortless. Some people are not going to like reading this, but do you know how “more efficient and effortless” is translated into plain English? “Messy.”
Know this: pursuing a life of simplicity inevitably means more long-suffering. From the trivial pains of having to wear the same clothes week after week because you do not have several closets full of options, to the more serious difficulties of making family and friends uncomfortable because you are not going with the flow of consumer culture.
A lifestyle of simplicity is not an overnight success. It takes time and effort. Carl Jung said that the avoidance of legitimate suffering leads to neuroses. Inefficiency and hard work are legitimate sufferings. We cannot escape them with a purchase from the mall. A lifestyle of simplicity will make long-suffering more acute, which is to say it will make life more human. This is a good thing. Trust me, it is also less messy.
Make the decision to not be perfect. The most egregious lie of consumerism is that if you get the right stuff then you will arrive at a perfect life. Perfect kids’ rooms. Perfect kitchen. Perfect sink with perfect fixture. Perfect family room furnishings. Perfect office with perfect Ikea decor and perfect Apple products. You get the picture. The problem with the consumerist mentality is that it requires always striving for perfection. Always getting. Never arriving. Consumerism is the antithesis of perfection. Ironically, it only works when we deny the truth and buy the lie.
We just are not perfect. This side of eternity, no amount of stuff we buy…or simplicity or minimalism or zen or cash flow is going to change that. We are not perfect.
So when you reject the lie of consumerism, do not replace it with false expectations of simplicity. Simplicity will make your life better than a consumerist lifestyle, right up until the time when you start demanding simplicity make your life perfect. Then it is back to square one.
Pause. Be grateful. Embrace long-suffering. Accept imperfection. Practice these traits and you will thrive as you mature in your new lifestyle of simplicity.