When Erik and I got married we had no intention or desire to settle down in the USA and live the typical North American lifestyle. I had just returned from nine months in Asia, and Erik had spent time teaching English in Yemen. Our plan at the time was to return together to the Middle East where we would live and work. There's a line in a movie we recently watched that said something like "If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans."
And so we married and settled into life together in our little duplex. We "knew" we'd only be there temporarily and we lived with that in mind. Instead of registering for a large set of dishes I bought mismatched ones from thrift stores. We drove little old cars that got us where we needed to go. We were very happy in our simple life together. We soon realized the group Erik had worked with in Yemen wasn't going to be the best fit for us as a couple, but we still had every intention of going. I got pregnant with Peregrine right away and we looked forward with joy to his birth. And then, a week before he was due, we learned Erik had cancer. He had surgery, I had a baby. He went through radiation and we then looked ahead to years of follow-up to be sure the cancer was truly gone. We knew our dream of going overseas to live would have to be put off for a few years, but we continued to hold onto it.
Little by little though, we grew comfortable here. We bought a house and traded in our little car for a minivan. Erik got into a three-year apprenticeship at the utility company. In a few more months he will be a journeyman substation wireman, something that could possibly be used in another country. We've seen God's hand in giving him this job and we're very thankful for it. But with it, we've settled a little more. Our spending seems to increase with his pay. I found a set of dishes I really liked; they have paisley designs and remind me of my beloved India. We've had a couple more kids and collected a whole lot more stuff. We live five minutes away from my parents and both my sisters. I love being so close to them.
So yesterday we were talking, Erik and I. We realized that somewhere along the line we lost sight of our goal. We're living, in a way, the North American dream. We are happily married with three kids, a minivan, a commuter car, a tent trailer, a home in a quiet cul-de-sac, a stable income, close family, a good church, good friends. Now don't get me wrong, we are very, very thankful for each one of these blessings. But we slipped into this comfort zone and are living a pretty typical life here. We started thinking about the things we'd really like to do and how we can make some changes in order to do them.
Even if our dream of living overseas never fully materializes, we'd like to have the freedom to travel more, to spend a few months here or a year there living in other countries. We'd love to be able to go visit friends who are missionaries, to help them out in their work, to encourage them, and to expose our kids to different cultures. We have friends in India, Yemen, Quatar, Italy, Haiti (soon), Costa Rica.... And while we are living here, we want to be way more intentional about keeping it simple. (Which, I think, is the opposite of keeping up with the Joneses.) We want to rethink the way we're living, how much stuff we really need, to consider more carefully the things we own and the things we buy, to think about whether or not we really need them, to consider the impact the making of that stuff has on other people's lives, communities, and the environment.
I think we've lost sight of sacrifice, of giving something up now, in order to attain a goal later. It's really what the Christian life is like, but I think we often separate it into spiritual and material compartments. I read somewhere of a family with several children, (I think it was 8 or 9) who dreamed of building a house without going into debt. They are living in a garage, all of them, and building their home as they can afford it. They are making a serious sacrifice of space and stuff, in order to realize their dream of owning their home outright. This kind of thinking is really challenging Erik and I right now. What do we really want? More importantly, what kind of lifestyle does God want us to live? And how do we get there from here?
One of the things we think a lot about, is Erik being able to work independently, not to be tied in to a 40-hour a week job. In order to really make this a reality, we need to be willing to live on less than we do now. This is possible, but we need to be intentional about it. Our dreams go on from there. We talk about crazy things, like living in a yurt, or spending a year traveling around the US in an RV (or a converted school bus!). What better way to teach US history to the kids? Wouldn't it be great to build some sort of alternative home, like an earthbag house, or a strawbale one, or a yurt, and power it with wind and solar energy? To be able to work together as a family on a project like this, to grow more of our own food, to be less dependent on this culture and all of it's stuff? We don't just want to accept the status quo of our culture!
So, we've decided to make a few changes, to start trying to think differently, intentionally, about what we want in life, about simplifying things, about consuming less and having more time, energy, and resources for what is really important to us. We're going to start going through our stuff and getting rid of some of it. Just last night I went through most of my kitchen cupboards and filled up two boxes with stuff I just don't use. We all have way more clothes than we need, too. I read of one family who had a set amount of items for each person for each season. I like this idea a lot- I need to think about it a little. How many long pants, long shirts, etc. is reasonable? Our drawers and closets are overflowing with clothes, way more than we need, and it really just complicates things. What else? Toys, books, things we keep around because we might need them someday. There's so much we can get rid of!
We want try to replace consumable items with non-consumables. For example, I just switched to cloth diapers. I'm loving them, and so very happy not to be buying, and using, disposables. I'm getting ready to make some cloth baby wipes to go along with them. What else can we replace? I'm excited about beginning this process of simplifying our lives. I know it's just that, a process, and I don't really know where we'll end up. But something is stirring in our hearts, and we'll see what becomes of it. I'll be sure to keep you posted!
Do you have any ideas for living more simply? I'd love to hear them!