Friday, April 8, 2011

Hobbit Spaces and Hobo Inventories - An Apologia for Simplicity

Earth's population is rising to 7,000,000,000 and rent is skyrocketing in all major cities; it's about time we took a second glance at our living arrangements. The recent trend for homes -and it is recent, compared to one of the ancient Israeli houses- has been to have a room for most things under the sun, to acquire many possessions, and to embrace a sort of urban sprawl in our own dwelling places (I mean, spreading out on the ground level of our homes and taking more space, rather than building upwards for efficiency). It has become customary or expected for us to have a separate 'room' for everything from music to weights, all the way to a garage with all the tools and a private office space.

The Christian Answer to Home Sprawl
In our culture of materialist expectations and massive debt -a social pull that, as I began to plan out a home with my future wife, I realized was more common than I thought- our possessions are our identity: we own more clothes than we could ever wear in a week; furniture is seen as a need; entertainment in case of visitors is a must; we must have the newest cookware; the trend has gotten so bad that people have begun joining a 100 Item Challenge because 'stuff starts to overwhelm'. This isn't just an issue of us wildly exceeding the lifestyles of older generations, where people lived in 50-foot square homes and only owned 1 or 2 sets of clothes; this is an issue of us beginning to feel oppressed by the amount of things that we actually own and have to look after.

So on that note, it's worth looking at what the Bible has to say about possessions and simplicity: 2Chronicles 1:11 notes that God praised Solomon because he 'did not ask for possessions'; Luke 12:15,33 records Jesus' words about life not consisting of possessions; Paul wrote in Philippians 4.12 that he knew how to be content in every situation, and in 1 Timothy 6.6-10 that having food and clothes is enough in life; St. John the Apostle also wrote in 1 John 2.16 that a major category of temptation is 'the pride of possessions'. Take all that together, and the Bible says that our materialism is the opposite of what God wants.

I'm Convinced - So What Do I Do?
Luckily, others are starting to come to the conclusion that possessions are a problem. From Dave Bruno at the 100 Thing Challenge, to YouTube hit and 90-sq.-foot-apartment-dweller Felicia Cohen, and finally Jay Shafer who designed his own 100-sq.-foot home, people are starting to come up with real solutions to that materialism which our dream-home aspirations lay bare. Some of the solutions include: (1) intentionally limiting the number of items that we own (reach a certain number, like 100); (2) finding, then using, smaller and lower-rent living spaces; (3) moving in together with another family; (4) buying and living out of a van; (5) having a generational home; etc. God made the human mind a resourceful thing, meaning that there is no end to the variety of different solutions that we might make up

What Every College Dorm Kid Knows
If you have stayed for any period of time in one of those small, cramped college dorms which are only slightly bigger than your bedroom back home (except that the dorm is split between two people, making it even smaller), you know how to get by with minimal space and few possessions: eventually you just learn to build up. Everything in that space becomes multi-purpose. You realize that most of the stuff that you own is non-essential. It is this mindset that really helps us as we try to downsize and make life more simple. Getting out of the dorm is not a license to forget everything you ever learned during that experience -you've got to use that knowledge of how to work a living space. If you have ever gone tree planting and lived for four months out of a 7x4-ft. tent, the lesson is only more applicable: most of what we think we need, we could do just fine without.



  1. Great! Thanks brother :)

    I have (literally) a storage closet FULL of stuff just WAITING for me when I get back to Caronport. I've recruited 3 people to help me downsize. They asked "What do you really need, or want to keep" to which I replied "a Bible." I hate stuff, and it makes me miserable. Hopefully I can sell some stuff, bless people with some stuff, and then be free to just not have stuff haha =) Thanks for the post. I needed that encouragement.

  2. You're welcome. =)

    I feel some freedom when I realize that stuff = misery. Even in our relatively small basement suite, Kendra and I have so many possessions that I would say we spend 15%-20% of every day just cleaning up after ourselves and organizing where to put things. I would way rather have a 90-sq.-foot home that didn't consume my life, than have a much larger place that took up all my organizational abilities.


Start or join a conversation! Please do not use the 'Anonymous'; option; use the Name/URL form and leave a first and last name (or last initial). Thank you.