Gratitude and the Simplicity Movement

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This week we conclude our gratitude series with, well, gratitude to our fine contributors. As the series has gone on, I’ve been working a side project studying the simplicity movement. Some connections between simplicity and gratitude seem worth sharing in this week’s post.

Yours truly,
Adam J. Copeland, Director
Center for Stewardship Leaders
Luther Seminary

Gratitude and the Simplicity Movement
by Adam J. Copeland

This time of year it’s impossible to avoid the Christmas music at the mall, ads on the television (or web browser, or cell phone app), and ubiquitous Santas. If I’m honest, some of those ads are pretty amazing, but the ultimate message is clear: buy, buy, buy.

In contrast, I’ve recently been investigating some adherents of the simplicity movement. You may have heard of the tiny house craze, or people who pledge not to buy anything for a month or a year. These are all aspects of the simplicity movement, also called minimalism. Members of the movement attempt to chart another course of living in our consumerist world. Samuel Alexander describes it this way: “Voluntary simplicity is an oppositional living strategy that rejects the high-consumption, materialistic lifestyles of consumer cultures and affirms what is often called the ‘simple life’ or ‘downshifting.’” These folk look at what corporate culture has to offer and, with reflection and intention, choose to live with little instead.

One of the interesting outcomes of living simply is appreciating stuff more. For most of us, things have fairly little value because we think of them as expendable, multiple, replaceable. But for those who are part of the movement, the few items they own take on increased significance — increased, at least, in the sense of personal reflection and appreciation. If one only owns 100 things, these things must take on a different significance than the thousands of things most Americans own.  

Because they only own a few items of clothing, minimalists might particularly appreciate what value those few items add to their lives. The men behind The Minimalists put it this way: “every possession should serve a purpose or bring joy to your life.”

Now I’m not a minimalist, so this next claim is a bit of conjecture. But, I’m guessing that if one only owns, say, a few shirts, one can more easily recognize the value those few garments add to their lives than if one owned ten, twenty, or a hundred. To personalize it: I’m seldom intentionally grateful for the things at the bottom of the drawer.

As The Minimalists put it: more is less. The more stuff we have, the less appreciation we have for what’s actually important.

And I wonder about a corollary: the less stuff we have, the more we appreciate the value it brings to our lives. Which, in a very roundabout way, brings me back to gratitude.

It’s difficult to be grateful for stuff generally. In fact, the stuff of our lives can all too easily become clutter. But I do think we can be grateful for stuff that adds value to our lives, stuff that we purchase because of the joy it will bring, or because of the just supply chain it is part of, or because of the little carbon expended in its production. In sum, studying those who live simply makes me more grateful for the things I do own, even as it convicts me to give more of what I own away, and make more careful decisions about future purchases.

So, in an unexpected conclusion to our gratitude series, I admit that I am indeed grateful for some things — my tweed sports coat, my trusty laptop, my favorite pair of jeans — even as I wonder why I need to own as many pairs of jeans as I do.   

Check out the rest of the Giving Thanks series:
A Gratitude Campaign by Catherine Malotky 
Stewardship in the Shadow of the Shema by Raymond Bonwell
The Ancient Art of Thanking by Robert Hay, Jr.
For this, I give thanks by Ingrid C. Arneson Rasmussen


Rev. Adam J. Copeland directs the Center for Stewardship Leaders.




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