One night, quite a few years ago now, my youngest daughter, age six at the time, was playing with a wooden tower toy that had a ramp for little cars to roll down. Though she couldn’t find the cars, she did find a handful of dice and discovered that they slid down the ramp in a very satisfying way.
Trouble soon came in the form of her four year old brother, who wanted to play too. They were soon squabbling quite loudly over who had how many dice and who took whose dice from whom. The chaos was rather aggravating and I promptly took away all of the dice except for one for each of them and braced myself for the protests that were sure to follow.
But they never came. The change was like a light switch – all they really needed was just one each and the room was suddenly filled with giggles and squeals of delight as they took turns with the toy.
Not all of our family squabbles end so easily, but it was a great illustration for me of the beauty and delight of simplicity. Simplicity comes in many forms, from reducing the burden of stuff in our house to realigning our expectations with reality, but in any form it has great potential for bringing more peace and joy to our lives.
Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. – James 1:2-3
Cut Back on Waste:
One of the areas in which we Americans have a waste problem is food. It is estimated that about one third of the available food supply in our country goes uneaten. Some of the biggest sources of waste are large organizations, such as schools and hospitals, and there are people working on this problem, partly for the sake of channeling it to those in need. (cf. cool project by former Trader Joe’s exec). Wastefulness is a sin, especially when others are hungry. So even though individual families aren’t the largest cause of waste, it’s something that we need to address practically speaking and in terms of teaching our children to live well.
Not wasting food isn’t really about finishing everything on your plate. Over-eating itself is wasteful as well as unhealthy. It’s just replacing one bad habit with another. So, the first step is to serve yourself (and your kids) less at each serving. They can always go back for more. Make sure you have enough to drink. Your body requires lots of liquids and they are supposed to do some of the filling-up. Work to put away the food you’ve taken out and don’t forget to enjoy the leftovers.
Another consideration is to make time for peaceful, leisurely meals. When we eat more slowly, we enjoy each other’s company more and are less likely to over-eat. Believe me, I know that this can be hard. Most nights we eat dinner on couches, often in front of a movie. The dining room table is too often swamped in school books. We make our special effort in this direction during Advent, when we reserve the dining room table for dinner with lit Advent candles. Hopefully it will some day work its way into the rest of the year too, but even Advent makes a difference!
And finally, be thoughtful about your shopping. Try not to overbuy. We are able to give everything to God and ask for His help in everything. Why not whisper a little prayer for wisdom when heading to the store?
Buy Less and Donate More:
As Gretchen Rubin pointed out quite eloquently in Happiness at Home, it’s not just about buying less. Some people are too reluctant to buy what they should or to invest in the right tools for a job. It’s really more generally about being more at peace with what you have and with what you need.
Recycle and Reuse:
Push Back against the Consumer Mentality:
One way to do this is to save special things for special occasions. Buy that new movie you want to see, but save it for a birthday or Christmas gift. Keep some special, perhaps more expensive, foods in your “luxury” category and buy them for special occasions or celebrations, rather than every day. This isn’t just about buying less, but also keeping the celebrations more celebratory.
The other piece of this puzzle, even if you have the means to live otherwise, is to not deprive your children the joy of saving up for something special, of the eager anticipation and the long-awaited fulfillment of their dream. Ironically, giving kids everything they want, right when they want it, is a type of deprivation.