Several years ago, I went on a 10-day mission trip to a rural area in Malawi, Africa. We were asked to limit our luggage to one small, carry-on suitcase. I took the things I felt were necessary which included a hairdryer and cosmetics along with suggested items like toilet paper, wipes, a mosquito net, medications and a headlight. While it didn’t leave much room for clothes, I thought a little laundry detergent would solve that issue.
After a 16-hour plane trip, a two-hour connection and 10-hour ride up a bumpy rural road, we arrived at our destination. Our nine-room inn had cinder block walls and very small beds. Meals were generally the same: an egg and bread for breakfast, rice and greens for lunch, the same for dinner with beans or meat. Most meals were cooked on an open fire. The water supply was intermittent and most of the time there was no electricity. While I had been worried about having a hairdryer, I now had to save water from our daily water allotment to be able to rinse my hair every few days. My priorities were changing very quickly.
The first night or two were filled with thoughts of how I would get through the day. Without water, I couldn’t wash my clothes or take showers. Without electricity and internet, there were no phone calls or emails. This left us with time in the evenings to sit on the porch and talk with our mission group members. We discussed how our days went and reminisced about family and friends back home. Everyone listened attentively and was fully engaged in the conversation. There were no interruptions. There was concentrated time for sharing, tears and laughs.
As the week went on, we connected through conversation, prayer and quiet time. We began to deeply experience the inner joy that we observed in the Africans that we spent time with. They had few material possessions but had incredible joy and hope in their lives.
As my time in Malawi came to an end, I was excited to return to everyday living. The flight home felt luxurious; we had wine with dinner, the economy class seats felt comfortable and watching movies passed the time. I was happy to go home.
Upon returning from Malawi, it didn’t take long before I became very aware of and overwhelmed with the number of material things in our life. My husband and I had already downsized, but every closet and storage area was filled. As I assessed how many things I never used and how many rooms we never spent time in, I realized how much time and money we commit to maintain our lifestyle. Within eight months of arriving home, we decided to simplify our lives by moving into a condo where we intend to stay in for the balance of our lives. Our condo today is uncluttered and easy to maintain. We only buy something new if we have discarded or given away something else.
Moving to the condo was the hardest move I’ve ever made. Every item that I brought into the condo had to meet three requirements:
- Did I use it in the last year?
- Do I love it?
- Do I really need it?
(Several people have asked me the difference between the first and third requirement. Let me explain by an example. I used my turkey plates the Thanksgiving before we moved. However, I already had china and didn’t need an additional set of “turkey” china simply because I used it in the past year. The turkey plates now reside at a friend’s home.)
Everyday living has become simple, allowing us more time to spend with our loved ones, travel, play golf or volunteer. The savings gained from adjusting our lifestyle allows us the freedom to do this.
In this process of simplifying, I realized there are three stages to life:
- Acquisition – a busy time in your life when you acquire things
- Holding – a time when you are satisfied with what you have
- Disposition – the time when you start disposing of possessions and focusing instead on experiences and relationships
After parting ways with about 60% of our belongings, a friend asked me what item I missed the most. I have a hard time even remembering what was gone. However, I can remember everyone we had for dinner at our home in the last year, the laughs and tears we shared and the joy of waking up each day to a beautiful Atlanta skyline. It has been a blessing to have the time to help a friend through a difficult time, to experience another mission trip and to hike in Peru and South Africa.
Every day is a blessing and a joy and you can make room for both by simplifying your life.
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