“In a way Winter is the real Spring – the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature.”
~ Edna O’Brien
As I’ve referenced several times recently, each November for at least the last four years, I’ve felt a deep call to retreat and to re-evaluate my life, my priorities, and my goals. This year, I’ve been struck with a profound sense of “fall cleaning.” I’m in the mood to declutter, pare down, reduce, and subtract. I’ve been dragging out my big paper and diagramming out my responsibilities and commitments as well as the ideas I’d like to bring to fruition in 2014. So, when the opportunity arose to review Blessed by Less for the Patheos book club for December, it felt like a perfect synchronicity. Befitting its purpose, this slim little book is the perfect length. It is succinct, direct, and focused. It can be quickly read in just one evening. But, this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain practical advice–quite the contrary, each chapter has “first steps” and “big steps” to implement the simple living strategies suggested. I also appreciate that it has different tips based on stage of life–so, there are suggestions for younger people or people with children as well as suggestions for people in the “second half of life,” all tidily contained in inset, targeted boxes.
Blessed by Less offers encouragement and inspiration for all who are burdened down by “things” in their homes and hearts but don’t quite know how to begin the process of letting go. Susan includes tips for beginners and challenges for those who’ve been simplifying for years. Rather than making readers feel guilty for all the stuff they’ve accumulated, Susan gently nudges them to see all that they have to gain—physically, emotionally, and most of all spiritually—by living lightly.
Written by the experienced Catholic careworker, Susan Vogt, I very much appreciated the environmentally friendly message and social justice oriented perspective of Blessed by Less. I admit to sometimes overlooking progressive Christians and lumping all Christian-identified people into a mental box labeled “fundamentalist,” and so it was excellent for me to read Vogt’s perspective on simplifying one’s life. The book is most definitely oriented towards Christian readers, but readers from other faith backgrounds will find many points of overlap in the outlook and perspectives expressed. Vogt was inspired by the approach of the season of Lent to embark on a project in which she gave away an item every day for 40 days. After this time period, she continued her project and followed it up by participating in the Food Stamp Challenge (to live on the average food stamp budget for six weeks). She writes of her foray into uncluttering her life as an opportunity to grow spiritually and points out that this practice can contribute to, “The practiced ability to find God’s presence ‘in all things’—in our ordinary situations.” She writes with compassion about people living in poverty, includes acknowledgement of privilege, and issues a call to action in terms of “what’s fair,” as well as the conviction that making environmentally sustainable choices is essential. An example:
Pay taxes with gratitude that I have an income to tax…
Look upon opportunities to fund worthy causes not as charity but as justice, a way of giving back.
Evaluate the impact that the things I own and my lifestyle have on planet earth. Am I using more than my fair share of energy resources? Is my transportation environmentally friendly?
Stay in solidarity with people who are marginalized by staying informed, praying, fasting, and participating in social justice endeavors.
Vogt also touches on the impact of “TMI: Too Much Information” syndrome and how digital clutter can impact us as well (I’m working on this one!). And, she brings up the central value of human relationships, a section in which she offers a quote that I found to be very freeing advice to parents: “Parents are responsible for the process of bringing up children; parents are not responsible for the outcome.” While this book isn’t specifically geared towards parents, this tip was a refreshing counterpoint to the many parenting books I’ve read that seem to, implicitly or explicitly, promise a specific outcome.
From Blessed by Less I also learned about the Pachamama Alliance, an environmental activism organization seeking to preserve indigenous wisdom for a sustainable world.
And, I was inspired to make some additional microloans via Kiva International! :)
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes. This is a crosspost.