“Why in the world do I own so much stuff?!”
“What’s the point of all this racing around?”
“How could I ever have thought that ________ was so important?”
If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed, distracted and turned off by consumer culture, you’re not alone. In particular, Believers who have spent time in a developing nation often experience culture shock when they come home. The staggering amount of excess and ever-crazy schedules that define our lives suddenly no longer seem normal.
Returning from a mission trip is a great time to take a step back and reevaluate your lifestyle. What is it you value most? Do your spending habits, entertainment choices and use of time reflect that? We’ve come up with several ways to simplify your day-to-day life so that you can get back to what matters most.
- Put first things first. You’ve heard this before, but there’s a reason for that… Start each morning with some alone time that will allow you to focus on God. Submitting your will to Him will make you less likely to get caught up in the rat race of distraction and fruitless activity. Read from your Bible and write down what you hear God saying to you. This is also a great way to end each day.
- Clear out that closet. Getting rid of clothes you haven’t worn in years can make you feel much lighter—like you’re not being weighed down by belongings. (Only in the U.S. do we feel the need to wear a completely different outfit each day of the month!) Donating to The Salvation Army, or even directly to a family in need, can be a huge blessing. Apply this same principle of minimalism to the garage, kitchen cabinets and children’s play room. And once you’ve gotten rid of unneeded items, you’ll be less likely to buy more stuff you don’t need!
- Eat Simply. A major difference between the U.S. and other countries is the amount of preservatives, sugar and stimulants in our mass-produced foods. Cutting fast food and processed groceries out of your diet will make a world of difference. The more meals you make from scratch, the better off you’ll be. To cut the chain stores out completely, subscribe to an organic bulk grocery service—saving time, money and your health. And remember, our bodies don’t need three massive meals a day. Despite food marketing in this country would have us believe, eating an apple or a few bites of leftover chicken can count as a light meal.
- Grow Something. While you’re at it, why not try growing some of your own vegetables? Even if it’s just a hanging tomato plant or some basil on your deck, the act of tending to a living organism can ground you in reality in ways that standing in a checkout line can’t.
- Give Thanks. Christians often find themselves racing through an obligatory prayer before dinner, but really taking the time to express gratitude is rare. Set aside a few minutes before or after a meal to give real thought to the reasons you have to thank God. Then, take time sharing this with each other so that everyone is focused on all they have, not what they may want.
- Spend time in Nature. The more time we spend in the beauty of God’s Creation, the more we are reminded of His attributes. Going on a leisurely picnic lunch is more restorative than eating at a chain restaurant. Hiking a lakeside trail is more rejuvenating than walking on a treadmill. Get outside and breathe the fresh air. This will put you in a frame of mind that’s more in line with how God created us to function.
- De-clutter. Make it a family routine to spend 15 minutes each evening straightening up. Putting away toys, plumping couch pillows and addressing the shoe pile by the front door is a great way to restore order and begin the next day with a clean slate. Not only might this instill the habit of putting things away to begin with, it could illustrate there is perhaps too much stuff in the house to begin with.
- Be creative, not commercial. Does your friend really need another scarf? Instead of buying people things they don’t need, create a handmade card for a friend’s birthday. In it, list out all the memories you’ve shared—times she’s been there for you, and times you both couldn’t stop laughing. If you feel obligated to give something tangible, include a gift card to a new tea house she’s been wanting to try. This gives the gift of an experience, not an object.
- Smile for each other. Our pleasure-seeking society is saturated with entertainment. From the latest movies to games on our smartphones, most of what entertains us also takes us away from relating to other people. Schedule an outing to spend time with people in which they’re the sole focus of your attention. This also applies to children. They’re better off with less screen time and more face-to-face interaction.
- Walk it out. The average American spends five hours a day watching television. Potentially, this means the TV is blaring during most of your at-home waking hours. Turn off the screens and venture outside as a couple or family. As you walk, talk about your day. Even a short, half-hour daily walk can make a huge impact on your overall well-being.
Despite what mass media would have us believe, commercial goods are not the answer to everything. And becoming a workaholic only to spend money on things you don’t then have the time to enjoy is a vicious cycle. Following these ten tips (as well as ones of your own) will help you live simply and humbly, as Scripture exhorts us to do. It might also help you stay focused on what led you to go on a mission trip in the first place: serving others and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.