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On False Simplicity

September 1st, 2011 | 2 min read

By Cate MacDonald

The following is a meditation written for The Twenty Pieces Project.  Julie Barrios and I founded The Twenty Pieces Project as a way to challenge ourselves and our readers in the art of dressing simply and owning less. You can find out more here. As two former shopoholics, it's also about consciously eliminating one of the crutches we find ourselves using to hide our little selves from God. And yet, even the elimination of crutches can become a distraction, as I discovered in the following reflection. Spiritual formation just won't quit, guys.


I'm stressing out.

There are days when I want to just chuck everything, own nothing. I live in an apartment that was completely furnished when I moved in. I am a lucky girl in many ways, not the least of which was getting to move right into an apartment that was decorated head to toe by my lovely, tasteful roommate. Since I don't own much here I sometimes wonder what might happen if Kim moved out and I were left with an apartment empty but for my little blue bed, my books, and my piano. The more crowded my life seems, the more I dream about just leaving it empty. The apartment itself is beautiful enough: 16 foot tall white ceilings, dark wood floors, french doors, granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances, one wall made of stone, a fire place... and maybe nothing else. Seems like a place you could take deep breaths in, if you didn't mind eating your dinner on the floor, or the piano.

I often feel the same way about The Twenty Pieces Project. I find myself thinking, "I don't need twenty items of clothing! I'll just buy a black dress, some jeans, and a black tank top. That's all I really need. And one pair of shoes." This tends to happen when I'm coming home from a busy day at work, or looking at an overstuffed calendar, but it's taken me a while to catch on. The higher my internal chaos level, the greater my desire for outward simplicity.

And yet I have to wonder, will it really help? So what if my closet has one-hundred items, twenty pieces or a single black dress, if my heart is wandering or my mind over-crowded, an empty closet won't give it rest, no more will an empty apartment. As a fairly obsessive tidy person and a hater of clutter, I can tend to think that my internal world cannot be at peace unless my surroundings are. But this is only partly true and ultimately inadequate.

A favorite songwriter of mine, Deb Talon, wrote a line that feels like it was made for me, "I walk the world with a skin so thin I can wear no adequate protection, everything comes crashing in." Though clutter or too many clothes or even having furniture in my apartment (for goodness sake) can make me feel like the world is charging in and messing up my quiet heart, the lack of it can't actually protect me. It is a kind of false simplicity, a clean white bandage placed over an infected wound.

And it's that infection, that gnawing from the inside out, that moves me from a good desire to detach from my clothes to the extremities of living without a chair to sit on; which is just a bigger, more dramatic bandage that will do no more good. I want to be cleansed from the inside out; to live with a simple mission, a single focus, and there's only One who can help me do that. Lord, have mercy.