We may abdicate positions of power, give away extra material goods, and move into smaller homes. But if we do it out of guilt (and make sure to broadcast our sacrifices loudly enough), our experience of the world is still the driving force. And we miss the fact that even the ability to embrace a minimalist lifestyle is based in abundance. As award-winning writer David Brooks observes,
“One of the troublesome things about today’s simplicity movements is that they are often just alternate forms of consumption.… Early in life you choose your identity by getting things. But later in an affluent life you discover or update your identity by throwing away what is no longer useful, true and beautiful.”
In other words, because we have access to so many resources, we have the luxury of throwing them away without a second thought. There are, of course, many legitimate reasons to pursue simplicity, including the desire to move through the world less encumbered and to promote ethical consumption.
But pursuing simplicity itself does not necessarily make us humble or grateful people. Sometimes all simplicity does is mask our pride and self-dependence. If we take a great deal of satisfaction in how little we need, in how much we reject abundance, simplicity becomes nothing more than an asceticism that, as theologian J. I. Packer puts it, is “too proud to enjoy the enjoyable.”
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).