Eradicating excess (or at least making an effort)

I am participating in an online book club that my friend and colleague, Julia, facilitates at A Little Bit of All of It.  I have to admit that I didn’t read August’s book (the first for the newly formed book club) because I couldn’t get it in a Kindle or Nook version.  I really only get to read when I nurse during nap and bedtime, which makes an e-version of the book important.  So when it came time to vote for September’s book I checked to make sure there was an e-version of the book before voting for my choice.  The final book choice was 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker (affiliate link).  I purchased the Kindle version immediately and read half of the book in two days of nursing sessions.

How did I feel halfway through the book?  Guilty.

Let me back up and tell you a little about the book without giving away the really good parts.  Jen, through a series of events and variety of catalysts, decided that there was too much excess in her life.  She made a plan to limit several areas of her life.  She focused on one area each month for 7 months in hopes of growing closer to God, her family, and learning to live with less excess (which will help with her relationship with God and her family).  The 7 areas she chose to focus her efforts on were: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress.  Her book is set up with daily (not every day is included) blog entries about her experiences, thoughts, struggles, etc.  She doesn’t do this alone though.  Her husband, a pastor, participates with her and she has a circle of girlfriends (The Council) who help guide her, support her, participate in some cases, and give her “exemptions” from the rules when needed.  This book is a recounting of her journey through the 7 months.

Back to the feeling of guilt.  After telling Julia one night, as we were chatting on Facebook, that I was halfway through the book she asked what I thought.  Here was the very first thing that came to mind,

Easy to read. Makes me feel guilty in a good way; I think. We have been struggling this summer with excess and the book brings it home even more.

Ever since I became certified in L.E.A.N. our family has been more cognizant of our lifestyle – which includes keeping life simple so that we can enjoy family time and give to others.  We are blessed in that we meet not only our needs, but also many of our “wants” in life.  We live in a house, have two cars, wireless internet, cell phones, and a comfortable wardrobe – unlike many families in the world.  In acquiring this comfortable lifestyle, we have cluttered our lives, not always given to individuals and families in need when we should have, and are now living a “go, go, go” lifestyle.  This is not what I want for our family, nor is it what L.E.A.N. is about.

As I read the book, I thought about each of the seven focus areas that Jen addressed.  I wasn’t willing to only eat 7 foods for a month, wear 7 articles of clothing, or give up the majority of my media, but we did things in our own small way during the month of September.  I cleaned out my closet.  There are many other people who can use the clothes that are in nearly new condition, stylish, and season appropriate more than me.  I discovered that I don’t have any long sleeve shirts in my closet.  In an effort to add just a couple of versatile pieces I found a new gently used store in town that carries all of the brands I love at a fraction of the cost.  Reduce excess, reduce cost, reuse what others no longer need.

I have a nursing toddler.  We are trying to teach him to eat a variety of foods, and a varied diet for me is important.  We simply can’t eat only 7 foods for a month.  Instead, we are buying fewer groceries at the beginning of the week so that we have less waste at the end of the week.  We realized that we can go back to the store for more food if we need it, but unused food was just going to waste in our home.  We now have almost no waste at the end of the week and are enjoying leftovers!

Just one last example of how this book has impacted our lives, I promise.  As a work-at-home mama I always have my smart phone nearby.  I teach online classes and my students contact me throughout the day and expect a timely response.  In the recent months I haven’t just been using my smart phone for dashing off a quick email to panicked students – I have been using it to search Amazon, scroll through Facebook, and just play around.  My son noticed and started knocking the phone out of my hands.  I am ashamed to admit this.  My need for technology became intrusive in our mama-son daily life.  Now, I’m not saying it isn’t ok for a mama to check Facebook while her child is contentedly playing by himself once in awhile, but it certainly shouldn’t be all the time.  So, I made a promise to my toddler that I wouldn’t use my phone during the day unless there was an urgent student email or he truly was playing by himself – in which case I would never use more phone for more than 5 minutes.  We have been having much better days.  He is getting the attention he needs, I am experiencing his joys as he explores the world, and he is happy.  He comes up to me and gives me hugs throughout the day or just pats me on the back.  Some of my friends have noticed that I don’t text back right away anymore.  That is because I am, most likely, playing trains.

These little changes have been important for our family.  We enjoy the weekends more, we have more money at the end of the week to tithe, and we are less burdened by excess.  We still have a LONG way to go, but it is a start.

This book caught my attention in other ways as well.  As Jen blogged about her experiences I found several quotes that spoke to me.  In this season of life and parenthood, I am busy, exhausted, still trying to figure out where I fit with a new circle of mama friends, and where I fit with my longstanding friends.  I’m sure when you read the book certain bits and pieces will grab your heart and mind.  Here are just a few that grabbed mine.

Opening your home says, “You are welcome into my real life.” This square footage is where we laugh and hold family meetings and make homemade corn dogs and work through meltdowns. Here is the railing our kids pulled out of the wall. This is the toilet paper we prefer. These are the pictures we frame, the books we’re reading, the projects we’re undertaking – the raw material of our family. It’s unsanitized and truthful. We invite you into this intimate place, saturated with our family character. (page 176)

Such is the ridiculous American life.  Every one of my friends has a similar story.  None of us are happy about it, yet we keep filling the calendars.  Yes, I’m in; we’ll sign up; I’ll do it.  We race from one activity to another, teaching our children to max out and stress out.  Nice legacy. (page 180)

(about the Sabbath) Maybe this isn’t just another spiritual task to wear us out.  Perhaps God designed this as a gift, not an obligation.   What if God understood our tendency to overwork and underrest, so He made it mandatory for believers to breathepauseprayrelax every week? Maybe Jesus meant it when He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God ordained the Sabbath for us, not as just another requirement from us. (page 181)

As I leave you with those thoughts I want you to know that this book is an eye-opener regardless of your faith, regardless of your socio-economic status, regardless of your lifestyle.  It is a good reminder to acknowledge your blessings and find a way to pass those blessings on to those who making do with less and to simply offer a smile to those around us.