Productive, Session 4: Radical Reduction

Radicalreduction

Why Less Really Is More

by Jen Hatmaker

God is always messing with me.

Three years ago, my little baby church plant housed more than 80 evacuees from Hurricane Ike; my husband and I took in 12 of them. We’d moved our three kids into our bedroom, washed sheets, blew up mattresses, rolled out sleeping bags, and readied the house for an onslaught. As carloads arrived and we welcomed them in, one 10-year-old boy walked in our home, looked around with huge eyes, and yelled:

“Dad! This white dude is RICH!”

We are.

Feel like you’re a broke college student? Truth: You’re extremely rich. Perhaps you’re surrounded by extreme affluence which has tricked you into thinking you’re in the bottom or middle of the pack? But how can you be truly socially responsible if you’re unaware that you reside in the top tier of wealth in the world? Do your parents make $35,000 a year? Then your family’s in the top four percent. $50,000? Top one percent.

Excess has impaired perspective in America; we’re the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We’re a country tangled in unmanageable debt because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, yet we “can’t live without” a new video game or designer jeans? It says we have too much, and it’s ruining us.

Enter: Seven, a crazy little project in the Hatmaker family. Seven months, seven areas of excess, reduced to seven simple choices:

  • Month 1: Food We ate only seven foods. For the love of Moses!
  • Month 2: Clothes We wore the same seven items of clothes. No, I’m not kidding.
  • Month 3: Possessions Each day, we gave away seven things that we owned.
  • Month 4: Media We took away seven forms of media and social networking and went radio silent. (It’s amazing how Twitter kept afloat without us.)
  • Month 5: Spending We spent money in only seven places. (I missed you, Chick-fil-A!)
  • Month 6: Waste We adopted seven substantial habits for a greener life, including gardening, composting, extensive recycling, and buying only local or thrift.
  • Month 7: Stress We paused for prayer and worship seven times a day, in addition to observing the traditional Sabbath each week.

How do I summarize Seven, an experiment that has forever altered our lives? The practice of reducing and simplifying has left me with a huge list of reforms, new habits, and practices — not to mention the crash course I’ve received on the economy, capitalism, alternative fuels, sustainable farming, neurological processes, industrialized food, local economics, consumer trends, and ancient liturgy. I’ve read precision analogy by global economists. I’ve digested articles by farmers, food lobbyists, social activists, missionaries, financial advisors, marketing analysts, pastors, insurgents, doctors, ecologists, waste managers, priests, advocates, nonprofit leaders, documentary makers, politicians, revolutionaries, troublemakers, and dreamers. I’ve ingested information through a fire hose and find myself sputtering and gasping. However, after curbing my appetites for so long, I’ve discovered they’ve changed.

What was the hardest?

Probably spending money in only seven places (closely followed by the total and utter media fast). Prior to the experiment, I discovered we spend money at an average of 66 places a month. Strike up the band. So paring that sort of egregious consumerism down to seven vendors was killer.

And don’t get me started on the media fast: no TV, Facebook/Twitter, texting, iPhone apps, radio, internet, or gaming. Brutal. And it was in May … during sweeps. Oh, the humanity.

What was surprising?

Seven changes of clothes for the month: no hay problema. In fact, it was awesome. No decisions, no fussing, no laundry. (Except for a mildewed jeans incident that made me feel like a grungy frat boy. No offense, grungy frat boys.) And guess what? I garden now. Please act impressed, because I’m a total moron and have managed to grow a bunch of my own food. Green month totally got in my head. I’ve since pulled trash out of my neighbor’s bin to put in my recycling box. There are really no words for this creepiness.

James 5 pretty much ruined me: “You rich people … misery… your wealth has rotted … hoarded wealth … workers …crying out against you … lived on earth in luxury and self indulgence… you have fattened yourselves” (NIV). This was me; the fattened sheep asking for more, gorged on luxuries and obese with inactivity. I sat inside my Christian complexes drinking gourmet coffee and blessing blessed people while the suffering world was burning down outside my window, and I carried on, oblivious.

What if the way we spend each dollar really does matter?

What if my consumer power could be harnessed and reformed toward righteousness? What if my lifestyle is exacerbating the inequalities between my luxuries and a mother on the other side of the world prostituting to feed her children?

Seven taught me that I can reduce, live with less, treat the earth and its inhabitants with integrity, and sacrifice none of the good parts of the story. In fact, there’s a better story than I ever imagined. Evidently, there’s more than the American Dream. Jesus has invited us into a radical, exciting, dangerous, and unpredictable adventure, becoming good news to the poor and proclaiming release for the captives. It actually kicks the tail out of accumulated wealth and privileges.

So what’s next? I’m not sure. Seven was a preparation; not an end in itself. We aren’t living in a van down by the river. I’m not sewing my clothes. I’m still wearing makeup. But God has rendered my heart, and I’ll never be the same. I pray you’ll do the same and see where God leads you to make a difference.

Jen Hatmaker lives in Austin with her husband Brandon and their three children with two more adopted from Ethiopia this year. She is the author of nine books including A Modern Girl’s Guide to Bible Study, Interrupted, and  Seven. Learn more about Jen’s experiment by watching her YouTube video “Seven” uploaded by “JenHatmaker.”

Gaining Perspective

  • Annual U.S. spending on cosmetics — 8 billion
  • Basic education for all global children — 6 billion
  • Annual U.S. and European spending on perfume — 12 billion
  • Clean water for all global citizens — 9 billion
  • Annual U.S. and European spending on pet food — 17 billion
  • Reproductive health for all women — 12 billion

 

 

 

 

“Today’s consumption is undermining the environmental resource base. It is exacerbating inequalities. And the dynamics of the consumption-poverty-inequality-environment nexus are accelerating. If the trends continue without change — not redistributing from high-income to low-income consumers, not shifting from polluting to cleaner goods and production technologies, not promoting goods that empower poor producers, not shifting priority from consumption for conspicuous display to meeting basic needs — today’s problems of consumption and human development will worsen.

“The real issue is not consumption itself but its patterns and effects. Inequalities in consumption are stark. Globally, the 20 percent of the world’s people in the highest-income countries account for 86 percent of total private consumption expenditures — the poorest 20 percent a minuscule 1.3 percent.”

— The United Nations: Human Development Report 1998

 

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