I just finished an amazing book by Jen Hatmaker (I know, what a great name, right?) called “7”. It is the story of how she spent seven months with each month focused on a different area of her life: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. So for the first month, she chose seven foods and ate only those foods for a month. Wow.
The second month she chose seven items of clothing (underwear and pajamas didn’t count) and wore only those items for a month. This was really a challenge because she has a professional career as a speaker and conference leader, and at home, she wears tee shirts and jeans. In case you are wondering, she chose one pair of jeans, one long-sleeved solid black tee, two short-sleeved logo tees (sorry, you have to read the book to find out which logos she chose) one pair of gray drawstring capri pants, one long silk dark brown dress shirt, and tennis shoes and cowboy boots. No coat, no jewelry, no accessories and no belt. When I think of what I pack for a weekend away, I am amazed by her fortitude.
The third month was “possessions” and she resolved to give away seven things a day that they owned. This turned out not to be difficult and they gave away far more than that. It was appalling to her, as I am sure it would be to me, to discover how many hundreds of things she owned. The fourth month was “media” which had some exceptions but was definitely painful. Month Five, “waste” involved adopting seven green practices: gardening, composting, conserving energy and water, recycling, driving only one car, shopping thrift and second-hand, and buying only local. They didn’t do any of these things prior to this month so it was a pretty radical shift for their family.
In month Six, “spending” they chose seven vendors that they would give their money to, which included the kids’ school, emergency medical fund, the gas station, and a fund for limited travel. For them, this was an 89% decrease in numbers of vendors. And month Seven was “stress” which they observed by having a real Sabbath from sundown Saturday night to sundown Sunday night, and by pausing to pray seven times a day, in the spirit of the liturgy of the hours.
This is not a family that was already in the habit of self-denial or trimming excess. They had all the habits of modern families in an urban setting-fast food, lots of shopping, loads of possessions, plugged into every form of media, addicted to all the conveniences that claim to save us time but mostly just relieve us of money that could be better spent elsewhere. The spiritual takeaway for her, and for me, reading the book, was tremendous. If you have ever been tempted to radically change the way you do life, to be less of a consumer, kinder to the planet, more connected to your community, this book would inspire you.
As I think about my life, I feel uniquely poised to be able to implement some 7-style changes. My children are grown and I have a much less hectic life than I once did. I have three or four of every thing I could ever want to own-it’s pretty sick, actually-and we are heading towards a lower income stream as Steve slows down at work. In my spiritual life, I am learning to dwell in silence and simplicity in a way I never have before. I am finding it easier without even trying to be quiet, to have a simple life without a lot of commitments, to say no, to be content. And I have been feeling a need to simplify further for quite some time now.
I am going to consider this idea and think about how I could put it into practice in a way that challenges and requires sacrifice of me. One definite move will be to divest of stuff. One is already in place, lowering my rate of consumption. Of stuff, of food, of the earth’s resources. I will be blogging in the future about these and other decisions and how they are working out in practice. In the meantime, I highly recommend this book for all the ways it made me laugh, made me ponder, made me look honestly at my oh-so-American prosperous beyond imagining life and how I can change it so I am a better citizen of this finite and fragile planet.
Oh, and if you need stuff, let me know. I might be able to help.