"Simplicity: Decluttering our lives so we can be faithfully present to God and one another"


Reflection on Simplicity

By Ed Lotterman

Years ago, when I first heard Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett’s assertion that “tis the gift to be simple,” I instinctively knew that he was right and that achieving simplicity in our lives was a path to “the place just right,” that “twill be in the valley of love and delight.”  Why his 165-year-old “dancing song” still rings true to me I really do not know.  Grace and providence are factors I am sure. 

But the intervening five decades of my life have taught me how difficult it is to maintain anything approaching perfect adherence to the principle of simplicity.  I manage to keep my life simple in some ways, but repeatedly and unnecessarily complicate it in other ones.  I enjoy many simple pleasures, time with family, good food, good friends, the loving touch of my wife, interactions with students, the beauty of the prairie and the satisfaction of making something with my own hands, whether it be a loaf of bread or a welded gate for the farm,

But I also own many more things than I really need, including welders, lathes, hundreds of books I will never fully read, many gadgets French lame for scoring bread loaves and some 40-year old army uniforms I’ll never wear.  I don’t just clutter my life with things, I clutter it with activities to which I commit in moments of unrealistic mania that I often regret later.  Self-awareness I have plenty, but impulse control is still a work in progress.  And yet I deeply understand that simplicity is a path that leads to grace and serenity.  The slogan of “progress, not perfection” is good advice in this quest.

Last year, God gave me what a friend of Blair called the “gift of cancer.”  I have been blessed with a good outcome.  Nothing happened that I did not expect, both in terms of fear and pain and in terms of grace.  But while God’s grace was not unexpected, its magnitude and power as I experienced it certainly was.  And the prospect of death, even when it became clear that the survival statistics were well in my favor, did serve as a breeze to winnow the wheat in my life from the chaff.  Now, with good prospects for the future, the challenge is to be sure that I don’t keep chaff and toss away wheat!  What I did not understand in 1963, when I first heard a recording of “Simple Gifts” is that “true simplicity is gain'd,” not once for all time, but each day anew.  Only now, with life experience, do I understand how that happens, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but always through grace.  


The Spiritual Practice of Simplicity

By Susan Hardman

Retirement for Bob from his Chaplaincy at The Episcopal Church Home in 2000 and my leaving a ten year position with The Minnesota Historical Society at The James J. Hill House propelled us into downsizing from our large home across from the Seminary on Como. Av.  We had already gone to one car, our 3 sons were launched, and Parkinsons with a prominent tremor, was moving into high gear.  We had some things to figure out.  What has worked well for us is being a team, looking at our calendars together and now using a white board to list our daily to do's.

Simple living asks us to wrestle with questions like: What is enough? How do we balance time, talent and money? What are our priorities? How flexible are we in changing how we used to do things and what is needed now?  A strong Spiritual Community, family travel and good friends alwaysare at the top of the list.

Bob was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease in 1996. In 2008 he had Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery to relieve and manage tremor.  This has brought a real increase in his quality of life.  We have had to struggle with changes in our roles and my taking over many tasks that he used to do.  This will continue.  Therefore, after an interim move in St. Anthony Park, we moved to Linnea Gardens Condos four years ago; no more yard work, no more snow shoveling, but still a small garden we love to tend.  We now live in a sun filled 965 sq ft. of space with lovely white walls for our love of Art and some of Bob's original water colors; not much space for STUFF.  Always, we have been advocates of reduce, reuse and this has fit well with our smaller foot print.

The places where we choose to volunteer are mostly within walking distance.  Volunteering at The Hampden Park Coop allows us a large food discount and a great community of friends.  The Church and Bob's Art Lessons are close by.  We even tried, unsuccessfully, to build a Cohousing Community in St. Anthony Park.

Author and Architect, Sarah Susanka, in her book, "The Not So Big Life", gives us some one liners to live by. "A Better Life ,Not a BIgger Life",  "Most of our lives are cluttered with unwanted obligations as our attics and garages are cluttered with things". and "Waking up from our overstuffed lives and making room for what we long to have time for".

This spiritual journey through a more simple life is a process that happens in small steps; a process not an end.  It asks us to take some risks and actions and to be grateful for what we have.  What we have is enough and there is some to share.

What are you grateful for today? What actions will you take to declutter and enrich your life?