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In Pursuit of the Old Ways

I long for the old days. I crave simplicity and yearn for the way life was before electronics invaded our lives. I miss pay phones, quiet rooms with no TVs or background noise, and watching children use their imaginations while playing with real toys.

As crazy as it sounds, I love to sit in a dark room and listen intently to the sounds of silence. There is nothing I enjoy more than the things that don’t cost anything at all. Like when someone takes a walk with me, shares their heart, and listens patiently and interestedly while I pour out mine. In these moments, I’m blissfully content.

I often feel that I was born more than a century too late, and I am forever searching for a bridge back in time to that place where I feel I most belong.

Unfortunately, I have yet to discover a time machine, and sadly, there aren’t many things I can change about this chaotic, fast-moving age, but I have discovered I don’t have to alter the world around me, just my own world.

No one can force me to live in a way that makes me uncomfortable in my own skin. Nor can anyone put in the effort I need to swim against the current to live in a way that is counter-cultural. If I am going to live a simple, minimal life, I am the only person who can make it happen. Society will not conform to my ideals, and since I will never find contentment squeezing into its mold, we will have to part ways and agree to disagree.

Perhaps you find yourself yearning for the old days and would like to take a similar journey? Here’s how we can do it.

Identify how you want to live.

What is it that you long for most? What is it about your ancestors’ way of life that calls to you the loudest? Is it the silence? The close bonds and family values? Their faith system? The joy they found in doing a hard day’s work? The extra time they had to help others? The lack of clutter in their homes? The fact that they only owned what was meaningful and what they needed and used? Their small houses? The way they grew their own food?

Figure out what is distracting you.

What in your atmosphere prevents you from living that kind of life? For years, my husband worked in the banking industry in very high-stress positions that robbed him of time with our family. Our indebtedness forced him to earn a certain salary and kept him bound to a job he detested. We view the outsourcing of his job last year as a merciful blessing that freed him to be a more hands-on father and to participate in finishing our 13-year homeschool journey with our son.

Now that he has accomplished that long-term dream, he’s looking forward to getting back into the workforce, but this time, it will be on far different terms. Thankfully, we’ve made the drastic changes required to eliminate all debt, and by his choice, he’s planning to find a job that will be less brain-taxing, more physically active, and with little to zero stress. What society deems “menial” has become something very attractive and desirable to him. The pay will be far less, but it’s OK. Thankfully, we don’t need what we used to need to survive, peace is more important to us than money, and prestige isn’t something we seek to attain.

Do what you have to do to make it happen. 

If you long to be more present and engaged, break up with social media. Start pouring your heart, time, and energy into the ones who mean most to you and socialize with those with whom you can talk face-to-face. Leave your phone out of sight and only use it when absolutely necessary. Refuse to be drawn in to keeping up with everyone else’s online life and be more intentional about your own. Sell what you have to pay what you owe, so you can work less. Change jobs to reduce stress. Gracefully bow out of toxic, unhealthy relationships.

Reduce overwhelm by learning to say no. Weigh what you long for against what is preventing you from having it. If you want to live simply, you will find the courage to make each necessary change.

Prepare yourself for criticism.

Not everyone is on board with wanting to live a life of simplicity, and you may or may not garner support along the way. This is where you have to decide whether you’ll be true to yourself and the values that are important to you. All too often, the other option is to live bound to the opinions, expectations, and approval of others.

A few years ago, my family and I made decisions that seemed far-fetched and radical. We sold our home, released most of our physical possessions, moved into a small rental that includes yard maintenance, and resigned from ministerial obligations that were more than we could handle. It took steely determination and a strong resolve to stay the course, but as we look back on our journey from a place of deep contentment, we realize it was the right thing to do and worth every mile. Like Christian in John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” sometimes you just have to put your fingers in your ears and run for your life.

Far too often, we over-complicate our lives and work against our own purpose. We unwittingly sabotage our desire to slow down and live a minimal life. Minimalism is the opposite of complexity. The very basic but remedial truth is that the power to change lies within the wellspring of our own choices.

Cheryl Smith blogs at Biblical Minimalism.com. Her family sold their home, released 90 percent of their physical possessions, got out of debt, and now share their story and their Christian faith on their blog. She is the author of the books, “Biblical Minimalism” and “Homespun Devotions: Volume One.”

Cheryl Smith

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