Something I spend probably far too much time thinking about is where we live. Joel and I are smack in the middle of the suburbs. We grew up here and have chosen to remain here for several reasons... our community is here, we’re close to family, we both have about 20 minute commutes and well, we like it. I know it’s not as cool as being a downtown hardcore and while a small part of me is drawn to that way of life, it’s not for us right now.
As a follower of Jesus I believe that we are called to live simply, largely to free us up to help those around us who are less fortunate (I may have mentioned this once or twice before ;). One of the ways I think we can do that is in where we chose to live. (I will make a disclaimer up front... I know this whole discussion is very relative and compared to most of the world we are all living lavishly.) When Joel and I decided we were ready and able to buy a house, we had limited options. Knowing I might want to stay home with any future children we planned ahead and decided to only live off of Joel’s income. That significantly reduced our choices. After looking at a few places we found our current home...around 1200 square feet of townhouse. It was more than enough room for the two of us and a perfect place to start a family.
It’s not cheap to move but we decided that we’d stay in that house for 5 years or until 3 kids (not knowing we’d have 2 at once!). No, there is no third child to speak of but we will be approaching 5 years as 2012 comes to an end But over the past year or two we’ve started to challenge ourselves in our way of thinking. Why would we need to move? Well, largely because that’s what people do right? We start small with what they can manage and as time goes on, we upgrade to bigger and better! That’s just the norm in our culture. But it doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to live at the edge of our means just because we can. We are not entitled to more. That’s a lie our culture tells us and I confess I’ve bought into it.
The truth is, our home is perfectly adequate. But I often feel self-conscious. I know it’s largely in part because I live where I do, with most friends having much larger homes than we do. Don’t get me wrong...there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with a bigger home. Many people constantly have their homes open to others and host things that we never could. But when you walk in our front door, it becomes instantly apparent that our house is not large at least by the standards of those around us. I would like to, and am starting to get to the point where I don’t care. And I don’t think that people coming into my home think about that stuff nearly as much as I imagine they do and if they do, well that’s their issue.. I know if you live in a condo, apartment or basically most places in the world you’d already think I’m crazy for calling my house small.
What are the benefits of a smaller (again, relative!) home? Practically speaking it is less to clean and take care of and we can pay off our mortgage faster. As we have more money we can put it towards other things, hopefully to help others (still working on that one) instead of into our home and making ourselves more “comfortable”. It also builds a sense of community. Although we all need our space....and I am married to the world’s biggest introvert... there are fewer corners to sneak off and isolate ourselves in. There are downsides, like not being able to host huge groups of people although even that I think is a bit of a lie I’ve told myself. I think of my friends in downtown condos who obviously host parties. I think the point is being together and not as much having loads of space. We don’t have much of a backyard. That something I would love for my boys but in the long run, not a huge thing to give up. I would love a big soaker tub (with jets) and an island in my kitchen. I would love a fourth bedroom and games room in the basement. But I also shouldn’t get everything I want.
We have SO far to go in living the simple, generous life that we want, but for now our choice to intentionally live below our means is a step in the right direction. There are many ways I mess up and have so much farther I need to go. I want to live with way less,and not be so addicted to being comfortable. Will we ever move? I’m sure we will. But for now we have no reason and intentionally living below our means is a step in the right direction. And I think ultimately to do this whole “living simply” thing well, you need others to do it with. It will look different for each individual and family but I think we can all make choices that are more focused on serving others, whether we follow Jesus or not. Anyone with me?