Richard Foster’s 10-Fold Path to Simplicity

Richard Foster is a Quaker minister and mystic, whose Celebration of Discipline is a classic in the books about spirituality. He writes frequently on the topic of simplicity, and in fact, has an entire book on the topic called Freedom of Simplicity. He believes that simplicity starts as an interior exercise, manifested later in outward practices.

To spur me on in my Lenten quest to let go, I turned today to one of my favorite chapters in Celebration of Discipline, which is called, appropriately, “Simplicity.” Here is an excerpted and abridged version of his 10 ways to achieve outward simplicity. I encourage you to get or borrow a copy of his book and read the chapter in its entirety, and to pay particular attention to his thoughts on inward simplicity, which I am not going to discuss in this post, even though that means I’m putting the cart before the horse to some degree.

  1. Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Cars should be bought for their utility, not their prestige. Consider your clothes. Most people have no need for more clothes. They buy more not because they need clothes, but because they want to keep up with the fashions. Hang the fashions!
  2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. Learn to distinguish between a real psychological need, like cheerful surroundings, and an addiction. Any of the media that you find you cannot do without, get rid of. If money has a grip on your heart, give some away and feel the inner release. 
  3. Develop a habit of giving things away. If you find that you are becoming attached to some possession, consider giving it to someone who needs it. De-accumulate! Masses of things that are not needed complicate life. They must be sorted and stored and dusted and resorted and restored ad nauseum.
  4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry. Most gadgets are built to break down and wear out and so complicate our lives rather than enhance them. Usually gadgets are an unnecessary drain on the energy resources of the world. Environmental responsibility alone should keep us from buying the majority of the gadgets produced today.
  5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Owning things is an obsession in our culture. If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure. The idea is an illusion. Enjoy the beach without feeling you have to buy a piece of it. 
  6. Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation. Get close to the earth. Walk whenever you can. Listen to the birds. Enjoy the texture of grass and leaves. Smell the flowers. Marvel in the rich colors everywhere. 
  7. Look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes. They are a trap and only deepen your bondage. Certainly prudence, as well as simplicity, demands that we use extreme caution before incurring debt. 
  8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech. ‘Let what you say be simply Yes or No; anything more than this comes from evil.’ (Matt. 5:37) If you consent to do a task, do it. Avoid flattery and half-truths. Make honesty and integrity the distinguishing characteristics of your speech. 
  9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others. Do we sip our coffee and eat our bananas at the expense of exploiting Latin American peasants? In a world of limited resources, does our lust for wealth mean the poverty of others? Should be buy products that are made by forcing people into dull assembly-line jobs? Do we enjoy hierarchical relationships in the company or factory that keep others under us? Do we oppress our children or spouse because we feel certain tasks are beneath us? 
  10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God. It is so easy to lose focus in the pursuit of legitimate, even good things. Job, position, status, family, friends, security—these and many more can all too quickly become the center of attention.
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