Engaging the Quaker Testimony of Simplicity

Quaker testimonies are time-tested commitments to particular values that give witness to the world. We tend to talk about these testimonies using the acronym – SPICES – for Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Sustainability-Stewardship.

Each Quaker may consider these testimonies, finding how they might take shape and expression in their own life. No two Quakers will live these values in exactly the same manner, just as no two cooks will spice their meals exactly the same way.

Simplicity has been a value-discipline that’s been dear to me even long before I became a Quaker.

When I was in my early 30s, my career required a significant amount of travel, much of it international. While it was great to see much of the world, I could be gone at times for up to a month. That sort of schedule takes its toll and leads to an unsimple life of coordinating paying bills, scraping out little time with friends, trying  to care for a home – life felt like an endless cycle of meetings, conferences, hotels, and long flights, only to rush home exhausted to do a month’s worth of laundry, repack, and get on the next plane a day or two later.

After 5 and half years of living that way, I decided I’d had enough, and quit that job. I had a new position lined up, but which wouldn’t start for almost a month.

I woke up on my first post-travel Saturday and did as I done for years – running lists of things I had to urgently do that day in order to just keep up. After a minute, I stopped and realized that I no longer had to live that way – and that this particular Saturday I really didn’t have to do much of anything. I dropped back into the bed and laughed and laughed – savoring the freedom of simplicity for the first time in years.

Simplicity means different things to different people. For some of us, it means keeping our schedules light and enjoying free time. For others, it means disengaging from the consumerist culture with it’s pressuring messages of do more and buy more. And for others still, simplicity is about decluttering – which can include one’s personal belongings, emotions, relationships, and commitments.

I think for most of us, simplicity serves as a means to and end. We live simply, keeping clutter and complexity at bay so as to enjoy the freedom to engage what really matters in life.  In this sense, simplicity is about avoiding what’s not necessary or vital or life giving so as to focus on that which is.

In the twenty-something years since that happy Saturday, I’ve taken other measures to live simply. I don’t own a TV, I keep my screen time to a minimum, I refuse to over-schedule my life, and I strive to avoid accumulating clutter. It’s a never ending struggle in a world that grows increasingly complex and demanding.

What does simplicity mean to you? How do you engage this fundamental Quaker testimony?