Poverty or Simplicity?

The current “recession” or economic downturn has prompted many people to enjoy a healthier, greener, ecologically responsible, and simpler lifestyle.  So what is the difference between poverty and simplicity?

If I’m angry that I can’t afford a new Ferrari I may feel that I’ve been doomed to poverty.  However, if I enjoy the classic lines and character of a 20-year old sports car that I can easily afford, then it appears I have chosen simplicity.  If I “can’t afford” to eat at Ruth’s Chris I may begrudge the government’s tax and economic policies.  If Joanne and I invite some friends over for a potluck dinner where our contribution comes from our neighbor’s left-over cucumbers and tomatoes, our peace of mind may originate from our choice for simplicity.

John Robbins turned down his family’s Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune in order to “live a far more simple and earth-friendly life.” He and his wife built a tiny one-room log cabin on an island off the coast of British Columbia, where they grow most of their own food.  John says, “This isn’t about deprivation.  It’s about choice and self-determination.”

The dictionary defines “poverty” as – “The state of being poor; lack of the means of providing material needs or comforts.”  The definition of simplicity is – “the absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.”

Could it be that whether we live in “poverty” or “simplicity” is primarily a choice of how we view our situation?  Simplicity has many rewards that go beyond saving money.    Among those may be the experience of living well.

One of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau once said: “For my greatest skill has been to want but little.” In Walden he expands on his choice to live simply:  “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”

If you’re in challenging financial times, don’t miss the opportunity to suck out all the marrow of life.  When good times return you are likely to find that your giving goes to 20 or 30% while your simplicity remains the same.

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26 Responses to “Poverty or Simplicity?”

  1. Wendy Staas Says:

    Amen, amen and Amen!! So true. Being in the financial state we are in, I have come to realize how blessed we truly are! Never have I felt more alive! So what if we don’t have new cars and can’t eat out all the time. I have friends who don’t understand me anymore and frankly, that is okay with me. They never will living the life they live. As I learned from you, ‘You become the average of the 5 people you hang out with the most’ — it is amazing after I understood that, I purged a lot out of my life!

    Thanks for your godly wisdom, Dan!!

  2. Shawn Lowe Says:

    Rather than being mortgaged and monthly payment dependent to the nth degree, it is easier to have life paid for as we go. It makes everything easier. I have a mortgage, but everything else is paid for and I have choices that I didn’t have when I was juggling this monthly payment vs. that monthly payment. Simple is good.

  3. Jackie Says:

    I am a very simple person. I fix things when they are broken, get what I need from Freecycle, and desire very little. I am, however, disabled from a work injury and although I am very slowly building a consulting practice, I am one month away from homelessness. I have no assets to liquidate.

    The “simplicity” John Robbins chose is the simplicity of the privileged. Ah, to be able to AFFORD to have land and a simple cabin, to be able to AFFORD a place where there was even the space for an intensive “square-foot” garden.

    When one is truly destitute in spite of hard work and talent, it is a little difficult to see the blessing, and a little offensive to see “simplicity” that is a choice, rather than hard-scrabble survival that is NOT a choice, romanticized.

  4. David Says:

    “Living simply so others can simply live” is a quote I’ve heard used in the inner-city ministry I am part of in Toronto, Canada. In some cases (certainly not all – as noted in Jackie’s response above) poverty is a state of mind while simplicity is a lifestyle – both are usually choices.

    Thanks, Dan, for sharing your thoughts on this.

  5. econobiker Says:

    Is this “Gold Coast” Simplicity like the magazine named “Real Simple” pushes with very expensive but ~simple~ organizing tips?

    Remember that Brentwood, TN simplicity is different from the simplicity of living under an interstate bridge near the Cumberland River in Nashville…

  6. Susan Says:

    I’d love to run away to a simpler place but I don’t know that that’s God’s idea…

    “The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared?” – Luther

  7. zogron Says:

    How do we get people to believe that simplicity really is the better choice? When we purchased our small home the agent informed us it was a “starter” home and in five years we would need to “move-up.” When we said NO she actually got angry at us and informed us that we didn’t understand economics. Both of our vehicles are paid for and we have very little debt. Proverbs 22:7 says “the borrower is servant to the lender” but “devout” Christians ignore this little tidbit of wisdom and go into debt and then wonder why they are never free to enjoy life! We need a “simplicity movement” in our nation and not a return to the pre-recession spending frenzy.

  8. Debbie Wilson Says:

    I find it amazing that God sent Elijah to a poor widow during the famine in 1 Kings 17. She just had food enough to feed her son and herself one last meal. Yet God chose her to feed Elijah. Of course through the process she was fed throughout the entire famine.

    Perhaps being fearful and hoarding is real poverty, for when we still share we are blessed and empowered.

  9. Drew Says:

    This was a tenet of early Quakers – or Friends. Simplicity. Were clothes that were not dyed, because the dye-ing was often done with slave labor. Speak plainly so that you do not show favor to either the wealthy, or even to the poor.
    I believe it was Randy Alcorn who discussed the “Gravity of Possessions” in his book the Treasure Principle. (I might not need a reference check there) The more stuff you own, the more money and effort it takes to maintain that stuff! Do I need a boat, boat storage, boat insurance, life jackets, skis, a boat license, new engine, engine repairs, fuel, trailer, etc., etc., ad. nauseum.
    I have always tried to strive for moderation and not look at self denial as a bad thing. It is hard, though, to ALWAYS keep the focus off of one-self. That’s why God gave us ice-cream!

  10. Marlan at RV52 Says:

    Sheri and I are working hard at simplifying. We’re living in a 270 ft RV and you have to question everything. For example, you might have to question if you really need even something like a small picture frame because space is at a premium. Or even the pictures that go in the frames are a storage problem.

    But as we do this, and this is the reward, we find we grow closer as a couple and the importance of money shrinks. We keep thinking about the Bible verse – where your treasures are so is your heart (paraphrased).

    We’re also finding that simplifying is a transition and we’re still transitioning too. I’ve also found that the rest of the world kind of looks at us with a strange eye.

    But we are proof that it can be done, for those looking for encouragement, – we’re several months in and doing fine.

  11. Carolina Eclectic Says:

    I love this article! I also have come to the conclusion that it is useless to spend your entire life working to pay for all your STUFF!! I would rather have my life available to live for myself and my family.

  12. Ken Says:

    We live in or near a city to get a better paying job, work overtime, are stuck in traffic, etc in order have a big house to impress others and accumulate stuff. Our goal is to be able to someday buy a small cabin in the mountains or at the beach where we can go to escape the rat race.

    Often the “poor” live in the mountains or on the carribean island where we long to go for our vacation.

    Hmmm… Who really is the poorer man…?

    Great article Dan!

  13. Dan and Diane Says:

    Two years ago, my husband and I sponsored a young couple from Africa to come to the USA to study at a bible college in Atlanta, Ga. We thought we were helping pay it forward and “teach a man to fish” by a christian education. We are the ones who have been blessed. We will never be the same. Even with the sacrifices we have made to financially help them as they are not allowed to work here while on an F-1 status, and the scholarship is in jeproady, due to economic issues, by God’s grace we will press on until the husband gets his bible degree. It has made us see what is truly important in life and it is certainly not “things”. I have even gone back to work (yes there are jobs in Michigan), to be able to finance our ministry. We don’t miss the vacations, meals out. It is enough for us to hear “Thank you for giving a chance to come to America” Thanks Dan for all you do….

  14. Josh Says:

    I am very utilitarian so I do not see the point in a lot of the crap many people think they need to have. Having more stuff is more responsibility which is really not needed. I have been spending time finding everything at my house I do not need and and selling it or giving it away. With more stuff comes more cleaning and more need to store it. I say sell it and enjoy the simple things in life like time with your loved ones or a good book.

    Josh Bulloc
    Kansas City, MO

  15. mattie rainier dibona Says:

    the comment regarding sucking the marrow out of the bone was used in the movie “the dead poet’s society” starring robin williams. it was a wonderful movie and i believe i have it if anyone would like to borrow it. some of the students were wanting to live a more simplistisc lifestyle while others were forced to follow in their father’s footsteps.

    you used this line very well.

  16. Kindra Says:

    “Could it be that whether we live in “poverty” or “simplicity” is primarily a choice of how we view our situation?”

    I don’t know about this “we”, but anyone who’s ever missed a meal, slept on the streets, lived in a homeless shelter, been denied healthcare, or been denied basic human rights because of their lack of money and/or perceived value in this nation, will probably tell you that they didn’t make a “choice”.

    I actually take issue with anyone who’d throw around the term “poverty” in any context with the word “Ferrrari”, and I think the term is used incorrectly all too often in common vernacular by people, especially during this economic downturn.

    I get the point you were trying to make, and I also get that it’s a privilege to ponder “poverty” versus “simplicity” in such simple terms.

  17. Kevin Says:

    Dan you are right on with this information. I so thankful for what your doing. I have had the fortunate opportunity to speak to you on a couple of occasions and you have always been great to talk with. I would like to recommend a book called Radical by David Platt to your readers. It is right along what you are speaking to here.

  18. Ralph Says:

    Love the post and comments! I truly enjoy living the simple life. To me being simple is having the time to enjoy life and the simple free things around you. People are hurrying through life at breakneck speed trying to get more stuff and out do the Joneses. They’re too busy to enjoy and appreciate what God has given us.

  19. Colleen Says:

    I lived in a 4,000 sf home on 13 acres and lived in the “fast lane.” I thought I wanted a bigger home and was not satisfied with what I had. I was faced with having to choose between God or corruption. Corruption would have made me very wealthy. I chose God, and with that choice, I lost everything.

    For years I felt poorer than dirt. I was longing for the life I once knew and I was bitter at God for not making things better. It took me seven years to stop being angry at Him. During that journey, I look back now and realize all the bricks He removed from my wall and stony heart. I also see how He taught me things that riches never would have taught me, like forgiveness towards those who do you wrong.

    My husband and I live in a 24 ft camper, and our life is so simple that I don’t need much at all, and yet I can be so happy.

    I don’t miss the rat race life any more. We’re working on building a micro homestead on next to nothing, and I love the lessons God taught in the process of getting a more simple life.

  20. …I love proving people wrong « I Have 2 Say… Says:

    [...] week I read a blog article by Dan Miller called “Poverty or Simplicity?”, in which he defines the differences between the two [...]

  21. Marilyn Says:

    Absolutely! Not long ago, I had someone tell me that during the time I spent as a single mom, I lived in horrible poverty. Not so at all! Yes, I had limited income. But I was blessed with finding a 2-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood that cost only $500 a month and included all utilities and cable TV.

    Because I never believed in living with credit card debt, the only other bills I had to pay were for car insurance, phone, internet access (only dial-up back then) and food. My son was home schooled and went to work with me each day (at a church).

    We bought some of the “best” clothes – at thrift shops. And for my son’s birthday and Christmas, I was able to use layaway.

    I haven’t had a car payment in over 25 years. The car I have now is the same one I had then – a 1992 Chevy Cavalier with only 115,000 miles on it.

    We were never poor. We saw a doctor when we needed to, we ate out about 2 times per month, we even tithed to the church.

    Living simply is so much more peaceful than what most Americans live. And, just because one chooses simplicity, it doesn’t mean you’re poor.

  22. 4 Links for the 4th Says:

    [...] this is an interesting look at just how many 0′s are attached to the end of that deal… Simple or Poor? - Dan Miller (Dave Ramsey’s buddy) on the difference between being broke and being [...]

  23. Ophelia Tongco Says:

    Hi Dan,

    Thank you for this article. Years back I decided to live a minimalist life. Acquiring something has to be needs-based. I have never been a slave to credit card and shopped only on cash basis. I enjoy life and I am planning very well and executing my giving now so when I die I have nothing in my name – not because God has not blessed me – but because I chose to live simply and blessed others in the process. I want to go as I came – with nothing in my hands.

  24. Carrie Says:

    When I lived on a corner lot on the declining side of the 5th largest city in our state, I used to drive around the better neighborhoods, longing to upgrade. Now that we have moved to the backwoods country, I walk my 5 acres and love its simplicity. I don’t wish to live anywhere else. I go to town once per month & am amazed at how little I want. Life should be this good for everybody. (By the way, your parents made the real choice for simplicity.)

  25. Annie Says:

    Thank God for this great site. I have directed my friends and associates to this site so that they can be educated. In counselling Christians in my country 50% of them overspend their income and carry high balances on credit cards and “payday loans.” Sometimes it is due to unavoidable expenses, such as the high cost of utility and medical expenses but most time it’s all the extras they can’t live without. Jesus said “Watch out! be on your guard against all kinds of greed: a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15 NIV)
    Majority of those I counsel usually follow these first steps and in no time their lives are simplified:-
    1. Think small – Tackle one bill at a time. it is amazing what we can accomplish when we are serious and stick with it. Read Galatians 6:9)
    Remember, the power within you is is bigger than the financial challenge ahead of you,so if you “get knocked down…get up.. and keep going (Read also 11 Cor. 4:9)
    2. Spell out your financial goals – The reason we never reach our goals, is because we don’t set any. Wisdom means knowing where we are going and what it will take to get there.
    Using credit cards and payday loans to buy things we can’t afford can land us in hot water so
    STOP charging what you can’t pay for and don’t really need. By doing this you are incurring higher interest rates and adding to your financial burden. My advice to you is …PERFORM PLASTIC SURGERY- cut up your credit cards
    GIVE MORE- Ever wonder why we are “happier giving than getting” (Read Acts 20:35) or how come God (and everyone else) loves a cheerful giver” (11 Cor.9:7) It’s because giving helps us focus on something besides our own desires and wants. Remember you..become rich by being generous or poor by being greedy Proverbs 11:24) So my friends, giving proves we’ve conquered greed!
    EXPECT DISAPPROVAL – Do what Noah did. Ignore it and get on with the job at hand, Your families and friends will criticize you when you refuse to buy unnecessary stuff so don’t expect others to understand your new approach. Choosing how you’ll respond to criticism is one of life’s most important decisions. If you only do things nobody can find fault with, you’ll never accomplish much! Remember anytime you try to make your mark, you will attract erasers.
    (My favourite Scriptures when counselling on this topic are Eccl 2:1-26 and Luke 12:15-21 – I choose Simplicity my friends..and I am not poor..I am blessed beyond measure.

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