One gift of the minimalist lifestyle is that it provides an arena to really strengthen the muscles of discipline and impulse control. Repeatedly faced with opportunities to buy more, we are able to grow in our resolve to live with less. We are invited to continually strengthen our ability to say “no.”
On a recent Sunday evening, while putting kids to bed, we heard the doorbell ring. To be honest, it wasn’t a convenient time and I wasn’t that motivated to answer it. Nevertheless, I ran downstairs to find two neighbor boys standing on the front porch with a push mower and a sales pitch. Apparently, they were earning money with their new lawn mowing business.
Now the truth of the matter is that I had just written an article about simplicity and all the things we don’t buy. Lawn services were specifically identified in that list! Furthermore, if I am going to spend money, I’d rather put it toward endeavors that we are not qualified to do ourselves.
So there I was at a crossroads. My first thought was that we need to keep our grass shorter so we don’t attract young entrepreneurs. But then I changed direction and wondered if this was the invitation to simply get rid of our grass altogether. After all, lawn really is kind of pointless. We could replace it with more gardens, or even a nice oak tree.
But I snapped back to the present moment, paid the kids eight bucks, and let them trot across the yard with their mower. Despite feeling good about helping the kids with their business, I was determined to not pay for this service again. But only two days later, one of the kids returned with a flyer. This time he was painting house numbers on curbs. Sunk! Ok, kid. Here’s $15 more for your piggy bank.
When the kiddo arrived for painting I noticed his mom came with him to supervise the work. Taking it as an opportunity to meet this neighbor, I went out to visit and I specifically asked how his curb painting business was coming along. Apparently, we were among his first clients and so he was still figuring out the paints and stencils. But then his mom went on to share that family finances were tight so they were encouraging their son to help earn some of the money needed to cover the expenses associated with his athletics (and school, in general).
Learning the deeper story often changes our attitude of the heart. We catch a glimpse inside where something grips us and compels us toward generosity. Yet so often we make the call before we know the full story.
When our family shifted to one primary income and embraced simplicity, we made our own sacrifices with purchases. The 55 yards of unwaxed dental floss, for which I paid 96 cents, is a daily reminder of that sacrifice. Yet while it is appropriate to exercise discipline, there are simply instances where we are called to be generous. In its most basic form, generosity is an extension of grace.
Generosity sometimes involves personal sacrifice, but it is a sacrifice that feels different than cheap dental floss. “Generous generosity” can actually move us more toward embracing uncertainty. If having, or keeping, what is “mine” creates a sense of certainty, then giving it away involves sacrificing that security at some level. And “mine” can extend beyond money or stuff. What about “my” time? “My” plans? “My” life? If I give it away, will my own needs be met? At the most basic level, giving is an act of deep-rooted trust. It is an energy that directly combats a spirit of scarcity.
Someone once said that it is not “whether you have it” but “how you have it.” Do we hold it in such a way that we are willing to part with it? It seems that our level of detachment often informs our level of generosity. But it is not an exact science. In other words, generosity is not a line item in our budget for which we write a calculated check each month (although that’s a good place to start). Rather, heart filled giving is really quite fluid and requires an ongoing spirit of awareness. In our humanity, we do it imperfectly, but we hope others are generous with us when we miss the mark.
Back to the lawn mowing story. What happened on a deeper level in hiring the neighbor kid? Did it bless him? His mom? Me? Did my act of helping the child function as a seed that would end up blooming in my own life? I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about meeting with a business client of my own this past month. All of a sudden I saw myself standing on someone else’s doorstep when the door opened wide. Quite possibly karma was in action, it moves fast these days. The seeds we plant are the harvests we reap- for better or worse. It’s a thing.
So what would it look like if each of us lived with a spirit of generosity? How powerful would it be to live simply but contribute toward a universe of abundance? If we each committed to stepping out to give as opportunities presented themselves, it would start an outpouring of grace and a revolution of upbuilding. After all, generosity is a tangible way to value life and the lives of others. Giving away “mine” is the path toward discovering it will be alright, there is indeed enough.
And it is all so simple. It is not necessary to fly around the globe in search of an opportunity to be generous. The great is in the small. You just have to answer your doorbell.
About the Author: Jen Macnab is an avid reader, writer, and runner who recently resigned from a full-time career in higher education to pursue balance and simplicity. Jen launched Toward Thriving, LLC to support others on the journey toward best self.