Simple Living for Catholics Part 2: Examples

Last Friday, I wrote about living simply as a Catholic. The basic idea is to buy what you need and give away the rest. To generalize even more, Catholics should use their resources as needed for their basic needs. Once their needs are taken care of, all surplus resources should go towards those in need. If we don’t pay attention to what we do, it is easy to fall into laziness with giving. You might think you have nothing to give, but spend some time thinking about it and you will find ways to give.

To illustrate the ideal of simple living, imagine a family of four with two parents and two children. The father is a police officer, the mother works part-time as a tutor and part-time as a housewife, the son and daughter are both in school. Their household income is $90,000. Per year, they spend $26,000 on their mortgage, $24,000 on healthcare, $15,000 for school tuition, $10,000 for transportation, $4,000 on vacations, $2,000 for utilities, $2,000 on other miscellaneous necessities, $2,000 on entertainment, and $1,000 for charity. They save $2,000 a year for retirement and $2,000 a year for emergencies.

On a typical weekday, the father gets home at 7pm, eats dinner, and watches TV until his 9pm bedtime. The mother gets off work at 1pm, does some errands, takes the kids home from school, has dinner with the children at 5pm, does some chores, and watches TV with her husband until her 10pm bedtime. The son and daughter get home from school at 3pm, have dinner, do homework, and plays with their tech gadgets until their 10pm bedtime.

On a typical Saturday, the father goes golfing with his buddies during the day and plays poker with other friends at night. The mother spends most of the day taking the kids to their sports practices and competitions, using any free time to make meals and do chores. On a typical Sunday, the family goes to church in the morning. Then they go shopping for food, clothes, entertainment and other things. The rest of the day, the father watches football, the children play video games or socialize with friends online, and the mother makes meals and finishes the household chores.

Now we can look at how this family can simplify their life by giving, donating, and serving. The first step is giving excess material goods. This family is buying new things every Sunday. Over a whole year that’s a lot of clothing and entertainment. At most, they need outfits for maybe a month. Even then, clothes can be mixed and matched, so they don’t need a unique set of clothes for all 30 days. Over the year, they should be able to give many surplus clothing items to the needy. Entertainment items are even easier to give. Most times entertainment is consumed and then never touched again. Movies, books, video games, and more can be sold at garage sales or on Craigslist. The money can then be given to those in need.

The second step is donating money. This family is not donating any money to the church or poor. It looks like they have no money, but they really do if they take the time to think about their actual needs. If they buy used cars instead of new ones, they can save $2,000 a year on transportation. Vacations can greatly be cut back. Their current spending is enough for a big trip every year like going to Disneyland, but it’s not necessary to go on such big vacations. Switching to camping or a short road trip will save $2,000 a year for vacations. This family buys clothes and entertainment every Sunday. Some of that is needed but not all of it. They can easily cut that down by $1,000 for another big chunk of money.

Combined with their existing donations of $1,000 a year, their new total is $6,000 a year in donations. Ideally, they would be able to donate 10% of their income or $9,000 a year, but $6,000 is not bad at all. God would be very happy with this starting point. The next $3,000 might require more drastic sacrifices like moving to a cheaper house or even changing careers. God understands our limits.

The third is serving others. Within this family we can already see that the father is not spending enough time with his family. It’s true that he gets home late from work, but he just plants himself in front of the TV for 2 hours on weeknights. On Saturdays, he’s gone all day with his friends. On Sundays, he spends a little time with the family but then watches more TV. He should use some of that time for family activities like talking about their day and prayer. TV can be a family activity if the children are involved, but other than dinner, the children are in their rooms. They should be using some of that time to help their mother with chores and spend time with their parents. The children should do their best to get good grades. Sometimes this is a real sacrifice but it will please their parents and aid their future.

The mother is doing the heavy lifting in this family, juggling her job and the household chores all while taking care of the children. The father and children need to help her out more. The parents also need to be educating their children in the faith and in basic skills they will need when they grow up. A huge part of being a parent is educating their children, but these parents are completely ignoring this responsibility. School is not enough to teach children everything they need to know. The education in school and from parents works hand in hand to make good kids. Without reinforcement at home, the children will most likely struggle to adapt to adult life.

The family members are not doing as much as they can to serve their loved ones, but they also aren’t doing any service towards those outside the house. All their weekly activities are for themselves. There are a lot of needy people they could help. An easy form of service to start is prayer on behalf of those in need. They don’t even have to leave the house to do this. Another easy service opportunity is helping with coffee and donuts after church. Within the community they can help at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Another good one is participating in the pro-life prayer vigils. They are very common on Sundays outside abortion clinics.

Here is a quick list of the changes this family could make to practice simple living:

Giving Material Goods

  • Once a year give clothes that haven’t been worn in over a year.
  • Once a year sell or give away all the movies and books you have seen or read. Donate any money obtained this way to charity.
  • Whenever the son gets a new game, he has to sell or give away one of his older games. If he sells it, he has to use the money for a family gift such as getting ice cream or seeing a movie.

Donating Money

  • Buy used cars instead of new cars. Then donate the saved money to charity.
  • Switch to cheaper vacations and donate the extra money to charity.
  • Buy clothes only one Sunday a month and donate the savings to charity.
  • Spend no more than $100 per month on entertainment, giving the rest to charity.

Serving Others

  • For the father, play one of golf or poker, not both. Use the extra time to help out with chores, making meals, and going to your children’s sports practices.
  • For the parents, spend one hour per night on weeknights teaching and praying with your children.
  • For the children, help out the family with one chore each per day.
  • For the whole family, pray at least 15 minutes every night.
  • For the whole family, help out with coffee and donuts after church every Sunday.
  • For the whole family, help make a meal at a soup kitchen one Sunday a month.

Every Catholic family should take the time to analyze how they are giving, donating, and serving. It’s not easy making these sacrifices, but this is the Catholic way. You don’t have to do everything at once, and you shouldn’t try. Instead, take your analysis and write a list of all the changes that would be good to make similar to what I wrote above. Then once a year during Lent, make just one of those changes. Put it on the calendar, so you will remember. Focus on just that one change the whole year. You’ll probably keep forgetting at first or get out of the habit, but eventually the whole family will get used to it. The next year make another change.

If, for some reason, you can’t work on a new change during a year, feel free to postpone it. Just do your best to improve over time as a family. When you look back 10, 20, 30 years of family life, you should see a huge, positive difference between your family now and your family in the past. Remember every sacrifice for good will be rewarded in heaven. You will not regret God’s rewards for your good works.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

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Simple Living for Catholics Part 1: Definition and Practice

Simple living is a growing movement in America to get away from the busyness of modern life. For many people, simple living means getting closer to their roots in nature usually in the form of homesteading. They learn to live off the land, not on manufactured goods. Life can be much slower and peaceful this way. For Catholics, however, simple living usually means avoiding materialism. Since earthly life is just a temporary thing, it’s a waste to acquire wealth we don’t need when it’s just going to be taken away when we die. Despite this, material goods can easily become idols (CCC 2113). They can be a distraction and sometimes even lead to sin (CCC 2536-2537). Because material goods can be a danger to holiness, all Catholics are called to this form of simple living (temperance, CCC 2517).

The basic idea behind simple living as a Catholic is buy what you need; give the rest away. Deciding what is a need can be hard because everyone is in a different situation in life. For one person a new smartphone is a luxury, for another it is a business expense. For a small family, a 3 bedroom home is fine while a 5 bedroom home is needed for a bigger family. It’s not always easy to figure out which things are needs and which are wants. With ample prayer plus the advice of fellow Catholics and our priests, you can get a good idea what you and your family’s needs are. There is no need to rush in this. About a month of thinking, prayer, and talking with others is enough.

Once you know what your needs are you can take inventory of what you have. Most people have many extra belongings they don’t need. These can be donated or recycled. This is a good practice for the whole family to reinforce the giving spirit of the Catholic faith. Another part of taking inventory is calculating how much money is required for the family’s needs. That is how much money you need. The rest of the money can be donated for the needs of others. A third thing to consider is your time. Time is a resource just like material goods and money. Everyone needs a certain minimum amount of time to meet their duties to themselves and their family. Extra time should then be used serving others. Parents do a lot of this already while taking care of their children, but the children also need to learn this, so it’s best to use some free time to serve others as a family.

You probably noticed that these three things all require commitment. Over the years you will continue to buy things, some of which you won’t need, so you will always have belongings to donate over time. The monetary needs of the family will always be changing as new members enter the family and children grow up, so the amount of money you can donate will change over time. Your free time will also change. When you have several young children, you might only have time to serve them. Once they get older and more independent, you will have more time for service outside the home.

Living a simple life is not easy. If you and your family have been living the typical American life, you probably purchased many things you didn’t need over the years and maybe haven’t donated much money to others. Even when you know what you should be doing, it can be a struggle to do the right thing. The challenge is maintaining the spirit of giving (service, CCC 340, 1109). This is very much an ideal. There may be times you forget about it, but always get back on track later. It’s not just about helping others. This practice will make you and your family holier people.

The persons of the Holy Trinity represent perfect, complete sacrificial love (CCC 221, 1109). In a perfect world, we would fully emulate the Trinity, giving all our money and material goods to others for their needs. Others would do the same for us. Receiving what we need would just be a side effect of everyone’s giving. That is what heaven will be like. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, but at least we can see what that perfect world would be.

We know in heaven all our time will be spent giving, and we will love that completely. If we don’t love that completely, we need to grow more in holiness. That can either happen on earth or in purgatory. Since purgatory involves a lot of suffering, it is in our best interest to do as much growing as possible on earth (CCC 260, 1031). This doesn’t mean that we should ignore our needs or our family’s needs and expect others to take care of us. We aren’t in that perfect world, so we do need to cover our basic needs, but we should constantly strive to give whenever possible. Simple living is a huge part of that.

The practice of simple living allows for more giving with the same amount of resources. If you are just starting this practice, it may be hard. All change involves suffering, but that suffering will be far less than the required suffering in purgatory if you aren’t at that level when you die. With continued effort, simple living will just become part of life. You will be able to accept it and be content with it. You might not get anything in return for your giving on earth, but this is practice for heaven, where everyone will receive as much or more than they give. It is important to note that simple living isn’t required to go to heaven. Selfishness can definitely be a mortal sin, but in many cases, simple living is not a matter of sin. As above, whatever growth we don’t achieve on earth will happen in purgatory, but the holier we are on earth, the less suffering in purgatory. It just makes sense to strive for simple living.

With this you have the basics of simple living for Catholics. For a detailed illustration of implementing this in a typical family, see the second part.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared