Quaker Testimonies

Personal Simplicity: A Complicated Idea

If there was ever a time to seriously consider the Friends’ Simplicity Testimony, that time is now.  Technological changes and modernity have brought a dizzying array of media, personalities and international events to our digital doorsteps.  New gadgets complicate things we thought we understood, like our television sets and phones.  New channels of communication and entertainment open daily, cluttering our lives with more things we never knew we lacked.

It can make one long to retreat to a mountaintop.

How, then, can modern Quakers bring simplicity into our complex twenty-first-century lives?  Is it really wise to stop listening and reading the news?  Is it kind to our community to ignore email, or fail to respond to phone messages?  Is it even possible to retreat from the clamor of our culture?

The Simplicity Testimony of the Pacific Yearly Meeting says “simplicity is the right ordering of our lives, placing God at the center. When we shed possessions, activities, and behavior that distract us from that center, we can focus on what is important. Simplicity does not mean denying life’s pleasures, but being open to the promptings of the Spirit. We Friends seek to take no more than our share and to be sensitive to the needs of others, especially future generations.”

For the Quakers, living simply is about seeking to live more meaningfully.  Quakers have long referred to the unnecessary accumulation of material items as “cumber,” and they believed it obscured their vision of both God’s will and reality.  It can be spiritually cleansing to disinvest oneself of unnecessary possessions, to recycle unused items, or give away things you no longer truly need.

But “cumber” can mean more than material possessions – it can represent  unnecessary mental or spiritual cumber, or living beyond our emotional means.  Do we worry about some things more than necessary?  Do we challenge ourselves to consider each commitment, undertaking only those that are meaningful and useful?  Do we consider the power in focusing our energies rather than spreading ourselves too thin?

Like all the Quaker Testimonies, Simplicity is something we must each grapple with in our own lives.  There are no easy answers. But here are some questions that can help you assess your own personal simplicity balance:

What are the criteria we use to determine how to simplify our lives, and do those criteria help us move closer to God?

How do our needs for control and security complicate our lives?

Do we treasure our time, treating it as a gift from God?

What does it mean, as Quaker Kara Cole Newell asked, to be “lean and disciplined and not dependent upon our things?”

What hinders and what promotes our search for inward simplicity?

In the Light,

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at)

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.