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Free to Have Less


Editor’s Note: Missioner Annemarie Barrett shares how moving towards a simpler lifestyle has positively affected her in physical, spiritual, and emotional ways.

I wonder about how complex we make the concept of simple living; I think about how entrenched we have to be in consumerist culture to buy more books to teach us about consuming less.

One of the things I am most grateful for after nearly four years of living as a Franciscan lay missioner is how simple the concept of simple living has become in my life. I have discovered simplicity through relationships, not theory.

Every day for the past few years I have been changing my daily habits to be more in line with what is available to me locally, learning from my friends in the communities where I live and work.

For example, we have been living now for over three years with a mini-fridge. Many of the families in the communities where we work do not even own refrigerators and so adjusting to a mini-fridge was a step in solidarity we were ready to take.

We quickly learned to adapt our eating habits to depend less on refrigeration, which meant that we almost completely stopped buying processed foods. Buying less processed food meant producing a lot less trash and significantly less plastic. And all of the plastic bags that we accumulate, we re-use.

We have one small trash can in our kitchen and it probably takes us at least a month to fill it up. We have a small bucket that we use to collect organic material in our kitchen (egg shells, banana peels, etc) and we fill it up every two weeks and take it out to our tire compost.

We literally produce twice as much organic material as trash. And the compost we produce feeds our plants.

We also do not own a television. Life without commercials means that I rarely think about buying new things. It also means that I almost never talk to friends about cosmetic products, brands, or stores. We all shop at pretty much the same popular market and we only go shopping when we need something.

Small changes like the footwear I use and the length of my hair have also had big impacts on my life.

I haven’t more than trimmed my hair in over three years and have learned to wear my hair in a braid as many women here wear their hair. I no longer worry about how much my hair cut will cost or how to style my hair. And I wear the same sandals whether I am working in a garden or going to a wedding; I never have to buy new shoes or worry about what shoes to wear to an event.

I no longer buy or use make-up. I use hand soap or just water to wash my face. I buy shampoo in bulk because it is cheaper and leaves me with a reusable container instead of a small container that would just end up in the trash. I made these adjustments after traveling to many small towns where we would live without running water or mirrors for days. I experienced being accepted for who I was, not what I looked like on the outside.

These changes have fundamentally affected how I look at the world; they literally eliminate useless hours of thinking about more things to buy.

And maybe the most important shift has been the change in my diet. Since beginning to work in a garden and joining a community of people connected to agriculture, I now almost exclusively buy produce and meat from people that I know.

Ingredients: Spinach from the parish garden, pork from a friend's home raised pigs, and potatoes from another friend's local farm

Ingredients: Spinach from the parish garden, pork from a friend’s home raised pigs, and potatoes from another friend’s local farm

I have friends that butcher their own beef and pork and call us when there is meat to buy. We even help with the butchering when they need an extra hand. When there is no meat to buy from those friends, we get used to cooking without meat, another move towards simplicity.

Producing some of my own vegetables and having an extensive network of friends who produce anything from honey to celery has increased the quantity and quality of fresh produce that I eat. I am learning about how important a fertile soil is to the nutritional quality of the produce, not to mention the cancer-causing harm of pesticides.

I have loved learning to make my favorite foods from scratch. I am learning to value the deliciousness of fresh home made food. Ingredients: Tortillas and hummus made from scratch

I have loved learning to make my favorite foods from scratch. I am learning to value the deliciousness of fresh homemade food. Ingredients: Tortillas and hummus made from scratch.

Through the changes in my diet, I am noticing how infrequently I get sick. And when I do have problems with digestion, body aches, or the common cold, I have learned how to treat these ailments naturally. Crude garlic has gotten me through many colds and stomach problems. I am learning all the time from the wisdom in the local culture to resolve these basic needs; I no longer depend on medications or pharmacies.

And the most joyful part of these changes is the profound effect on my spiritual life.

It is such a relief to no longer worry about buying more things. I produce less trash, less clutter, and less headaches, literally.

Simple living has become an experience of community. It is no longer an anecdote or theory in a book but a daily lived experience of connection. I am connected to my choices and my community. I am free to have less materially and more spiritually. I own my choices instead of those choices owning me. And that freedom brings me joy every day.

Reflection Question: How can you introduce simplicity into your own life? Challenge yourself to make one change in your life this week.

Featured Image: “Who needs Chipotle when I can make my own taco bowl at home? Ingredients: Cherry tomatoes from my garden, onions from a friend’s local farm, cilantro from a friend’s home garden, and black beans baked from scratch” (photo by Annemarie Barrett)

From St. Paul, Minnesota, Annemarie graduated from Loyola University in Chicago in 2012 with a degree in Communication Studies. Possessing a strong interest in social justice issues and some experience with international travel, she began her service in Bolivia in January 2013.