Home / Stories / Unpacking Simplicity

Unpacking Simplicity


Editor’s note: New missioner SarahJane Cauzillo reflects on her search for a simpler and more intentional life at the start of Formation.

As I stood in the living room of my parent’s home, all my clothing, shoes, books, and other various personal items strewn out around me, and an empty suitcase beside me, I asked myself: Ugh, what do I really need? I flew into DC two weeks ago with one suitcase, one carry-on, and one backpack. All my belongings for these three months of Formation were dragged, carried, or worn on my back as I climbed up the hill from the Brookland Metro station to my new home, El Casa San Salvador and into my little bedroom on the third floor. As I began to unpack, I asked myself again: What do I really need?

 I am surprised, now two weeks into this trial “simplicity experiment” as a missioner walking in the steps of St. Francis, how little I truly need. Although perhaps sparse in diversity and fashion (in comparison to previously moving to the Casa), my closet is full of sturdy and appropriate clothing. And although perhaps not expansive, my meager bookshelf is full of my most favorite reads. And although not trendy or ornate, my walls are full of printed photographs of my friends and family. And perhaps, most surprisingly, I feel so fully free.

“At the heart of the simple life,” writes Duan Elgin, a social scientist and professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, “is an emphasis on harmonious and purposeful living.” As I learned during one of our Formation sessions, simplicity does not inherently denote “less or nothing” in regards to possessions—but rather, it means an intentionality and consciousness in all aspects of life.

Living a simple life involves looking at each facet of my existence (material, spiritual, emotional, physical, social, personal, etc.), holding it before me, and asking: What is its meaning and purpose to me? Do I need it? Does it bring me true joy? Does it bring me closer to God? I know in my experience of American culture, I can often tangle the ideas of “want” and “need” in my head to rationalize many choices of consumption, activity, or scheduling. Do I need this many pairs of jeans and this many books? Do I need to be everywhere with everyone every night? In preparing for this commitment of voluntarily simplicity, I am beginning to dust away the distractions and noise that prohibit me from living my most real and genuine self: a daughter of God called to mission with FMS.

Counter to my American culture, which praises busyness as an indication of success and praises excess belongings as a source of joy, I am finding an utterly tangible and pure source of peace in taking on a simple lifestyle. With sincere intentionality in my time, belongings, and devotions, I am freed not only from the material, but also from any masks I am forced to adorn in order to meet the many obligations placed on me by the clutter of superfluous noise and tasks.

In this freed state, I am more myself. I am SarahJane, ever more stripped of the world, and ever more in congruence with how the Lord, in His infinite genius, designed me to be. I am open and available to be moved and guided by the Holy Spirit. “Voluntary simplicity,” Elgin also writes, “[is] a manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich, a way of being in which our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct and conscious contact with living.” And rich it is!

Reflection question: How can you simplify your routine to get in touch with your inner riches and connection with God?

SarahJane Cauzillo sought various opportunities during her college years at Grand Valley State University to learn more about pressing social justice issues. Mission trips to Detroit awakened a special interest in working with youth, particularly young women. Serving on mission will be a hands-on opportunity to build relationships with others through sharing the Gospel and ministry of presence. Joining an intentional faith community with other lay Catholics was an essential element in choosing to serve overseas with FMS. SarahJane's hobbies include reading, writing, hiking, camping, kayaking, swimming, discovering new music, drinking coffee, and engaging in rich conversation with loved ones.