Last Saturday morning I went food shopping. As usual, it took two carts (sometimes it takes three) to get everything on my list. All the children and Jim were working, so I emptied the Beast of all the groceries by myself. I put a John MacArthur sermon on to listen to while I put the groceries away. I only got about a quarter of the groceries put away when I started getting really hungry. I made myself a cabbage salad (recipe below) to eat.
While I was eating and listening, John MacArthur made this statement, “Be content with little.”
I looked up at my kitchen and it was covered in food. There was a speed rack* full of tomatoes and onions and peppers and potatoes from my garden. There were all sorts of veggies and fruit. There were lots of spices and good olive oil and vinegars. There were a variety of nuts and seeds.
It wasn’t “little”. Instead, it was quite abundant.
I finished eating and went into the school room/office to answer a few emails at my treadmill desk before finishing the food. I looked at my bookshelves. They’re covered in books. It’s not “little”. It’s quite abundant.
Let me be clear, there isn’t anything wrong with having a stocked pantry. In fact, I think there is quite a lot of wisdom in keeping a full pantry. There also isn’t anything wrong with having a lot of books for you and your children to read. The right books encourage reading and growth.
But that’s not the issue. It’s not the items themselves; it’s your attitude about the items.
The main issue is could I be content without them.
I started thinking about everything I take for granted. The list is quite long, but here are a few conveniences that came to mind:
I’ll stop there, but you get my point.
In America, most of us are surrounded by plenty. We’re used to it and we take it for granted.
My question is does our over-abundance of stuff cause us to be discontented? More specifically, does an over-abundance of stuff cause my children to be discontented? I don’t have any supporting data, but I believe it does. I have always found that the more I have, the more I want.
So how do you become content with little?
Declutter. If you ask my husband and my children, I’m notorious around here for getting rid of possessions whenever anybody isn’t looking. I spent quite a lot of time podcasting about why I think clutter is such a negative influence on our lives. The older I get, the more firmly I believe this.
Value simplicity. It takes constant effort to keep things simple because it is much harder to make a simple system than a complex one, and entropy is always working to introduce chaos. But I have learned to truly value simplicity. Simple pleasures. Simple meals. Simple recreation. A game of watermelon football is a fun example of combining all three (simply, of course).
Value quality. I would always rather spend more money on something that is high quality and will last for years than to fill my house with cheap junk that regularly breaks and needs to be fixed or replaced. Jim and I have spent decades slowly purchasing high quality cutco knives*. They aren’t cheap, but every year when we go on vacation, we send the knives in for resharpening. They come back cutting like new (in fact, over the years, they’ve actually replaced a knife if they couldn’t sharpen it properly).
Value people more than stuff. I have always found that I can spend my time on my things (whether purchasing or maintaining or shopping for more) or I can spend my time on people. The older I get, the more time I want to invest in people.
Value experiences and memories more than possessions. I do not get my children many (if any) birthday or Christmas presents. Instead of focusing on items to unwrap, we focus on memories we can make. We put together a video about our Christmas events one year. You can watch it here:
I don’t want to make it sound like I could honestly say that I am content with little. I’d like to be able to say it. And I could say it more truthfully now than I could ten years ago. But I’m not sure I’ll ever be at the place where I could say it and completely mean it. But I have learned how unimportant my wants are. And while I still have wants, I am learning to be content if they are never fulfilled.
What about you? Do you struggle with being content with little?
Cabbage Salad Recipe
Like most of my recipes, I don’t have any measurements for you because most of it comes out of my garden and I just use what I have.
If you are trying to get somebody to eat it who isn’t a fan of cabbage, you can also sprinkle sugar on it. I do this for the children, but I don’t eat mine with sugar. You can serve it cold or at room temperature. You could even add grilled chicken to it if you wanted to make it a more substantial meal.