Last November, I heard a speech by the renowned Dr. P.K. Nair on agroforestry, a practice that integrates trees and farming. My biggest takeaway from his talk was not specifically about agroforestry. Rather, Dr. Nair gave the best explanation I have yet seen of the difference between what he calls an “economy mindset” and an “ecology mindset.” For one thing, economists think linearly, in terms of constant growth—and more is always better. By contrast, ecologists recognize limits and talk of thresholds. The limits are real, and exceeding them will have negative effects.
An economy mindset seems to predominate in Western society. For example, how would you define the opposite of scarcity? Chances are, you think of abundance, or a similar word (because lots more is supposedly better). But what if, instead, we thought of scarcity’s opposite in terms of enough?
We live in a culture that is obsessed with more. Some have used the term “affluenza” to describe the disease-like effects of our overconsumption, wastefulness, and constant pursuit of more. We overeat, overspend, overschedule, overconsume. We’re drowning in stuff.1 But our culture continues to tell us, in a thousand ways, that more is better.
However, some people are starting to fight back. You have probably heard about minimalism and decluttering, whether from websites like Becoming Minimalist, or from books like Marie Kondo`s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Rather than minimalism, I prefer to think in terms of voluntary simplicity, or (even better) of living a wartime lifestyle, an idea shared and lived by authors and missionaries Ralph and Roberta Winter.2 I read and reread books about simplicity to remind myself that, when it comes to possessions, I don’t have to keep collecting more, bigger, and better. I’ve pared down my closet and looked for ways to downsize—not an easy task for someone who is a packrat at heart.
Embracing enough can be life-changing when it comes to possessions. But the idea of enough also applies to other areas of life, such as food (i.e. we could eat just enough rather than eat until we`re stuffed) and money (i.e. we could be content with enough, and share the extra).
And what about time? In her book I Know How She Does It, Laura Vanderkam argues that we would have more time than we think, if we were to be intentional about how we use it and if we thought in terms of weeks instead of days. In some ways, Vanderkam and I are very different. She has definite career aspirations, and is interested in boosting her income as one important measurement of success. On the other hand, I—for better or for worse—lack a desire to build a career, and would rather learn to live with less than chase a higher paycheck. But Vanderkam’s book has still helped me in figuring out a healthier relationship to time.
As a culture, we tend to overcommit and simultaneously obsess over our lack of time. Ask someone how he or she is doing, and you will most likely hear the harried response, “Busy!” Time seems like a scarce commodity. Few of us are immune to this fixation with time; I know I’m not.
It takes intentionality to avoid over-commitment. My husband and I work hard to keep our family’s schedule from being overrun with appointments, activities and meetings. As a homeschooling family, we are able to have more relaxed days than most. In addition, our family of six owns one vehicle, which naturally limits the number of external activities we participate in.
Despite all these things, the cultural fixation with “not enough time” means I often feel a bit frantic, hoarding my free time but also failing to invest it in worthwhile things. But Vanderkam helped me see that there is enough time.
For example, Vanderkam asked dozens of “successful” (i.e. high-earning) women to keep track of their time for one week. In her book, she describes the resulting time logs as mosaics, with tiles of time slotted for work, family time, and personal priorities.
After reading I Know How She Does It, I too decided to make an actual mosaic, using a table in a Google document with cells colored in according to activities. The result surprised me. Large chunks of the afternoon and early evening were white in my initial mosaic. Clearly, “I don’t have time” is not a valid excuse for me! That open time normally gets used somewhat mindlessly. It could instead be used to meet important but vague goals of mine—for example, to exercise consistently, or to write more.
In the days after I first created my mosaic, I would remember a calendar commitment and feel anxiety start to rise. Then I would remember the white spaces and remind myself, “There is enough time.” Of course, if I keep adding commitments, at some point there will no longer be many white spaces. I also need to plan for the pattern of how I use my time; too many consecutive afternoons or evenings out feels exhausting, and I personally need regular chunks of time alone to recharge. Still, seeing the white spaces is calming.
I sometimes dream about what it would look like if we could collectively shift from a scarcity/abundance mindset to one that recognizes enough. I don’t know how we can make that shift as a society, unless it is as a change that starts with individuals and families, slowly building to a critical mass. Key realizations are: 1) you need fewer possessions than you think, and your family might well be more generous, healthier, and happier with less; and 2) there is enough time, if you place your tiles deliberately.
In short, Dr. Nair’s “ecology mindset” absolutely offers advantages over the “economy mindset” so common to today. More is not always better, and limits need not mean limitations. Instead, embrace the freedom of embracing enough!
Certainly some people do not have enough, when it comes to possessions. But the actual threshold of what is enough is lower than we think. In 1 Timothy 6:8, Paul wrote, “…if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” ↩
Ralph Winter proposed (and himself lived) a simple lifestyle that would free up income for world missions. He wrote, “We must learn that Jesus meant it when He said, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required’ (Luke 12:48). I believe that God cannot expect less from us as our Christian duty to save other nations than our own nation has required of us in times of war in order to save our own nation. This means that we must be willing to adopt a wartime lifestyle if we are to play fair with the clear intent of scripture that the poor of this earth, the people who sit in darkness, shall see a great light (Isa 9:2).” Ralph D. Winter, “Reconsecration to a Wartime, Not a Peacetime, Lifestyle.” In Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th Edition, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne. William Carey Library, 2009. ↩