The Quaker value of Simplicity is probably the one that I struggle with the most. Traditionally, Quakers have sought to live simple lives of devotion to God in everything that they do. This manifests in a number of outward forms, from Quakers former distrust of the arts for "exciting the senses" to the "Plain Dress" of Friends that is most seen nowadays on the Quaker Oats boxes. The Quaker Oats Man is a caricature of how Friends traditionally sought to set themselves apart from others by wearing black or grey suits for the men and very simple dresses for the women.
Quakers are not ascetics or opposed to modern technology like the Amish. A Quaker family will often own a car, a computer, cell phones and a television… or not. Most Quakers however will not own multiple homes, a yacht, and the latest sports car. Every Friend tries to live by the standard of simplicity in the way that their heart directs them.
Quaker simplicity is often shown through our frugality. But Quakers don't reject being successful in business, as long as it does not distract from devotion to the Spirit. Indeed, some of the most successful businesses in the UK in the 1800s were started by Quakers, including the Cadbury company.
For myself, I struggle with my own fascination with technology and gadgets, my interest in fashion and beautifully made clothing, and my love of delicious and weird food. Every time a new gadget comes out (the iPad, the Kindle, etc.) a part of me wants to acquire it right away. But another part of me questions whether or not I NEED this new toy. Will it add to my life in meaningful ways? Will it help me in some way with my career or my goals or my connections to others? Or do I want it simply because it exists?
Right now I am travelling in Holland carrying around an iPhone, a netbook, a digital camera and a video camera. For some, that might seem the opposite of living simply. But for me, those are all helpful and useful tools for documenting, communicating and sharing what I'm doing out here with others.
I feel fortunate to be paid a good salary to do something that I truly enjoy and that does some good in the world. I don't think a lot of humanity gets that opportunity. I live in comfort and safety, I don't have to worry about my bills getting paid, I have no debt, and I lack for nothing,
Every once in awhile I wonder what it would be like to have the means to go anywhere in the world that I wanted, whenever I wanted. Or to eat at fine restaurants that I've only heard about but can't imagine splurging on. But for the most part, I don't think about the things I don't have. I honestly don't know what I would do with a million dollars if it appeared in my bank account.
And that's what I think is part of what it means to live a simple life. That is, to not spend your energy thinkiing about money. If one is too rich, one can easily get caught up in thinking about how to keep maintaining the lifestyle you've grown accustomed to, or attaining the next level of wealth. If one is too poor, one's energy is consumed with getting the things you need to survive — food, shelter, clothing.
Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot where we can live our lives thinking about the higher things: how to love and serve others and listen for the still, small voice of God.