A Year of Living with Less: Ohio Pastor’s Family Accepts Radical Challenge

The Deeter family.

By Carl Stagner

No more trinkets or toys. No more new clothes or that pair of shoes you’ve just got to have. No more DVDs, home décor, or kitchen appliances—even if they’re on sale! Absolutely no more trips to the department store or the mall simply to browse the selection—that would be too tempting. Josh Deeter, pastor of First Church of God in Tallmadge, Ohio, and his wife Emily, accepted the challenge early this year to make 2018 their “year of living with less.” The goal: to stop buying things for an entire year. Don’t worry—they’re still buying deodorant, tooth paste, food to eat, and necessary items that break. Half-way through the year, they’ve learned a lot about themselves, how much God has truly blessed them, and that living with less can mean living for so much more.

Emily Deeter announced the challenge and the rationale behind it on a blog at the beginning of February:

A new year is here and that means it is time to put away the Christmas decorations, clean out the fridge, and try to find a place for all the gifts. Oh, the gifts…don’t get me wrong, I love gifts. Gift-giving is my love language, but I am not blessed with the gift of organization. So, where do all those thoughtful gifts go? They are crammed into the nooks and crannies of my house, along with all the children and dogs that I keep accumulating. This happens until we run out of living space and have to move because there is simply no room in our house for us and our stuff. I can’t do it anymore.

She continues to describe the need for such a challenge, citing the frustration in a world where the gift of simplicity is forgotten and appreciation for what we already have is a lost art. She also confesses a common hobby in our culture, which when left unchecked, can become a habit for many: shopping.

This is where I am currently, with an overstuffed house, constantly managing my things. Day in and day out, putting away, sorting, only to have to rearrange everything anytime I go shopping. The joy that shopping brings only lasts as long as it takes to bring the bags inside and realize I have no place to put the things I just knew we needed.

Emily and Josh aren’t out to prove anything to anyone or make some public statement about a materialistic society. But they are out to make life better for themselves and their children, all while seeking to experience the freedom and contentment that comes with a detachment from material things. They want to focus on people and relationships, on experiences together, rather than what they will buy next or where they will store what they buy. They want to enhance their creativity by satisfying that urge to redecorate with things they already have instead of taking a trip to Hobby Lobby. They want to spend more time in God’s Word and on journaling instead of in the check-out line. They want to steward the resources God has given them, realizing how much money they can save in a year when less is spent on non-essentials. Still, the process has been anything but easy.

“The most difficult parts of this challenge have been gift-giving and doing without certain things,” Emily explains, in an interview with Church of God Ministries. “I didn’t expect giving gifts to be such a challenge, because I planned to do ‘experience’ gifts, gift cards, or gifts of service; but I have found that doing this type of gift-giving takes more forethought or more money.”

With birthdays, an anniversary, and Christmas on the horizon, thinking about what to give—especially to their children on the holiday most associated with toys—has been no easy task. Those “experience” gifts, however, are a viable option. A trip to the zoo or a waterpark, for example, is a gift that’s not only fun for children, but builds lasting family memories. Fortunately for Pastor Josh, his wife is the one who takes care of most of the gift-giving. His dilemma has been deciding whether something is truly needed when something breaks or falls apart. He also likes new clothes. “Every once in a while, it just feels good to wear a something new,” Josh explains, “but I haven’t worn a new shirt for over six months now. I’m kind of getting used to it.”

Don’t your children have enough Legos already? 😉

Avoiding small and convenience purchases has become easier, but the challenge overall has not. Emily says it really got hard around the half-way mark. She reflects, “I believe it was because I got a little more lenient with myself and lost sight of the why behind the challenge, and just focused on the don’t. So, I had to remind myself that I am not ‘living with less’ to punish myself, but to reduce the stress of managing things and being addicted—so to speak—to stuff. Staying out of the stores has been the best way to do this, but it is most difficult because I enjoy shopping and this consumerism is a lifelong habit.”

Along the way, both Josh and Emily admit they have “failed” a couple times and purchased something, but they have persisted in the challenge. Josh reflects, “As a family, we have more than we think we have, and we have more than we need to have…this challenge helps teach you how to be content with what you already have and contemplate where your contentment really comes from in the first place. The average person has much more than they really need, and I choose to believe that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’ (1 Tim 6:6). A challenge like this helps us to get out of a mindset that something new or better will help us live more meaningful lives, if we are already unable to enjoy what we already possess.” Is that so radical after all?

But what about the rest of us? If we find merit to the motivation behind the Deeter’s challenge, should we dive into the deep end and do exactly what they did? Maybe, if the Lord leads, but they offer another possibility. Consider not buying any ‘non-consumables’ for just two weeks, a whole month, or perhaps six months if you’re up to it. Try doing it for a year while allowing for one non-consumable purchase per month. At the very least, make a budget, make a plan, and stick to it. Emily says, “It would be your challenge, so you make the rules. The important thing is to know why you are doing it, not just what you’re doing.”

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