On vacation in August, I picked up a copy of Jen Hatmaker’s 2012 book Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess at a used bookstore. It grabbed my attention and kept me interested over the course of plane rides, nap times, and the few hours before sleep after Sky was in bed. I finished it just before we touched down again in Portland, and as I often feel after we’ve been away for several days, I had a new perspective on our life at home.
I decided to wage my own “experimental mutiny against excess.”
This book is about how Hatmaker spent ten months reforming her consumption habits in seven areas: food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress. For 30 days, she developed new habits for each of these focus areas, then spent a few weeks reflecting and integrating what she learned before moving on to 30 days in the next focus area. The number 7, both because of its sacred significance and as an organizing principle, factored into each of the seven months.
For example, in the first month, she ate only seven simple food items, meal after meal, day after day: sweet potatoes, spinach, bread, avocado, eggs, apples, and chicken. In the second month, she wore the same seven articles of clothing on rotation for 30 days. And in the third month, she and her family gave up seven forms of media. You get the picture.
The purpose in all of this was to dramatically reduce the extra noise in her life so that she and her family could better focus on Christ.
I was really captivated by this idea because it reminded me of similar challenges I’ve set for myself over the years, with one crucial difference. This challenge is about creating room for a deeper purpose, for a relationship with God that is uncluttered by the many comforts and distractions of modern life that can make us believe we are in control, when we’re not; that we’re self-sufficient, when we’re not; and that perfection is possible– when it’s definitely, definitely not.
But so many of the challenges I’ve set for myself over the years have been mostly about all of those things, especially perfection. I wasn’t consciously and deliberately setting out to be perfect. But the frustration I felt when I ‘failed’ at my challenges showed me that I had pretty high expectations.
Most recently, it was the Kon Mari craze that caught my interest and sent me running for my towel drawers to see if I could fold them as beautifully as Marie Kondo. While the lean, minimalist Japanese style of decluttering did teach me a few things about what’s really important to me, it didn’t address the hungers at the center of my life that slowly, inexorably began to draw more stuff back into my life, our home, our kitchen drawers.
I liked Hatmaker’s hands-off approach to this whole thing. Ultimately, she’s not laying out a list of proven rules or strategies. Instead, she’s telling the story of how God used these ten months to teach her about parts of her soul that still need shaping and shaking up. And she’s inviting the reader to make the challenge work for them, prayerfully, so that God can work in the reader’s life in a way that speaks uniquely to their own weaknesses, hungers, and needs.
Because we’re getting ready to meet the newest member of our family in January, I don’t really have ten months to move through the seven areas. Baby will be here in about four months, and I know better than to extend an experiment requiring focus and reflection into the unknown, but certainly chaotic, postpartum period.
So I’m roughly halving it, going through the seven “stations” in a little over two weeks each, with a couple days in between to reflect and regroup.
And because I’m pregnant while running after our two-year-old, I’m adjusting the specifics to meet our needs and limitations.
Food: I’m thankful to be able to eat normal food again, and I also need additional calories starting now to keep up with baby’s growth, so I won’t be restricting my diet to seven items. I like this idea for a future fast, because I know the value of traditional fasting, but for now I thought I’d use this time to create a sustainable, simplified meal routine for our family. Hopefully one that honors our bodies and gives us breathing room for rest, prayer, and each other. My seven goals are:
- 7 simple meals repeated each week
- Groceries < $100/wk
- No eating out
- Focus on whole foods
- Make from scratch when possible to reduce packaging
- Feed others/potluck and share
- Donate to a food bank
Clothing: I’m entering the cold season and thankfully have winter maternity clothes from my first pregnancy, so that already creates a pretty limited wardrobe. I’m not sure yet how to use the time meaningfully, but I think I’d like to learn about current clothing needs at local women’s organizations, and do a little reading about “ethical fashion.”
The last few categories I’ll keep pretty similar to the book, with a few modifications for our family:
- Give away 7 items each day
- Source meaningful recipients, not Goodwill
- Reduce and donate Sky’s toys
- Go through all closets and backyard shed
- Read about the psychology of consumption, the buy-purge-buy cycle
Media: We will be fasting from:
- Phone apps
- Texting (necessities only)
- Internet (work only)
- Conserve energy and water
- Buy food from local vendors
- Make or thrift other necessities
- Walk when possible, link trips, and skip trips
- No plastic baggies: buy reusable ones from Earthwise, find a set of reusable bulk bags I like, and bring grocery and produce bags.
- Reduce packaging: make yogurt, peanut butter, hummus, granola and bars, and bread
- Install bidet with baskets of flannel wipes
Spending only at these 7 places:
- Fred Meyer gas
- Online bill pay
- Preschool tuition
- Fred Meyer
- Read God’s Economy by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
- Reading and using the 7 sacred pauses. One of these is the midnight prayer, which I’m nervous about. But by the end of pregnancy I’m pretty sure I’ll be up then anyway. 😉
I want to keep a semi-daily log of how things go, and I’ll probably post these sporadically as I go along. A lot of them I will likely set to post after the baby is born, so there will be something on the blog when I have no time for anything but nursing, diapering, playing with Sky, and (maybe?) sleeping. I’m excited to see how God uses this experiment to reshape my thoughts and habits.
Have you read and tried Seven? How did the experiment change you?