How do Quakers practice simplicity?

“When we practice simple living,” Philip Harnden once wrote for Friends Journal, “we collectively say a resounding no to the consumerism, materialism, and waste of modern industrial society.”

Individual Quakers embrace this approach in a number of ways. One of the most prominent examples is a commitment to plain dress, but even then there isn’t a universally accepted definition of what that means. For some Friends, it might be a refusal to get caught up in fashion and a preference for comfortable, inexpensive items. Others might reject brand name clothing altogether and either shop at thrift stores or make their own clothes by hand.

Of course, such choices are not just about “simplicity,” and Friends may feel compelled to consider a number of ethical and moral factors before making their decisions. Does a clothing company employ slave labor overseas? How do their production processes impact the environment?

“It’s so easy to just look like everybody else and maybe interact with people or do things that you know you really shouldn’t be doing, but you just kind of go along with the crowd. But for me, I really wanted something that would call my attention to how I was interacting in the world.”

It should go without saying that we aren’t just talking about clothes, either. Whenever Quakers spend money—whether it’s a major investment like an automobile or a home, or a routine purchase like a cup of coffee—they strive to avoid extravagance for extravagance’s sake. That doesn’t mean Quakers don’t like nice things, or that they’ve completely cut themselves off from consumer culture! As a group, Friends haven’t set themselves apart from the world as fiercely as, say, the Amish. But, like the Amish, Friends are keenly aware of the ways in which secular culture (or, for that matter, religious culture), can be a corrupting influence on our spiritual lives, and so they navigate their way through this social and economic world carefully, doing their best to remain mindful of whether their choices are in alignment with Spirit.

More often that not, that means keeping things simple. It’s easier to always tell the truth than to try to remember what lies you’ve told when, and to whom. It’s easier to do an honest day’s work for an honest wage, or to pay an honest wage for an honest day’s work, than to engage in constant financial scheming. And so on—you get the idea.

NEXT: Peace

Learn more at Friends Journal

Occasions for Plain Dress,” Gracia Fay Ellwood

Simplicity: A Testimony?” Caroline Lanker

Simple Living Beyond the Thrift Store,” Philip Harnden

Finding Simplicity in My Life,” by Robert Bennett