Guest Post: Needs and Wants, or What Living in a Commune Taught Me About Contentedness

Nikki is one of the amazing people I have met in the magical world called the “blogosphere.” She wrote this piece about homesteading, and me and my Laura Ingalls Wilder lovin’ heart have been hooked ever since! She loves books, New Orleans, fabulous DIY recipes, and Jesus, among a great many other things, I’m sure. 🙂 Of particular interest to me has been her experience living in a community in her 100+ year old New Orleans shotgun house (see the pic below!). You can read more of Nikki’s musings at indiainkelephant.wordpress.com.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:11-13

I’ve learned a lot of lessons about money over the past two years, most of them the hard way. Lots of times people are equal parts intrigued and weirded out when I tell them that I spent the better part of a year and a half living an intentional Christian community house where every resident pooled their financial income into a commonwealth. Needless to say, I went into this experiment with a lot of ideas about money. What I thought about it, what God thought about it, how it should be handled. Charting the evolution those ideas from the time we moved in until the present day would constitute something more like a novella than a guest post, so for now I’ll just focus on one of the lessons that I felt was most important to me: understanding contentment.

Need is a funny word. Truth be told, I have never been by nature a super materialistic person, but before I moved into the House of the Rising Son, I had a pretty comfortable lifestyle, at least by my own standards. I always paid my rent on time. I sprung for the recommended high-mileage stuff when I got my oil changed, and I kept myself in iced coffee and dinner dates with friends without ever coming close to depleting my funds before my next paycheck. I “needed” a haircut when I got split ends. I “needed” a gym membership so that I could exercise in air conditioning and not have to wear that greasy sunscreen that I hated so much.

Fast forward a few months, and need has become a very different thing to me. Our commonwealth was designed to work with the original number of residents working the jobs and wages they were when we moved in, and due to lay-offs, the economy, and several unexpected move-outs, this hadn’t been a reality since the first couple of months we lived there. Suddenly, with floundering finances and debt accumulating, need took on a whole host of new, rather ironic meanings. We “needed” more window A/C units to cool the huge house in the New Orleans summer heat, but when the money for those units didn’t magically appear, we discovered that we could survive (and lose a few pounds of water weight) with the units we already had and a complex system of box fans. We “needed” new clothes, but when it’s a choice between that or buying groceries, suddenly a sewing needle and dental floss goes a long way to extend the life of those jeans.

Of course, I took this drastic lifestyle change swimmingly and with all the grace and faith that I innately possess as a Good Christian Woman…right? Hah. Hardly. Removing nearly all of the comforts and luxuries I was used to in my life was like rolling back a dead log in the forest floor of my heart—and what I found underneath was creepy, crawly, and definitely not pretty. As I struggled outwardly to “walk the walk” of these values that I had committed to, inwardly I was realizing just how much my access to money and the things it could buy me had defined who I was, how my day was structured, and what made me happy. It was depressing to not be able to go out to eat on Marc and I’s date night. It was embarrassing to meet a friend for coffee and count out change for a small dark roast instead of slapping down my debit card and treating us both, even though the Holy Spirit kept reminding me of how privileged my circumstances still were compared to the vast majority of the rest of the world. Mother Theresa and the American Dream were having a cage-fighting showdown inside of me, and I honestly wasn’t sure who was going to win.

If you’ve ever done a fast or tried to quit cigarettes, you’re familiar with something I like to call “the answered question.” If you distill in down, all of our false concepts of need are based one single, unanswered question: “What will happen if I don’t get/buy/consume this thing?” Even if you don’t consciously ask yourself that, I guarantee you are subconsciously thinking it in your head. The anxiety you feel over that unanswered question is what advertisers count on to sell you things, and it builds the longer you go without whatever it is you’re convinced you need.

Eventually, though, whether by willpower or circumstances, you reach a breaking point. You go without long enough to finally process that question that has been causing you so much stress, and you discover, often to your own surprise and bewilderment, that you have an answer: “Nothing.” Nothing will happen if you don’t get that cigarette. Nothing will happen if you don’t fix the heater in your car. Sure, you may feel shaky and grumpy for a few days, or have to put on a heavy coat to ride to work in the morning, but you won’t die or lose a limb or even disrupt the quality of your life all that much, and if that’s the case then did you really “need” it in the first place?

Answering this question to myself, over and over again, was how I finally started to understand what Paul meant by being content in all circumstances. Once I got over the fear and anxiety that I had been conditioned to have over the false needs in my life, my heart was freed up to accept, and eventually even fall in love with our much simpler way of living. (Did you know, it actually feels really nice to open the windows in your house and let the breeze in once in a while? And walking places is enjoyable and lets you make friends with your neighbors??)

Even more importantly, learning to recognize what real needs are opened my eyes to just how many “wants” I am blessed with and helped me appreciate gifts—from God or from others—in a much more sincere way. Nowadays, Marc and I exist somewhere in between the extremes of our lives before and during the community house, and although we have our fair share of luxuries—a car, a computer, 1, 2, 3 (big ballin’!) window A/C units in the house—we are striving to live in such a way that we don’t attach our hearts and our identities to those things anymore, so we don’t have to go through withdrawals if they are ever taken away or if God asks us to give them up. It’s a balance that requires a lot of trust and honestly with ourselves and the Lord, but in the end I still feel that the grass is greener on this side of the need fence. I know that I notice it a lot more.

Read more thoughts on Community Living here!

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3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Needs and Wants, or What Living in a Commune Taught Me About Contentedness

  1. Pingback: In Which Nikki Writes a Guest Blog | indiainkelephant

  2. From my visits to Marc & Nikki’s house, I can promise that it was interesting. I was privileged one night to sleep in the room with the heater *and* the dogs, who provided extra warmth.

    Perfect post, right on time to when I’m considering just how much I want to spend on rent next year, and just what I’m willing to go through to live in one place or another.

  3. Pingback: Guest Post: From Africa to Communal Living… and the Lessons Learned In-Between | A Rich Household

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