Simplicity in Action: Gene

Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.


One of the best things I’ve ever done to simplify my life was get a passport and leave America.

My first adventure lasted two months on a construction project in a small town in Tanzania, East Africa. I was a 17-year-old recent high school graduate. Most of my friends were learning their new college fight songs at Saturday afternoon football games. I was learning Swahili.

I didn’t realize it at the time but a couple of things happened during my experience in Africa.

  1. I learned that I love to travel and explore new places.
  2. I learned how blessed I am.

I returned home from Tanzania 33 years ago. Since that time I’ve been on almost every continent. I’ve yet to make it to South America and I’ll leave Antarctica to the scientists and penguins. Many of my travels have been missions-oriented which means my trips haven’t been “touristy” but instead they have involved working with the poor and destitute.

  • I’ve been with Aborigines in the outback of Australia, Palestinian refugees in Israel, and Muslim fishermen on the coast of Indonesia.
  • I’ve seen poverty. I’ve seen a small part of the billions of people who live on less than $2 per day. I’ve seen homes constructed out of scrap lumber, rusty pieces of metal, mud, and grass.
  • I’ve seen people hauling buckets of water from unclean sources into their homes.
  • I’ve seen feet worn and beaten from miles of walking since those feet have no other transportation. I’ve seen young mothers feed their babies sugar water because that was all they had to fill their empty stomachs.

What does this have to do with simplicity?

Everyone in my family has been to similar locations around the world both with and without me. For us, the realization of our blessed condition gives us the ability to live simply here in the States.

I’m content with my trusty old car. I don’t need a late model car. I’ve never purchased a new car and likely never will.

I’m content with our old furniture. If it breaks, we’ll replace it. But right now, my old recliner fits me just fine. (Most of our house is furnished with hand-me-downs.)

I’m content with a few pairs of jeans. I don’t need to frequent the mall for clothes.

I’m content with my mindset. That’s half the battle in living a simple life. Having the mindset that you don’t need a lot of stuff to make you happy. The understanding that you live like a king compared to most of the world’s population.

Don’t believe it? Go to Global Rich List and see for yourself. Then look in a mirror and tell that person, “Congratulations! You’re one of the richest people in the world!”

When our son, Cliff, was 16-years-old, my wife and I noticed that he had been nicer, more obedient and cooperative in recent months. We were on our way to a football game one night when I asked him about his new attitude. (Not that he wasn’t already a good kid – because he was. But he was even better at the time.)

Cliff responded, “I realize how blessed I am.”

“How so?” I asked.

He went on to explain his realization over the past summer when he and a group from our church went to Appalachia to serve the poor. He saw great poverty there. He saw homes with no running water. Children with only one pair of shoes. Families struggling to survive.

Then Cliff began to list all of the blessings he enjoyed at home. A nice house. Two cars. Plenty of food and clothing. He was grateful and appreciative for his blessings.

Later that night, I called my wife to tell her about our conversation. I cried telling her about Cliff’s revelation. I don’t remember how much that mission trip cost us that year – probably a few hundred dollars. It may be the best money I’ve ever spent on my son.

Simplicity is a mindset. For me, it is maintained by realizing how fortunate I am to have the options that I have – and the option to say, “No” to too much stuff. The attitude of gratitude and the contentment that we can be more with less ultimately leads me to make simple choices in my life.

By living simply, I’m also able to give generously to those in need. If I’m going to be extravagant, I want it to be in my giving, not my possessions.

Read more from Gene at Quest for a New Perspective and check out his new book, The God Robbers


P.S. My very last blogging workshop begins on May 6th. Learn more and get in touch to see if it’s right for you!


  1. says

    “Simplicity is a mindset”

    I love your story and the message. Gratitude can certainly lead to joy and meaningful existence.

    Dan @ Zen Presence

  2. says

    I love Gene’s story. I have been a follower of Dave Ramsey (am a Financial Peace University facilitator now) for years, so learning to be content with what my family has and living to save and give like no one else has changed our life. There is great joy in using our resources to help others in need. Next week I will be working on the Washington State University Campus with Intervarsity to talk about students about living simply and being able to pursue social justice with their money.

  3. Ashley says

    Beautiful. I went on two spring break mission trips as a high schooler and have vivid memories to this day about what I saw and experienced. Doing can teach us so much more than having ever will.

  4. says

    Oh, what a great post! I have been a missionary for 2.5 years on the road full time, living out of a backpack… many years ago. I know what it’s like to live with 2 pair of shoes and a few clothing items. Those experiences are so valuable, like Gene, I rarely have the desire for stuff. I much prefer relationships and experiences. They last longer. They take longer to fade, if they ever do. Their value don’t decrease like stuff does. I am striving to teach my kids that concept… I believe mission trips will be in their future lessons. :) Thank you for sharing, Gene.

  5. says

    Thanks for sharing your story Gene. I not only sensed the themes of simplicity and gratitude in your story, but also great contentment – one of the most valuable ‘things’ we can ever have in our lives.

  6. says

    “If I’m going to be extravagant, I want it to be in my giving, not my possessions.” Wow, that is such an awesome statement! Love that!! (and now I’m thinking a mission trip might be a good idea for my boys sometime…!)

  7. Luna says

    Thank you for sharing this story! It makes me realize how lucky I am. I should be more grateful instead of whining at what I don’t have. The story of the mom who gave her baby sugary water really touched my heart.