The New York Times recently profiled an Oregon couple who winnowed their possessions down to 100 things, giving away most of what they owned and cozying up in a 400-square-foot apartment. The article discussed new (read: more cautious) spending patterns, spurred by the recession but potentially having long-term staying power. Americans are investing in experiences and leisure activities such as vacations and concerts, which contribute to their happiness in a way that the latest electronic gadget does not. " 'It's better to go on a vacation than buy a new couch' is basically the idea," says Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia.

The emphasis on owning less relates to the Christian virtue of simplicity. In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus reminds us to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth, while the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21) warns against preoccupation with saving for future comfort. Biblical examples of giving away wealth and possessions abound, from Old Testament teachings on tithing to Jesus telling the rich young man to "sell all that you have and give to the poor" (Mark 10:21).

Should Christians hop on the 100-things bandwagon? Does material simplicity—spending and owning less—always lead to spiritual and emotional enrichment?

In my 20s, I attended a Washington, D.C., church that had rigorous membership requirements, including a minimum 10 percent tithe. I worked for low-paying nonprofits in an expensive city, so tithing made a big difference in what was left once rent and groceries were covered. Instead of embracing forced simplicity, I resented it for making even the most mundane purchases occasions for anxiety and guilt. I remember standing in a drug store aisle contemplating whether ...

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