books generosity simple living

Book review: Free, by Mark Scandrette

free mark scandretteWe’re doing a project at work with Mark Scandrette next month, so I’ve been reading his books. I thought I’d mention this one, as its themes chime rather well with the message of the blog. Free: Spending your time and money on what matters most is all about simplifying your life around what is most important to you.

I’ve read lots of books on simpler living, and the authors all have their particular motivations. The reason for simplifying here is one that doesn’t get explored quite so often: “simplicity is about making space in our lives from which good can freely grow.” Yes, a simpler life can mean more leisure time, more room for ourselves and the things we enjoy. It can be more sustainable. But those who want to make an impact in the world should also apply – “become more free to seek the greater good.”

That’s a motivation that is drawn from the Gospels, and while you’re likely to get more out of the book if you are a Christian, it’s not written exclusively for a Christian audience. Scandrette’s work in spiritual formation gives him a useful perspective, recognising that outward simplicity will flow from inward change. The book tackles both, with practical guides to managing money and time, and also exercises for practicing the attitudes of contentment, gratitude, trust and generosity that underpin a simpler life.

The book is nicely grounded in personal experience, as Mark and his wife Lisa (who also contributes) decided early on in their relationship that they would live simply and do what they love. They live in San Francisco, not the cheapest place to live, but they make it work with a combination of thrift and careful budgeting. In return, they’ve been able to work with young people, and in the community. Along the way, they’ve helped many others to live more simply, and some of their stories are included in the book too.

Scandrette describes the book as a “time, money and life management boot camp”, and each chapter concludes with exercises to get to grips with a budget, align your time with what you believe in, or give more away. There are really practical and honest sections, such as how to deal with worries about money, or how to avoid getting too busy. I liked the tip about giving pocket money to children in thirds – one to give away, one to save and one to spend. We’ve already applied that with Zach, who started getting pocket money this month.

Despite the ‘boot camp’ analogy, the author suggests the readers takes “a playful approach to this book”. Everyone’s journey into simplicity is different. “Simplicity is about progress, not perfection” he writes. “Just take the steps you feel invited into.” There are serious messages here about sustainability and global equity, so those aren’t skirted around, but neither are they laid down as things for us to feel guilty about. A sense of invitation runs through the book – come and experiment, try it, see what you can put aside so that you can “risk being fully alive”.

I haven’t done all the exercises, mainly because we’ve thought through many of the same questions as a family already. But there are new provocations too, things for us to try or to push further into. Being US-centric, not all the advice is applicable to the UK (on student debt or medical expenses, for example) but whether you’re new to the idea of simplifying or well on your way, I suspect you’ll find Scandrette’s welcoming and down-to-earth approach inspiring. “We can reimagine our assumptions about time, money and material possessions,” he suggests, “to pursue a life of greater freedom, leveraging our time and resources towards what matters most.”


  1. Interesting… I spend my life working towards a more positive place for people and the planet (self serving because I love it) and live a pretty simple lifestyle but I’ve never made the connection that simple living allows me to give myself to good causes, but it totally makes sense. This is the case for many others I know on a similar simple / try to do good journey.

    Thanks for the perspective Mark/Jeremy.

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