Jen Hatmaker edits herself in update to book on how to get rid of excess in our lives
Jen Hatmaker writes in the new edition of her book "Simple & Free": "Of all my writing projects, 'Simple & Free' is my thin-crust Domino’s pizza. I just can’t quit it. I keep going back to it, learning from it, revisiting it, reworking it. It keeps having more to say. It keeps meaning something."
"Simple & Free" ($24, Convergent) outlines the year the Christian thought-leader focused on seven things she felt like she was doing in excess: food, clothes, possessions, media, waste, spending and stress. Each month of 2010, she took on a different excess.
For food, she limited her diet to seven foods. During clothes month, she wore only seven items of clothing (except undergarments and socks). For possessions month, she got rid of at least seven items a day. For media, she got rid of seven types of media from TV to social media to texting. She tried seven ways to reduce waste, including shopping local, composting, recycling and driving only one car. She chose only seven places where she could spend money during spending month. She paused and prayed seven times a day and gave herself a sabbath each Saturday night to Sunday day to reduce stress.
Hatmaker began to find notoriety as a Christian thought-leader when "Simple & Free," originally called "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess," was published in 2012. That followed a stint on HGTV for "My Big Family Renovation," when her family transformed an old house in Buda into their home. She also started Austin New Church.
In the 2021 version of "Simple & Free," Hatmaker writes back to her 2010 self about how misguided some of her previous thinking was. For example, she writes a whole section about why she doesn't use the word "tribe" anymore to talk about her crew, her squad or her people: "Big love to my Native readers, who gently asked me to stop using the word 'tribe' as an appropriation of their culture."
The new version came out last week.
Hatmaker says 2021 is the right time for this book to get a reboot. The pandemic has forced us to be limited in what we can do and what we can consume. She hopes we take some of those lessons back after the pandemic.
"We've learned what we can do without," she says. "It's a great time to experience this conversation. We may not want to put as many things back in the soup pot."
Last year was a difficult one for many people including Hatmaker, who went through a divorce.
"In real life, it was incredible year of loss," she says.
Hatmaker came out of the pandemic with "a very crystal clear understanding that what matters most to me are my people."
Hatmaker has found a new community of people since the original book was published a decade ago.
She had to republish her most popular book after her original publisher pulled it off the shelves when Hatmaker came out in 2016 as an LGBTQ ally. Many in the evangelical Christian community also pulled their support.
She sees this book as redemption story. She's given it its place in a new form with a chance to update language and thoughts that are more in line with her current beliefs.
Earlier works:How Jen Hatmaker ended up on TV
On parenting:Jen Hatmaker talks parenting in 'Of Mess & Moxie'
"I'm proud of it," she says of this version.
Hatmaker took a calculated risk when she became an outspoken ally. "I knew the rules that were both spoken and unspoken inside that community; what we were supposed to say and what we weren't supposed to say," she says.
She also knew that the world of cancel culture existed and what happened to anyone who expressed a different view than the accepted view of the evangelical Christian world she was living within and marketing to.
"The cost was belonging. ... I'm either going to hang onto my career or my integrity. I chose people, I picked my convictions," she says.
Even though she experienced "the acute pain of rejection," she says it's now a relief. "What I have now is the community of my dreams."
Her new community is 98 percent female and is now a much more diverse group of women. Most have a faith background, but not everybody.
"We allow and welcome a lot of questions, a lot of differing opinions," she says.
She's found a new loyal following of women who even on social media are good to one another. If you look at her social media thread, she says, "you will discover the women you've always wanted to live next door to": smart, kind, full of compassion. "You attract based on how you lead. I love the women I get to lead."
She's also much more herself now. Before it felt like she was being authentic, but she says it was "a manufactured authenticity that is easier to offer." It was about 80 percent true, and as for the rest, she was hiding so many private convictions and private questions, she says. She was sure about Jesus, but she was not certain about organized religion and this idea that there was only one right dogma or one right denomination.
There were things she couldn't say out loud because she knew they wouldn't be celebrated by the faith community she was in.
Some of the friends she had in 2010 who were mentioned in "7" are still with her. Others are still friends, but she's not really part of their faith world anymore.
She started reflecting back on her 2010 self right before the pandemic began. What she learned from cutting back on excess 10 years ago is that she can do it again, and it gets easier.
"It's been kind of a regular practice," she says. She picks the thing she's going to cut back on based on "what I'm feeling overwhelmed by," she says.
Most often, it's social media, but that's a hard one to give up, and it's almost impossible to get her five kids to go along. They are now adults and teenagers versus being in elementary school or in the beginning of middle school when the initial "7" experiment began.
Their use of media consumption is the one area that she thinks has gotten worse in the past 10 years instead of improving. "It feels like the tail's wagging the dog," she says.
Her favorite month in the book continues to be the month she wore only seven pieces of clothing. "It was so easy every day. I knew what I was going to wear and nobody cared and I didn't care."
Another thing she continues to work on is mindfulness and being comfortable in her own skin. "I'm learning to love my body instead of treating her like an enemy all the time," she says.
Of all the books she's written, "7"/"Simple & Free" is still the one people talk about the most.
"People feel overwhelmed by their stuff," she says.
They are curious about whether they could do it, too, and even sometimes, a little jealous. One thing she wasn't expecting after it was first released was how many people tried to do the exercise.
"This time, I'm looking so forward to seeing what happens," she says.
Nicole Villalpando writes about interesting people for the American-Statesman. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.