Take Only What You Need: Can We? by Carol P. Christ

Nurture life.

Walk in love and beauty.

Trust the knowledge that comes through the body.

Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.

Take only what you need.

Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations.

Approach the taking of life with great restraint.

Practice great generosity.

Repair the web


In Rebirth of the Goddess, I offered Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality as an alternative to the Ten Commandments. The Nine Touchstones are intended to inform all our relationships, whether personal, communal, social, or political.

The fifth touchstone, “Take only what you need” may be the most difficult one for modern human beings to follow. Those of us not living in traditional un-modernized villages have more things, from cars to big houses, to clothes to electronic devices, than we really need. Those of us in the middle and upper classes have so much more than we need, that the mind boggles when we begin to think about whether we need everything we have or want to have.

In capitalist societies, advertising is geared to cause us to want things we don’t really need, whether it be a new pair of shoes when we already have than we can wear to the most up-to-date ipad or smart phone when the one we have still works just fine. For many of us “shopping therapy” is our first response to boredom, anxiety, or depression. Buying something brings an adrenaline rush that temporarily makes us feel better.

In some indigenous cultures, the notion of taking only what you need is rooted in a deep feeling for and understanding of the interdependence of life. These cultures teach the young that taking from the web of life always has a cost. Yes, you can pick the plants you need to eat and the others you need as herbal remedies. But when you do, you thank the plant whose life you have taken, by leaving a gift. You would learn never to pick all of the plants in a particular area because you always leave some for others and some to die and go to seed so there will be the same plants in the same place the next year. You would never throw food away because you would not have taken or prepared more than you needed, and if you had something left over, you would offer it to a neighbor.

If you grew and picked flax or sheared wool and spun it into thread and then wove the fabric that would become your sheets and blankets and clothing, you would learn to treasure what you have as the work of your own or your mother’s or grandmother’s hands, and you would not consider these precious items to be disposable. In fact you might feel sad when something wore out, knowing that you would never have the joy of using or wearing it again and knowing that you cannot replace the tangible memories associated with it.

How far we have come from this mentality, for many of us, in only a few generations. We are always looking for the newest and so ready to throw out or replace anything that we ourselves or others might consider dated or old-fashioned.

We are destroying ecosystems and using up the world’s resources to meet our needs. The notion that the world should be our resource is part of the problem. If we do not curb our need and our greed, species will continue to go extinct and the generations that come after us will struggle to survive. This is a political, not only a personal issue. We must move towards a green sustainable energy and green sustainable economies.

It is not likely that anyone reading this blog—myself included—will ever reach the state of being where we consistently take only what we need. But we can try little by little to appreciate what we have and not to keep wanting and then buying the things we do not need. We can live with so much less than we think we can. If we could stop having to have what we think we want, we might find that there is more than enough to go around. We might be able to create a world where no one has to go without and where everyone can experience the joy and grace of life.

Also see: Ethics of Goddess Religion: Healing the World , Nurture Life: Ethics of Goddess Spirituality,  Walk in Love and Beauty: A Touchstone for Healing,  Trust the Knowledge that Comes through the Body: Heal Yourself, Heal the World, and Speak the Truth About Conflict, Pain, and Suffering


Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator currently living in Lasithi Prefecture, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $10.98 on Amazon. Carol  has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Bakas.


Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women. www.goddessariadne.org

9 thoughts on “Take Only What You Need: Can We? by Carol P. Christ”

  1. Every time I read these nine touchstones I feel comforted and energized as well as challenged and hopeful. Neighbours are forming “tool libraries” – sharing instead of buying. People are living more simply because it is healthier in mind, body and spirit. Those who kill animals for “sport” or “trophy” are becoming the objects of opposition and contempt. Trump is showing us by example the ridiculous end of the path we have been traveling on consumer capitalism and selfishness.
    I think we need to switch the media. Stop giving so much attention to Trump and his antics. Focus more on the healthy and positive things people are doing for Life.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I certainly would rather read and think about your Nine Touchstones than those old Ten Commandments in which wives have the same status as cattle and other possessions. Good for you for creating those touchstones and now for writing about each one. Much to think about! How do we train ourselves–much less anybody else–to take only what we need? Explain that that’s one way to save our Mother Planet?

    And I agree with Barbara Cooper about switching the media and focusing on healthy and positive things.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Beautifully stated, Carol. This essay offers much to think about, and I must start putting it into practice in my own life. To aspire and fall a little short is better than not to try at all.


  4. “It is not likely that anyone reading this blog—myself included—will ever reach the state of being where we consistently take only what we need.”

    Good point Carol – especially with regard to consistency. I do my best to walk as lightly as I can on this earth I love so much – but even so I get caught by the wants – often when the child in me gets out. She loves primary colors and here In New Mexico has access to such beautiful weaving and fabrics…sometimes I indulge her but try to do so with awareness that this want is tied to a hole within me.

    And of course daily I participate in destroying the earth each time I get in a car.

    One thing I love to do is to compost – so nothing in this house goes to waste and that is so satisfying to me! I love feeding the worms that will return my attention by producing gorgeous rich black soil!


  5. “Nurture life.
    Walk in love and beauty.”

    Today I happened also to see quoted this thought by that great painter of gardens, Georgia O’Keeffe. And it immediately reminded me of your post today, thanks Carol. The O’Keeffe quote said very simply: “Fill a space in a beautiful way.”


  6. Another beautiful and insightful essay. The older I get and the more I see of this constant obsession with acquiring more and more, the more I believe it is one of the insanities of our civilization, a compulsion by billions of people to salve our loss of connection to our own souls by convincing ourselves that if we live in bigger houses, have more cars, own more dresses we will somehow, sometime be happy and safe. If only we could see our behavior from afar we could see the toll that this is taking on ourselves and the planet and maybe stop and turn back towards a reasonable and sustainable way of life. I am really enjoying these essays about the nine touchstones – thank you for writing them.


  7. A dear friend and beloved ethics professor of mine, Jim Nash, wrote and spoke advocating a return to the value of frugality. I really like that idea, that honoring frugality as a value can shape us.


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