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The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back

Ciona Rouse

Read this in your room. Seriously. Go to your room, and imagine that it is half the size it is now. Then imagine trying to fit all the things you currently own into your new room. Not possible? Imagine giving away half of your things.

Next, consider fitting your half-sized room into a new house, which costs half the price of your current home. Imagine your whole family reducing excess possessions—cars, gadgets, clothing—and giving away the extra money.

devozine Salwen family

 

Hannah Salwen and her family don’t need to imagine this scenario. In 2006, when she was fourteen years old, Hannah’s family sold their two-million-dollar mansion in Atlanta, bought a smaller home, and gave the extra money to charity.

 

 

Two Worlds Collide

The decision to start giving up their possessions didn’t just happen; it was a conscious decision. The idea started with a Mercedes and a beggar.

One day, when Hannah was riding in the car with her father and her brother, they stopped at an intersection where homeless people often asked for money. Hannah was struck by the juxtaposition of a homeless man on one side of their car and a Mercedes convertible on the other side. She could not help but think that if the guy driving the Mercedes downsized his expensive car and used the extra money to help the poor, then the man begging for money would have enough to eat. For Hannah, it was that simple.

When Hannah’s mother, Joan, challenged the family to sell their home and donate the money, Hannah realized that the stranger in the Mercedes was not the only one who could live on less; her family did not need nearly as much as they owned.

 

Half Means More

In the book The Power of Half, Hannah and her father Kevin, a former reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal, tell their story. They talk about how the decision to reduce their home by half not only enabled them to help the poor but also enriched their lives.

devozine Hannah in GhanaThey describe the process of purging their belongings—both the joys and hardships they encountered in giving up their things, explaining their decision to family and friends, and deciding how to give away their money. They speak of how this decision allowed them to be present through monetary gifts and personal visits to the people they felt called to serve—people in a small village in Ghana.

Besides being present to the people of Ghana, the Salwens discovered that giving up their belongings helped them to be present to one another. In a smaller space, their lives collided more often. By sharing a vision, they learned to communicate. And they discovered that with less stuff, they had fewer distractions and more time to spend with one another. “What family wouldn’t trade stuff for togetherness?” Kevin asks in the book.

For the Salwens, reducing their material wealth resulted in a much richer family life. They would never want to go back to life as it was before.

devozine Hannah SalwenDIG DEEPER

Kevin and Hannah quote the philosopher Khalil Gibran: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”

Throughout the book, Hannah suggests activities and practices that will help you to reduce the “presents” in your life and to practice presence. One idea is a gratitude letter.

Write a letter thanking someone who has been present in your life. Begin by making a list of what the letter’s recipient has given you. How many of these things and experiences have a price tag? How many are priceless?

Ciona Rouse is a Nashville-based writer who once intentionally lived on half of her salary for a year.

—from devozine (November/December 2010). Copyright © 2010 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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