Minimal Lessons from the Homeless

Just about a year ago, I went on a trip to NYC with our school as one of the attending staff members. I know – rough right?! Well you might want to reconsider what sort of holiday it was supervising 35 teenagers all over Manhattan for a week…

Anyway, one night we hit John’s Pizzeria and had a truckload of pizza left over. I said, “Hey guys, let’s get it boxed and see if we can share it with some people who may not otherwise eat tonight?” So we got the pizza boxed (about 5 boxes!) and off we went.

I have to tell you – it was amazingly hard for us to give those pizzas away!! All the way to our show, we asked people if they would like some pizza, and were knocked back more times than taken up (in fact, don’t think we were able to give them all away)! I could speculate on why, but once I was given an actual reason. As I tried to pass a box to a homeless guy, he said to me:

“Thanks man, but I’ve already eaten. Why don’t you give it to someone who hasn’t yet?” With that he smiled and wheeled his bike into the distance.

One of the facets of a “whole-of-life” minimalism is about knowing when we have had enough. Any dietitian or nutritionist will tell you that you can eat the healthiest diet, but people still make the mistake of eating too much! And this applies to other areas of life too: if I can meet my needs, why should I take to excess?

I was reminded of my pizza sharing adventure because today, Huffington Post shared the following reflection written by Khalid Latif. I leave it and my own story with you this week as a thought generator for the following questions:
What is minimalism; how much is enough; how do we know when we are at the enough/too much point; would I recognise it if I were there anyway; how can I start to think more like these homeless guys?”

Feel free to share your thoughts here and on the NoXS Minimal Facebook Page as we chew on this together this week. I leave you with Latif:

“I once tried to give some food to a homeless man in NYC who politely refused. The man said thanks, but didn’t take it and continued to ask passers-by for money. I immediately started to wonder to myself why a homeless person wouldn’t want free food. Was he really not homeless? Was he doing drugs? My assumptions all lead me to judge him in the worst ways, and simultaneously fed my ego a high dosage of condescension. After a minute I wondered why those answers were the first to pop into my head and then realized the only person who could answer why he didn’t take the food was him. So I asked him.

“When I asked him why he didn’t want the food, he said that he has no place to keep it. He had four sandwiches in a plastic bag that would stay good for a couple of days and taking more food right now would just be excess. Why would he take something knowing that he might not be able to eat it? Then it would just go to waste. He then asked God to bless me and I, in turn, asked God to bless him for teaching me to not assume.”

Live Simply & Simply Live,

Mark G

  1. I talk to homeless people on a daily basis. I’m not with an organization, but I do what little I can to help. I’ve been doing this for three years, still I have no answers. What these people need is ears to listen to them and open hearts to understand. They want to be acknowledged. A friendly hello would go a long way, a coffee and a sandwich would be much appreciated.

    Homeless people don’t always trust food given to them. Several of my friends who have been panhandling were given drinks laced with XTC or something similar. They had trouble walking and nearly didn’t make it to where they were staying (behind a dumpster, in back of Starbucks). Some homeless people have eating disorders or don’t have enough teeth to eat hard fruits like apples, others have allergies to high levels of potassium (bananas). I admire you for offering food to the homeless, few people do.


    • thegladman said:

      Wow Dennis. I had thought that evening in NYC that perhaps they didn’t trust the source and honestly thought that was fair of them to do so. That is scary though to hear that people lace food they give away. That’s shocking!

      What floors me though when I speak with homeless and others less fortunate is how happy and content they are! Even with little, and even with their sad back stories, many of them look at their lot – as minimal as it is – and are able to find great joy and happiness in it. I also see this when I go overseas and work in refugee camps in Thailand – smiles, contentment and peace among what is abject poverty and loss.

      We have so much to learn from these people. If only we will talk to them. Thanks for the challenge, brother. And thanks for connecting.


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