Olga Savitsky was a dear friend to many, including Ken Kuhlken, who remembers, “We met Olga in church. Many Sundays she would stand and offer a new and prophetic poem. For a time, I thought she was rather too outspoken. But her words cured me of that error, her spirit won me over, and her deep love and wisdom made me count knowing her as one of the most valuable friendships ever.

“Here’s something I wrote about her for the San Diego Reader.”

Lately even George Bush talks about conservation and cutting our reliance on middle east oil. So I’m convinced it’s time we ask ourselves if living more like Olga Savitsky wouldn’t be preferable to the way we’re living.

Olga’s a minimalist. Though plenty educated and able to follow a more lucrative career, she chooses to work only a few days a week cleaning houses. She shares an apartment and pays less than $400 for rent and utilities, in a pleasant neighborhood near a commercial district. On most of her errands, she can walk. When she needs to drive, she uses her 1994 Toyota Tercel.

She tells me, “It’s not like a sacrifice. I just don’t need much. A person with a family needs more than I do. Usually what somebody needs depends upon their function. A corporate CEO, maybe he’s got to throw parties and he needs a bigger house. But I don’t throw parties, so what good is a big house to me? The only reason I’d want one is because the media tells me I ought to have one. See, before television, many poor people didn’t even know they were poor. But now we see all this stuff and the desire gets over-aroused and commercials come on and convince us we need it all, and so on, until we’re beyond debt and into distress.”

Olga wears jeans and T-shirts. “That’s all I own. They’re comfortable, they last. I just bought two new pairs of jeans for $16 each, and they’ll last two years. To me, the key to living well is living in a way that gives an opportunity for appreciating nature and friends and taking time for prayer and helping people. And unless you inherit a pile of money, the way to live like that is to not want a lot of stuff. Most stuff is just clutter. But our culture feeds the desire to own or consume until what we think we need makes us greedy.

“The Bible says that we should work so we’ll have something to share with people in need. I can work for a few days a week cleaning houses and by not letting myself want a bunch of stuff, I can have money to give away. So I’m careful about what I buy, and I pick the things I do buy for durability and longevity. I need a car, so I buy a Toyota. If I needed a car that would break down, I could buy a Jaguar.

“And it isn’t only the desire for stuff that devours our time. It’s also that we try to buy security. People think they need to not only have lots of stuff, but to save or invest or buy some insurance so they’ll be sure they’ll always have lots of stuff. We need a bit more faith. I mean, I don’t have AAA or any kind of roadside service insurance because every time a car of mine has broken down, it’s been a block or so from my mechanic’s house. Except one time.

“The one time my car broke down in an inconvenient place, a guy stopped to help me, and he happened to be the handsomest man I ever saw. Maybe he was an angel. I don’t know. But it sure was fun breaking down.”

Befriend Olga by communing with her poems in Shockabonda.