It’s hard to define Simple Living because it looks different for each family. Some will live on 20 acres, grow all their own food, build a strawbale house and live off the grid. Others will live in high-density, urban housing where they tend their community gardens and ride a bike to work. But one thing Simple Living isn’t about is deprivation.
I have come up with seven aspects to Simple Living that, I think, paints a pretty good picture of what it’s all about:
1) Priorities: if the doctor gave you six months to live how would you spend that time? I’ll bet most of you wouldn’t keep going to work all day. You and your partner might embark on a trip to see the world. If you have kids, maybe you’d pull them out of school and spend your last few months hanging out together, playing games, and really getting to know one another. Whatever your answer to that question, ask yourself if you are doing enough of that Good Thing now. Are are you, like millions of others, assuming that you will get around to it one day when you’re not so busy? Simple Living is about figuring out what is really important in your life, and making it a reality now.
2) Work: do you hate what you do for a living? Wouldn’t you love to be able to work only half the hours you do now and spend more time doing things you enjoy? Or perhaps you would like to change jobs to one you really enjoy, but it means giving up half your salary? Or maybe you love your job: but if you won the lottery and didn’t need the money anymore, how many hours a week would you devote to that job? Most of us are slaves to our paycheck. We spend precious time away from family, friends, hobbies, and communities so we can have the money to buy Things. Big houses, two cars, daily lattes, designer clothes for the kids, the latest electronic gizmo…most of us think these things are necessities and that we would feel poor or deprived without them. But when you examine point #1 above you realize that, when all is said and done and you’re at the end of your life, none of those Things really matter.
3) Consumerism: this is the fuel that drives the life cycle of Stuff. We are bombarded daily with messages that tell us we need This or That to be happy, cool, or to have fun. We look around us and see how everybody else is living and if we’re not there we feel like losers. Most of us don’t appreciate how subtly and deliberately we are manipulated by advertising and marketing. These folks know more about the human psyche than a room full of MD’s and they use that knowledge to convince us to buy, buy, buy. We’re led to believe that the very economic health of our nation depends on us buying things. It’s all a lie, and Simple Living is seeing the little man behind the curtain. It’s not about being deprived of those things, it’s about simply not wanting them anymore. Wouldn’t it be easier to lose weight if, instead of trying every day to resist yummy things like chocolate and cheesecake, we simply didn’t crave those things anymore and could be satisfied just having them in moderation? That’s what happens when you choose to Live Simply.
4) Financial Health: living simply means, first and foremost, being debt-free. If you want something, you save for it and when you’ve put in the hours and amassed the dollars then you are in a position to decide whether what you had to do to get there is really worth the thing you want to buy. Every hour you spend at work takes time away from what’s really important in life (see point #1) and so using that time to pay interest and financing costs is a total waste of your life. It also helps fight the forces of consumerism (see point #2) – imagine someone handing you a suitcase with $30,000 cash in it. Would you spend it all on a single car? Probably not. But most of us would happily finance a $30,000 car if we felt the monthly payments were “affordable”. Credit and consumerism go hand in hand to create financial disasters, both personal and national. Financial health brings freedom so that you can devote much more of your time to doing what is really important (see point #1). But for most people that’s impossible because they want too much and think they need too much. Simple Living allows you to create a healthy financial picture so that you don’t have to work as much, or even at all.
5) Environmental Sustainability: we all want to do our bit for the Earth. Living Simply brings all the aforementioned benefits with the added bonus of being kind to the Earth. When you aren’t always in an overscheduled rush you can take public transportation, walk, or bike to your destination. To reduce costs (and attain points 1 and 2) you can do things like plant an organic vegetable garden. You’ll save on groceries, “eat locally”, and share the bounty with your neighbours, while also reducing your portion of pesticide and fertilizer use plus the transportation (fuel) costs to get it to you. Hang your laundry to dry in the summer, or do this. Live in a smaller home and make it energy efficient. You won’t want to buy a lot of Things, because you want to spend less time working and more time enjoying life, and that also reduces your impact on the Earth.
6) Community: human beings are social primates. We have a deep-seated need to be with others, to have a “tribe”. In our modern world of nuclear families who are too busy to see each other let alone anyone else, the sense of community has all but disappeared from many places. The only reason we had the run of the neighbourhood when I was a kid is that all our neighbours knew us. Our parents felt comfortable letting us roam the streets on our own because there were dozens of eyes watching us, knowing who we were and where we lived. We’ve lost that today, and our children are paying the price. When you are Living Simply you have more time to get involved: join a chess club, a knitting group, the PTA or your local homeschooling organization. Coach a little league team, or become a scout leader. Finding community is how human beings become truly happy and fulfilled, not building a home entertainment theatre in your basement. Once you realize that, you’re well on your way to freedom.
7) Volunteer: in our modern, busy society the number of volunteers is declining. Five percent of the population is doing 85% of the volunteer work. Most of us would say “I barely have time for myself!” but whose choice is that? When you live Simply you have time to volunteer. Writing a cheque is easy, but giving of your time and yourself is true charity, and it’s more fulfilling. Having time to devote to others also contributes to the well-being of our community (point #6) and therefore ourselves.
You can see that all these aspects are inter-related. Each one is connected to another. In subsequent posts I will describe what Simple Living looks like for our family, and how our version incorporates the seven aspects described above.