The Simple Life

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Posted by Meeta K. Wolff

"Be the change that you want to see in the world".-Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever woken up and felt exhausted just thinking of the long day ahead? For many of us, our lives are a three-ring circus, balancing work and family, hobbies and social commitments, trying to keep up with the relentless pace of life in the twenty-first century. In the face of this reality, certain trends are pointing in the other direction. They can be described by a variety of words- voluntary simplicity, downsizing, downshifting and simple living. Each of these terms means different things to different people, and I find that I have started to make some positive changes in my own life by thinking of what these terms mean for me.

The concept of voluntary simplicity or downsizing is not about depriving oneself. In fact, it is the very opposite. To many people, it symbolizes the ability to work less and live more. To spend less time doing things you *have* to do and more time doing things you *want* to do. I find this concept to be a very powerful one. We live in an age where people are often defined by their occupation, the clothes they wear, the car they drive, the books they read. We feel obliged to do and buy certain things in order to conform to what is expected of us. To me, voluntary simplicity is about liberation; giving yourself the freedom to make your own choices about what you keep in your life and what you want to throw out. It means spending some time to identify what brings me joy, determining what my own priorities in life are, and what other things are there just for the sake of tradition or because "everyone else has it/is doing it". Downsizing is something that people often do at retirement age. But if you can do live a simpler and less stressful life in your younger years, why should that be a bad thing?

Simplicity can be achieved in the simplest and most mundane choices, and can extend to hard-core simplicity, such as taking the decision to get rid of one's cars and phones. Here is an example of a *very* simple choice that did make my life unexpectedly easier: In our previous home in another city, we needed to stock up on some glasses. We bought a set of red wine glasses and white wine glasses. Then realized that we needed champagne flutes for those special occasions and beer mugs and juice glasses as well. Pretty much our home was overflowing with glassware of all shapes and sizes. Plus, when friends came over, I spent all my time making sure that the dog's wagging tail did not knock down delicate stemmed glasses set on the coffee table (he managed to destroy most of them anyway). When we moved to St. Louis, I had had enough of the doggone glassware. We bought a set of what are called "European wine glasses" (no stems!). I use the same glasses for serving everything- water, juice, smoothies, wine and champagne. That's that. I have a lot more space, lot less worry and believe it or not, not having the right glassware for the right drink has not destroyed our social life. To anyone who is appalled because I did not serve the right drink in the right glass, all I can say is that there are bigger things in this world worth getting appalled about. I now have given myself permission to cut out anything from my life that is stressing me out and adding to unnecessary work. I don't buy anything that is high-maintenance. No clothes that need dry cleaning. We read newspapers online and don't have to deal with the mountains of newsprint (with more fliers and ads than actual news). I stopped subscribing to magazines and buying books- I just get them from the library and don't have to worry about storing them. I own just one pair of formal shoes and one good handbag, and wear them everywhere. This might be unthinkable for most people but I love the way it takes me 30 seconds to dress up.

For those looking for ways to simplify their own lives, there are many blogs, books and websites that offer good advice. I have come across a little book called "Simplify Your Life" by Elaine St. James that gives 100 suggestions for doing so: everything from "reduce the clutter in your life" to "clean up your relationships". But mostly, simplification requires some introspection, asking oneself the hard questions, "What am I really trying to get out of life?"

Simplifying one's life also has the desirable side-effect of less waste, less materialism and less consumerism, all contributing to a better planet. If we want a world that is more in touch with itself, we truly must start with our own lives.

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This post was contributed by Nupur from One Hot Stove


Nupur, the "one glass fits all" thing really resonates with me. When we moved to Rhode Island, to a kitchen without a dishwasher, we decided to simplify -- no more handwashing of fragile glasses! And nobody has ever left our house because we didn't have the proper glass for the proper beverage.

January 16, 2008 at 5:24:00 PM GMT+1  
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Suzanne said...
January 16, 2008 at 6:53:00 PM GMT+1  

Woops.. I guess you can't edit comments for spelling! Anyway, I wanted to thank you for this article because it describes an ideal I've had in my mind for a while.

Suzanne said...
January 16, 2008 at 6:55:00 PM GMT+1  

You've pretty much described how we have led our lives for the past decade. It was only a few years ago that I found out that this was called 'voluntary simplicity.' It's been a way of life for my husband most of his life. It took me a while to appreciate what it can do for you, physically and emotionally, and how it makes a positive impact on the environment. It is indeed very liberating!

Part of voluntary simplicity is the choice to work from home and earn less. Yes, earn less. Since our expenses are low, we save as much if not more.

Our move from Illinois to Colorado was that much easier because there was less stuff. Having fewer books reduced the weight on the truck. I love books and would love to have floor to ceiling-high shelves lined with books but I own very few. But I do have my shelves lined with books - they are just not in my home and I share them with tens of thousands of other people. Yes, the local public library. Most libraries are networked with other local libraries and if a book is not available in your library, they can get it for you from another library.

And I love you for that one pair of formal shoes and one handbag. I recently changed my handbag after 6 years since it was giving way. I loved it because it would sit on my back like a backpack and I haven't been able to find anything quite like it again. That said, I am knitting a felted bag...

January 16, 2008 at 9:09:00 PM GMT+1  

Spot on Nupur! I love those European wine glasses too, though admit we don't have any, because we have tons of others (sadly no dog to break them - I'd so love a dog much more than keep the glasses!)

It's true, the pressure to keep up is immense. In England we call it 'keeping up with the Jones'' - it's such a waste of time, energy and effort.

January 16, 2008 at 10:19:00 PM GMT+1  

Lovely article Nupur. I have to admit a few years ago I was very much into being "trendy" and having the latest mobile phone, stereo, clothes, etc. was very important to me. However ever since Soeren came into my life I have realized there are other things that are important and who cares how techie your mobile phone is or what color the ipod has. I am still very much in the beginning phase of downsizing or "voluntary simplicity" and realize I have a lot to learn.

Although we go to the library and get most of our books from there, I still have a shoe and handbag fetish! LOL!

So, I think I have a long road to walk. This article is perfect for me to re-organize my thoughts.

Meeta K. Wolff said...
January 17, 2008 at 8:03:00 AM GMT+1  

Great writeup. I'm one of those that is a stickler for serving drinks in the proper glass - just one of the 'luxuries' I allow myself and I do NOT get appalled by anyone else that doesnt do it. But I am all for simplifying things! I love that you have cut down on your shoes and handbags and it only takes you 30 secs to get ready... I think a lot of women should take the cue from you.... HA!

Dharm said...
January 17, 2008 at 1:01:00 PM GMT+1  

Lydia, "One glass fits all" :D You have a way with words, Lydia! Yes, it was hard to believe that an inconsequential thing like that stressed me out so much before I decided to pitch it out of my life. It has become a metaphor for me, for simplifying other areas in my life.

Suzanne, thank you! I am glad you think the same way. I think many people are getting tired of the status quo and starting to move in this direction.

Manisha, What?! You are missing out on the soothing rush-hour traffic and entertaining water-cooler gossip :D Just kidding...working from home must contribute so much to a great quality of life!
And yes, I *love* the public library systems in the US...they get you just about any book you might want. And we are making our tax dollars work for us for taking advantage of the libraries :)
Would love to see a picture of your felted bag when you are done with it!

Amanda, oh yes, the dog is worth a hundred thousand pretty stemmed glasses :) What irks me is that at one point, people only kept up with their neighbors. But now, the media makes sure we are forever trying to keep up with millionaire celebrities. I totally agree with you: life is too short for this waste of waste of time, energy and effort.

Meeta, LOL I think I am a freak among womankind for hating shopping and fashion and all that goes with it. But quite honestly, it is great to hear that you are enjoying simplifying in small ways and I know it only gets more fun from here on.

Nupur said...
January 17, 2008 at 1:11:00 PM GMT+1  

Dharm, you raise a great point: which is that you should indulge yourself with the things you personally love but not feel like you have to do that with everything. I have my indulgences too: my extensive kitchen and pantry, for starters :)

Nupur said...
January 17, 2008 at 1:22:00 PM GMT+1  

My sentiments too, Nupur! This is exactly how I prefer to live my life...relaxed and easy, taking the time to enjoy what I really like to do, which happens to be reading blogs these days! I refuse to be a part of the rat-race of life where people are so busy and stressed trying to make a great career or big bucks that they forget to appreciate the little things in life, even forget to spend time as a family!
I agree with the books thing...thats what the library's for.Have never understood why ppl keep buying novels, they never get read more than once or twice anyway.
The philosophy with which I've been raised is 'Simple Living, High Thinking'. If only we learn to be content with what we have and not agonise over what we dont!!

Shahbanu said...
January 17, 2008 at 7:16:00 PM GMT+1  

I think the main thing for a "simple life" is to define what makes one happy, and that is a discovery in itself. Because we all react differently depending on cultures and upbringings, my idea of a simple life may not be my neighbor's but if it makes me happy and fulfilled then I project those good sentiments, and I am a more enjoyable person to be around. I moved to the US with nothing and still to this day I have not accumulate much but my mother seems to want to fill this void and I pretend the cupboards and closets have some kind of nailing issues that makes them remained closed forever!!

Helene said...
January 18, 2008 at 8:01:00 AM GMT+1  

I liked this post as it is what I am thinking about today. I am working towards simplifying everything in my life. I like my things, but not all are worth my time & energy or my life. I think when we relax it gives others permission to relax too. What a great feeling! Why wait until retirement?!

Meg Wolff said...
January 20, 2008 at 9:40:00 PM GMT+1  

well said Nupur! I can sympathize with the glassware issue - my brother and sister-in-law recently gave me two kinds of wine glasses. I think one is for red and the other for Chardonnay. They're stemless, but large and (at least) very fragile-looking (I haven't broken one yet). They're beautiful, but they take up so much space! Anyway, aside from the whole glassware thing, you've left me with much to think about... as usual! Thanks!

Cathy said...
January 21, 2008 at 10:40:00 PM GMT+1  

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