April 2, 2008

What is Simplifying? Should You Do It?

Today’s news is filled with scary stories about the cratering sub-prime lending market, the dollar’s decline, and the plunging Dow. This has got a lot of people pondering ways to cut back on their spending, getting ready for a severe recession that seems more and more inevitable.

Tightening your money belt is a good thing, it’s a smart strategy. However, it’s very different from simplifying your life. Cutting back is painful; simplifying is freeing and fun. Maybe now more than ever, it’s time to think about simplicity.

Simplifying isn’t a new concept: the Shakers were propounding the benefits of living a simple life over 150 years ago. Janet Luhrs’ book, The Simple Living Guide, has had steady sales since its debut in 1998, and this April will mark the 14th anniversary of Vicki Robin’s famous speech to the United Nations, “A Declaration of Independence from Overconsumption.”

What is simplifying? It’s going against the materialistic mainstream and proactively living a life that you have consciously defined for yourself. There are many reasons for simplifying, and there are many different types of simplifiers.

For some, simplifying life means reducing stress for health reasons, for others it’s a social justice or anti-consumerism issue. Simplifiers can be as straight-forward as families transforming into one-income households so their kids can have a full-time parent at home, as well as someone deciding to buy only organic or locally-grown produce. They can also be as multifaceted as environmental activists, seeking to minimize their consumption of fossil fuels by living off the grid along with those involved in The Compact, where members have committed to buy absolutely nothing new for one full year.

Ed Begley, Jr., of the cable television show “Living With Ed,” is a simplifier. So is Julia Roberts, who took time off from her career to stay at home with her young children.

If the news of an impending recession has you pondering your way of life, and wondering if perhaps there is a better way, then you may be interested in simplifying. Should you choose to do so, know that it has tremendous benefits: there is a surprising sense of freedom with each step you take, and there is suddenly more time to do the things you care about. However, it’s not for the faint-hearted: you’ll have discouraging friends and family who will not understand this change in attitude, and you’ll have moments of being overwhelmed at the undertaking.

For those who have taken steps to simplifying their lives, though, it’s been worth all their efforts. Life truly is better without the call of the mall.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out:

1. In Print

Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World by Linda Breen Pierce. Stories of those who have downsized their lives, relates their experiences and whether or not they regret the change.

Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe R. Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Financial guide, a landmark in the Simplicity movement.

Living the Simple Life : A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More
by Elaine St. James. Good, practical tips (cancel the newspaper subscription, eat at home).

Voluntary Simplicity, Revised Edition: Toward a Life That is Inwardly Simple, Outwardly Rich by Duane Elgin. History of the movement, discussion of spiritual motivations behind downsizing.

The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs. Must-read; describes all variety of lifestyles within the "voluntary simplicity" world.


2. Online

Everyday Simplicity (http://everydaysimplicity.blogspot.com)
The Simple Living Network (http://www.simpleliving.net/main)
Simple Living America (http://simplelivingamerica.blogspot.com)

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