Reading about the climate crisis and watching docos like An Inconvenient Truth or Story of Stuff made me acutely aware of actively doing the right thing in terms of consuming less and being more diligent at turning off unused lights in the house and so forth, but the idea of “living simply” came more recently when I saw how my girlfriend and some of her friends were living. I looked at my own life and saw a great deal of wastage, spending, lazy travel, diversion and lack of community-mindedness and it all began to click what was wrong with my life. Safe to say that now I’m hooked! It was a life-changing realisation that I can’t imagine not adhering to for the rest of my life.
For me, like a lot of people I suspect, I was living a lifestyle that wasn’t extravagant but beyond my means. I was swimming in debt because I had a problem saying no: to eating out, to buying new “stuff”, to traveling with no savings (on credit), owning property without earnings to support it, and more. As soon as I started “living simply”, I erased all my debt, I started becoming much more contentious about ALL purchases, and I say no to things beyond my means at that time, not relying on credit just because I want it now.
Simple living probably means slightly different things to different people, but to me it’s all about a balance of lifestyle, work/wealth, consuming and community:
- Lifestyle: slowing dowwwwwwwn. Whenever people go on holidays to places like tropical countries or rural parts of any country, the thing that strikes them is how relaxed and chilled out the pace is, no one rushing and nothing hectic. Expectations get lowered as people don’t feel compelled to do this and that in nanoseconds like in the city, so it fits perfectly with the pace of your holiday. The thing is, the people that live in these places don’t do this for your benefit; they always live like this. My desire is to savour life more by living in the moment, day-by-day and don’t get sucked into the demand of other city people’s idea of the “normal” pace of life. There are numerous benefits to this lifestyle such as lowered stress, greater inclination to appreciate what you have and the people in your life, time to get things done, a feeling like life isn’t just passing you by as you work a 60-hour week. It takes awhile to get used to the idea, but once you start to (as I feel like is happening at last, as I unlearn old lifestyle assumptions), then you can’t imagine returning to the old, stressful lifestyle.
- Work/Wealth: that lifestyle sounds all fine and well, you say, but what about putting food on my table? Well, this will be different for everyone cuz I live alone with no kids or mortgage, but it can be achieved by anyone with a small concession: spend less! Seems overly simple, but that’s really what it boils down to. Again, it will be different for everyone but you just need to step off the treadmill: If your mortgage is massive and a large portion of your work time is spent paying it off, then you need to sell and buy something affordable or not at all (though the problems with home-ownership are a whole different discussion!). If you racked up thousands on your credit card for stuff to fill your home, you have to decide why that is exactly; status? über-comfort? 12 kids? boredom? There are soooo many alternative that will save you money. If your grocery bill is enormous, or you eat dinner out 3 times a week, or you “need” a new outfit to wear every couple of weeks then you need to address the amount you are working in exchange for all these luxuries. In the end, if you can find ways to cut back – truly cut back – and divert your energy to less expense and possibly more engaging and fulfilling pursuits.
- Consuming: this has played a big part in my life as I really used to never pay attention to what or how I was consuming. From the perspective of consuming too much, or irresponsible consuming, this goes back to the “do I really need it” argument (see the “Do I Need It?” poster I created). The flow-on affect from wondering if you personally need it in your world now also extends to how that acquisition will affect the broader community, from damage done during production, people/land/animals treated unfairly in the process, irresponsible corporations getting your money, waste created from ownership of that item, and damage done by its eventual disposal. Besides its global impact, there is the reason for personally wanting that item and what role it plays in a financial, psychological or social way. If you simply have too much cash at your disposal, then you might consider the extremely positive benefits to your life of just giving away what you don’t essentially need instead of purchasing your way to happiness. People of various Faiths will tell you that you should give everything away to restore balance in our poverty-riddled world, and there is a lot to be said for that sort of selfless existence!
- Community: living simply in a community makes things that much easier, whether that’s an “authentic/intentional community”, your immediate neighbourhood or other groups that you belong to and meet with regularly. This is something I aspire to and have some rough plans of how living in an intentional community could be very exciting from the standpoint of relationship, sharing, support, altruism in a group dynamic, cost-saving, plus eco & ethical living. Even though this is extreme or idealistic community concept, there are many elements that are found in other community formats which will make simple living easier such as: sharing stuff (if everyone in a group owns one thing they use occasionally, like a lawn-mower, then why not share it around?), support and relationship-building (good connections with people can alleviate stress and the need to distract ourselves with consumer-based activities, plus make us focus on and understand what makes each other tick), cost-saving (community gardens where people can grow and share food, energy set-ups for bulk solar/electricity/water installations, sharing stuff, shared property in house-sharing or the intentional community sense) and, depending on the nature of the group/community, altruistic pursuits (helping the needy, volunteering to offer service or support to the larger community) can be better achieved if living simply so that your time is more freed up from the typical constraints of full-time work.
Despite how great all this stuff sounds, I certainly can’t claim to be doing as much as I’d like. Of course, it’s impossible for most people (myself included) to just leap fully into living simply overnight. The people I have been gaining my inspiration from also struggle to do this all the time, even after years of living it. Ideally, I’d like to live in an intentional community set-up which I will probably begin exploring in a blog post one of these days as I’d love to hear from people who are doing this already themselves.
Also, I’m big on making lists, so if this looks like a “how-to” guide, then please don’t think it is. I realise I am only scratching the surface with things I have learned and am trying to employ in my life. There will also always be critiques and things that just don’t work which I’m sure I’ll find out and discuss along the way too!
More simple living thoughts to come…