I was 24 when my world fell apart. Or at least, that's what I thought at the time. Eleven years later, I realize that the anguish was a necessary step in bringing me to where I am - who I am - today. It was eleven years ago that I began my life of voluntary simplicity, making mindful decisions about what was and was not important to me, and eliminating the "fluff" from my life, the needless distraction.
Through years of soul-searching, I discovered more about who I was and what I wanted. And in the process, things started dropping off the radar - I cancelled cable, refused to replace my car after it was totaled because honestly I only drove it once or twice a month anyway. I started checking out books and movies from the library instead of buying them. We started doing our own lawn work instead of hiring a service. Slowly but surely, I eliminated expenses and was able to reduce my work hours to part-time and later, when my health failed me, I was able to quit my job.
This all happened before the economy began to suffer. Before the economic crisis, we paid off our house. Before the economic crisis, we paid off our car. Before the economic crisis, we lived off little and saved every penny we could.
At one time, people thought we were crazy - biking and walking instead of driving, rubbing baking soda on my pits for deodorant, refusing to buy something in a container that wasn't recyclable, cleaning with vinegar and baking soda instead of those overpriced cleaners and sprays, saving our shower water to water the yard, leaving half of our house completely empty (because I refuse to buy stuff just to make a room look used), and foregoing the newest technologies (we don't have a tv, a radio, or even a cd or dvd player other than our the drive in our computers). I mean, we had the money, so why "deny" ourselves any pleasure?
Why? Because being green - because doing the right thing for the environment, for our health, for our happiness turns out to be the same thing. It doesn't mean breaking the bank and it doesn't mean denying ourselves of life's true pleasures.
But it does require being focused, setting goals, and remembering that happiness is in doing, not having - snuggling with a loved one, noticing the blue of the sky or a single flower, a family picnic, a long walk with a special friend, volunteering time to someone less fortunate, a cup of tea and a good library book.
This life of "voluntary simplicity" is not about giving anything up. It's about greater happiness, greater peace, and greater security. Here's a passage from the Northwest Earth Institute's discussion guide on Voluntary Simplicity:
To live more simply is to live more purposefully and with a minimum of needless distraction. The particular expression of simplicity is a personal matter.We each know where our lives are unnecessarily complicated. We are all painfully aware of the clutter and pretense that weigh upon us and make our passage through the world more cumbersome and awkward. To live more simply is to unburden ourselves - to live more lightly, cleanly, aerodynamically. It is to establish a more direct, unpretentious, and unencumbered relationship with all aspects of our lives: the things that we consume, the work that we do, our relationships with others, our connections with nature and the cosmos, and more. Simplicity of living means meeting life face-to-face. It means confronting life clearly, without unnecessary distractions. It means being direct and honest in relationships of all kinds. It means taking life as it is - straight and unadulterated.
Ok. This all sounds well and good, but the economy is suffering. How does this help you now?
I believe it is in times of crisis that we discover what we're truly made of. Eleven years ago, it was my own crisis that started me on this path and you can make the same mindful deliberate choices right now, for your family. Get out of your comfort zone - bike some of your errands, conserve to reduce your energy bills, cook more and eat out less, go to the park instead of the movies, take advantage of city services like children's book hours at the local library, and check your community calendar for free activities like festivals and fairs - and find freedom in simplicity.
Life is beautiful without all the stuff (does it get any "greener" than that?), regardless of whether the economy is up or down. As they say, the best things in life are free. But don't believe me. Experience the joy in simplicity yourself. Start today, start now. Because the choices we make today (for ourselves and for our world), make all the difference in our future.