Friday, August 14, 2009

The Choices We Make - APLS August Submission

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.
This post, "The Choices We Make," is my submission for the August APLS Carnival, "Green on the Cheap" and will be posted at Going Green Mama on August 19.
For more SGF posts on Voluntary Simplicity, click here.


Joan said...

What a wonderful post. I do think these economic times are making people rethink many areas in their life - things that may have gotten out of hand. Sometimes the thought of greening up can be overwhelming either due to the effort or in some cases the expense. I remind myself I can take small steps to head into the right direction. It doesn't have to happen all at once. In fact for me, being gradual usually means I will stick with it.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Thanks for that post, Heather. I needed to read that right now.

Kate said...

Sometimes reading about voluntary simplicity reminds me that it's not as hard as everyone makes it out to be. It reminds me to be quiet. To stop and take stock.

I think in this period when everyone and everything appears uncertain it's nice to be reminded of why and how choosing to live simply is important.

Thanks for the post.

Theresa said...

Beautifully stated, and so true! Thanks Heather!

Beany said...

This was such a beautiful post.

Hope to write my own contribution soon.

Heather @ SGF said...

Joan - Baby steps is definitely the way to go. It's taken 11 years to get here, but I can clearly see how the choices I made them have led me to where I am today. All those baby steps really do count!

Farmer's Daughter - To be honest, I did too. Writing the post helped me refocus. Always a good thing :)

Kate - That's very too. The aren't huge feats of nature. It's a matter of doing little things here and there that really add up.

Theresa - Thanks!

Beany - I'm looking forward to reading it!

Robbie @ Going Green Mama said...

What a beautiful post! I think the reminder that "happiness is in doing, not having" is something worth reinforcing. Too many people are down over "stuff".

Heather @ SGF said...

Robbie @ Going Green Mama - Stuff is SO overrated. I'm slowly but surely getting there. I've donated and sold lots over the last 10 years; bought, regretted, and donated some more. I'm now at the point that if I had to move, I could fit my stuff easily in a compact car. Not bad, but I still have a little work to do, but then again, life's a journey, not a destination, so there will always be work to do. At least it's work that feels good body, mind, and soul.

Steph @ Greening Families said...

I recently saw a study that found that families are happier now, even though they have less money. They then discussed similar reactions that occurred during the Great Depression. Once the basic necessities are covered, stuff does not equal happiness!

Making conscious choices is so powerful. For me one choice often leads to many others thus multiplying the impact of the first choice. Thanks for showing how your choices have played out over the years!

Heather @ SGF said...

Steph - Absolutely! Every choice we made adds up and can make a big difference in our lives. All we have to do is keep making baby steps in the right direction. We ALL have the power to change the world.

Green Bean said...

Life is beautiful without all the stuff - LOVE that! Great post.

The Mom said...

Great post! I agree that it is a process that has ups and downs. It isn't always easy, but it is worth it in the end.

Heather @ SGF said...

Green Bean- Thanks!

The Mom - Absolutely!

Kellie said...

Beautiful post!

In a way I am thankful for this recession. I've seen that it hasn't affected our family all that much because of how we've chosen to live our life. I hope others will come to see that they too can live a more simple life.

Heather @ SGF said...

Kellie - Great point! We can provide a wonderful example of how to live smart and be happy at the same time - economic downturn or not. Perhaps even be a resource for those looking to downsize lifestyles.

Lisa Sharp said...

Wow I envy this! While I try very hard to live simply I know I often fail. While I have cut out so much spending and have greened my life a lot I still am no where near sustainable.

You should be so proud of what you have done! Isn't it amazing how a chronic illness can change something about your life for the better?

Heather @ SGF said...

Lisa - Absolutely! I wouldn't wish a chronic illness on anyone, but it has been integral in making me who I am today and for that I am thankful for the burden.