You’ll see “simplicity” or “simple living” mentioned every now and then on these pages as something I aspire for, even something that I believe might very well hold the key to reversing at least some of the destructive spirals that humanity has gotten itself into. Until quite recently, I thought these words meant more or less the same thing for others as they do for me, and that I’d make myself understood without further explanation. But following some baffling moments recently, I’ve had to revisit that assumption.
For example, as I browse books written on the subject at the library, sometimes I have to check the cover of the book to make sure it actually has the words “simple living” in the title. Because I wouldn’t have guessed on the basis of the contents. They are mostly tips about how to prioritize tasks and streamline activities, organize files and finances, keep the living room clutter-free and children’s toys out of sight, and so on. The words ‘environment’ or ‘sustainable’ are barely ever mentioned; the idea of having a lot of stuff is never questioned. The same goes for certain magazines or websites with the word “simple” in the title. They advertise new products that will make our lives more efficient, provide guides for faster shopping and tips for how to pack for your next tropical vacation, how to keep your car in shape and closets organized, how to make your house look like one doesn’t have kids even when you do so that you can entertain like a pro… You get the idea. Clearly, there isn’t just one way to use the word, and I can’t claim that mine is the right one. But just for clarity’s sake — since I’m going to keep writing about it here — let me explain what I mean by it.
For me, simple living evokes not so much having neat systems to organize all the stuff we have, but having less stuff to begin with… minimizing consumption and waste, learning to meet one’s needs in a way that does not deplete the resources of the earth or of other people but regenerates them, and — dare I say it, the F-word? — frugality. My use of the word has two dimensions that I see omitted, or present at best only superficially, in some of the other usages: a consideration of the environmental impact of consumerism and materialism, and the spiritual impact they have on us. In fact, my definition of simplicity is probably closer to what some people would call “voluntary simplicity”—implying a conscious choice to not only de-clutter our homes and planners and rearrange our furniture, but also to de-clutter our hearts and spirits and change old habit patterns that no longer serve us, including the ones that make us consume more than we need, look for affirmations and status in the externals, run from the things that really make our lives meaningful.
I’m curious – how do you define simplicity or simple living? If you feel like it, leave a thought in the Comments section.