Voluntary Simplicity

May 10, 2010

I just finished reading/skimming Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich. I liked this book because it doesn’t try to define “simplicity” as a list of specific items that one must follow. Instead simplicity is viewed as a state of mind; almost a type of self-actualization:

“The hallmark of a balanced simplicity is that our lives become clearer, more direct, less pretentious, and less complicated.”

A few other characteristics of simplicity:

  • ecological
  • a state of awareness/living consciously
  • a lifestyle; a process to get there
  • anti-consumerism, a “new definition of quality”

This book is ultimately a philosophical manifesto and not a how-to guide. It is inspirational for those of us who are consciously trying to embrace a life of simplicity. But the downside of not defining simplicity as X, Y and Z is that the reader might be left inspired, but still not sure how to get the goal.

I am consciously trying to reject consumerism, but gosh it is hard to do!  I know that the problems with the consumerist lifestyle are many, yet it is still quite a challenge to confront. Thankfully this is a process, and I am slowly becoming more aware and beginning to redefine what I consider quality. From a spiritual standpoint (and the spiritual aspect is considered from all angles in the book) I think that simplicity is very important: cluttered lives contribute to cluttered minds. I don’t know about you, but both my life and my mind feel pretty cluttered these days.


Is anyone else in a constant state of trying to get organized? Have you also come to the realization that no amount of organizational do-dads are going to help the process?

I’ve been on an organization mission for the past year. Something about having a baby in the house made me realize that though I appear organized on the surface, I am in fact very disorganized underneath. The solution has been simple but not painless: less stuff. If I get rid of all the stuff that I don’t use then organization becomes much more feasible.

Purging is simple if you follow a basic plan:

1. Determine to be resolute in your decisions. This is not going to work if you are going to waffle or err on the side of keeping something “just in case.”

2. Decide which area to tackle first. I recommend a small area like the coat closet, bathroom cabinets or linen closet.

3. Bring along two sets of boxes or bags. One is for items to be donated, the other is for items to be trashed. You may want another box for items to be sold,only if your stuff is valuable and you have the time and inclination to bother with selling. Personally I find that selling is time-consuming and adds another layer of complication to my life. I don’t bother for items that are worth less than $20 or so.

4. As you look at the items in this space, ask yourself: How long have I had this? When have I last used this? If you’ve had it for a year or more and you haven’t used it, then it must go. Does this still fit? Do I ever wear this? It’s really hard to get rid of “skinny clothes.” For now give yourself permission to hold on to the items that you really liked, but get rid of the rest. If there are items that you never wear then these too must go. Do I even like this? Sometimes I find that I hold onto something even though I have never liked it – maybe it was a gift or maybe I got a deal on it. These items too must go.

5. It is inevitable that there will be a few items that you just can’t decide on. There may be a shirt or shoes that you haven’t worn in years but you think you will wear someday. If you are really torn between keeping and tossing/donating an item, then I recommend placing these items in a “donate later” box. Pack the items in the box and then push it to the back of the closet. If you don’t miss these items in the next six months, then go ahead and get rid of them.

6. Once you have conquered the easy areas like the linen closet, move on to the harder areas such as your own closet, the kitchen, the basement, the garage. Once you experience a small taste of success you will hopefully become an efficient (and ruthless!) purger.

7. After you have acquired a decent sized donation pile, drive it to the nearest Goodwill, or schedule a free pickup using the VVA or the Salvation Army.

8. Wait a few months… and then repeat the exercise all over again. If you’re anything like me, you will continue to find items that must go. Purging must be performed on an ongoing basis.

I am fortunate in that I am not sentimental at all when it comes to things. This makes purging really easy for me. I am unfortunate in that my husband is extremely sentimental – to the point where we are storing the boxes and manuals for every computer program he has ever purchased… including old copies of Windows.

I have been doing this for a while and I have found that I have no regrets about the items that I have purged. (Well, I’ll take that back just a bit – there was one time when I was stripping diapers that I regretted getting rid of a very large stock pot. But I have two other stock pots so this was by no means a monumental regret.) What I do regret is that I’ve let stuff clutter up my home and my life. I regret the money I’ve spent on acquiring junk. I regret the fact that I have moved items from house to house without ever using said items.

Live and learn. The process has not only made my house much less cluttered, but I’ve become a more savvy shopper. I’m much more critical of evaluating an item to see if it is junk that I will someday toss or an item that I truly need. If there is any chance that it is the former, then I am likely to save my money for something more meaningful.

Limiting Toys

January 7, 2010

When my son was about nine months old, I learned an obvious lesson: his happiness had no relation whatsoever to the amount of toys that we had. In an effort to keep him entertained, I had scoured Craigslist and the neighborhood consignment stores for the very best toys. I found some good things that he still enjoys, namely a Fisher Price Laugh and Learn house and his toy trucks. But I quickly discovered that the majority of toys did not hold his interest for more than five minutes. He was much more interested in normal household objects, particularly those that we might consider trash (empty boxes and such). I resolved not to buy him any more toys until his birthday. Read the rest of this entry »

merry giftmas!

December 9, 2009

Consumerism: the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods

To what extent does the mindset of consumerism affect your life? It’s an apt question considering that we are in the midst of the consumerism – er, Christmas – season. Do you find yourself mentally making lists of things that you “need” in order to improve your quality of life? Do you think “if I just get this and that, I will really be happy?” These are issues that I still wrestle with. Others may have issues with going into debt for nonessentials. Many of us may feel that we cannot adequately express love or appreciation for another person unless a certain sum of money is spent. We are told that it is better to give than to receive, as if this is justification for a spending frenzy.

When does enough become enough?

This is an especially challenging question when buying gifts for others. A gift conveys a silent message, whether intentional or not: a message that you care, or a message that you are trying too hard, or a message that you can afford nice things or that you are frugal, or a message that you are only doing the bare minimum. When it comes to buying gifts for family and friends, we often want to choose a gift that is enough; that conveys enough love. And we often equate that with a number of some sort – a number of gifts given or a number of dollars spent. We turn relationships into something that are measured in quantitative terms.

Despite the issues surrounding holiday gift-giving, it can still be fun to give and receive gifts. It’s fun to give. It’s fun to open a surprise package. It’s fun to look at something new.

There are many options for the person who wants to enjoy some of the gift-giving ritual without the spirit of consumerism that often accompanies it. It’s probably too late to change your traditions this year, but you can use this holiday season to evaluate what you do and do not like about the gift-giving experience. Then after the presents have been opened and you are enjoying the company of family and friends, mention your ideas for next year:

  • No gifts. This is certainly the most radical of all the options, but it can still be fun. Plan instead to share a special meal or have a game or movie night. Everyone can bring a dish or a homemade treat. A poster on my favorite message board explains how she does it.
  • Homemade gifts only. This is a popular option in frugal circles. I’m not a real big fan of it because most people aren’t excellent craftsman and frankly I would rather not have to keep your attempt at an arts and crafts project. If you are intent on giving a quality homemade gift, here are 50 homemade gift ideas. If there are kids on your Christmas list, check out homemade creative play gifts for kids.
  • Food gifts. This may be a subset of “homemade gifts,” but it doesn’t have to be. You could host a dinner party or treat others to a dinner out. Food gifts may be very indulgent if you decide to give Godiva chocolates or very useful if you make homemade vanilla extract.
  • White Elephant gift exchange. There are a number of variations of this classic holiday ritual. In my experience the version that is the most fun is the no-cost variety that involves finding a fun item in your home that you no longer want (or never wanted in the first place). It’s always fun to see the odd things that people find and to hear the stories behind these items. The item may turn out to be quite useful – about ten years ago I received a very strange mug in a white elephant gift exchange, and to this day I use it as a pen holder.
  • Group gift exchange, white elephant style. This technique is risky as it’s difficult to buy a generic gift that will please just about anyone. Try to stick with a theme (favorite book, favorite movie, best kitchen gadget, etc.) to ensure a fun, worthwhile exchange.
  • Draw names. This is the method that my family has chosen this year. Each person will buy a gift for another predetermined person. I think that this option presents the best of all possibilities: everyone gets a fun gift to open and they get a chance to present someone else with a gift. But they don’t get stressed out trying to find the perfect gift for several different people and they don’t have to worry about spending too much.
  • Dollar cap. This can be used in conjunction with any of the options above.

You can have a wonderful, meaningful, enjoyable Christmas season with much less fuss. You’ll save money. You won’t waste countless hours wandering the mall or searching the internet. You won’t fill your house with stuff that you don’t need. Best of all, you will remove the focus on things and instead you’ll be free to focus on what truly matters to you.


November 25, 2009

Last night I attended a Holistic Moms Network meeting. The topic of the night had piqued my interest: Voluntary Simplicity and Anti-Consumerism. Lately I’ve experienced a [very] slow trend towards more simplicity and less consumerism. It started when I realized that having ‘things’ and having a perfect home were never going to give me happiness. I visualized what my life would look like if my house was perfect, if I had fun stuff, etc. and I realized that none of this would bring satisfaction. This sounds so obvious, doesn’t it? Often I find that intellectually we know this, but emotionally and practically we don’t live it. That’s what I have been [slowly] trying to change.

I think there were more questions than answers at last night’s meeting. We discussed licensed characters (it’s been easy for me to totally avoid these – so far), giving kids the latest toys, how many Christmas presents, how to handle birthday parties, types of toys (noisemakers vs. more traditional toys), how to avoid letting our kids become the weirdos of a consumerist culture. I shared how my mom had me brainwashed at a young age about certain things being bad (McDonald’s) and how I rarely had non-family birthday parties (she didn’t want people to feel obligated to buy gifts). As I shared some of these thoughts, I realized that I have already have the huge benefit of having experienced a lot of the elements of simplicity as a child.

Simple living is really the inspiration for this blog. I am NOT an expert at it, but I want to strive towards more simplicity in my life. I want to chronicle this journey and to share ideas with others.