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.

Having a kid has made me much more conscious of the health of my family and of the environment. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to have a more natural-minded lifestyle, particularly in terms of my diet. But my willpower has always been weak. Even when I was pregnant, I wanted to eat a healthy diet but I often didn’t (Helllllloooo, Chick-fil-a!) That really began to change when I started feeding Calvin real food. The more I learn about food, the more I learn about the environment and the more I realize that the way I live is simply not healthy nor is it sustainable.

I am slowly changing that. I truly believe that for a change to stick, it has to be made slowly. Abrupt changes can be abruptly discarded, but a change that is slowly integrated and that becomes a part of you is going to stick around. Think of it this way: fighting many small battles is much easier than fighting one big war.

As part of this journey I’ve started reading wonderful blogs like Kitchen Stewardship, Keeper of the Home and Fake Plastic Fish. The plethora of information can quickly become overwhelming when there is so much that you want to do. I realize that I have a long way to go to revamp my life – especially if I want to make real change that will stick around.

A few things that I’ve been doing lately:

  • Giving up soda. This wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be – I usually drink tea instead, but if I want something carbonated I reach for mineral water. If you’re drinking bottled water – give that up too. Get a reusable container for your water, like the awesome Klean Kanteen.
  • Learning what is on the dirty dozen list and buying the organic version.
  • Cutting back on processed foods.
  • Buying organic cow’s milk – though I am thinking of either trying raw or giving it up completely.
  • Switching to non-toxic cleaners as I mentioned in my spring cleaning post.
  • Gardening – we’ve already had a vegetable garden for several years which supplies most of our summer produce.

All of these can be done relatively painlessly (well, giving up soda might be tough if you’re an addict – but try it for a few weeks and soon you’ll forget about it).

Ongoing/upcoming changes:

  • Curtailing the amount that we eat out. This is tough because we have an 11+ year precedent of eating out a lot. We lack willpower here.
  • Cutting back on plastics.
  • Creating a year-round garden.
  • Going shampoo-free.
  • Line-drying clothes/diapers.

I am really having fun learning about all of these things and implementing them into our family life. Please join me in implementing baby steps in your own life! What has recently inspired you and what changes do you hope to make?