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.

Ginger sheds her winter coat

Foxgloves are blooming

Toes in the grass

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?


This post is written for inclusion in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries. All week, April 26-30, we will be featuring essays about non-punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.

My husband and I were both raised with a similar discipline style; a style that included spanking. We’ve always known that our parents loved us and wanted what was best for us. We thought that their methods seemed to work and were perhaps even what was best. We had good childhoods and though we can both recall instances where we were spanked, these aren’t disturbing memories and we harbor no resentment from the spankings. So we figured that we would parent in a similar way.

That was until I decided to question spanking and to look at other options. I don’t know if there was any one specific occurrence that pushed me firmly down the path of gentle discipline; instead it was a very slow process. Many pro-spankers firmly believe that spanking is the only way to ensure a well disciplined child and that didn’t sit well with me.  Some of these people seemed to equate “discipline” with children being seen and not heard. I read books such as Raising Cain and Unconditional Parenting that really challenged behaviorism and culturally accepted ways adults treat children. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I did not want to teach my child that “might makes right.”

Another aspect of this is that I am a Christian. As a Christian I believe that children are made in the image of God. As an Orthodox Christian I believe that babies/young children are icons of innocence. As such, I think that children are deserving of the same respect that we would show any other individual – no matter their age, their size or their mental capacity. It’s a very basic ideal that many of us believe in – but too often we do not extend it to children.

There are a lot of Christians who spank their kids, and they do so because they really, honestly believe it is the best thing to do – that it is what the Bible tells them to do. I disagree with them. I believe that spanking is totally inconsistent with the way that Jesus treated children and with the way that God treats his children. I don’t believe there is any grace in a “you did wrong, now I will hurt you as a punishment, then I will show you forgiveness.” If you want to research what the “spare the rod” Bible verses really mean, I would recommend Thy Rod and Thy Staff Comfort Me by Samuel Martin. A free copy of this book can be found here.

All that said, I want to be crystal clear that we bear absolutely no ill will towards our parents who spanked us. In some ways I feel audacious in saying that we are going to do things differently. I worry about challenges that I won’t be able to handle. I dread judgment and lack of support from those that disagree with us. But the more I think about it and the more I read about it, the more I’ve come to believe that gentle discipline is the only option for our family. I pray that my husband and I would demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit in all areas, parenting included: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at http://mudspice.wordpress.com/Welcome to the Carnival of Gentle Discipline

Please join us all week, April 26-30, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the USA and April 30th is Spank Out Day USA. In honor of this we have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives.

Are you a Gentle Parent? Put the Badge on your blog or website to spread the word that gentle love works!

Links will become available on the specified day of the Carnival.

Day 1 – What Is Gentle Discipline

Day 2 – False Expectations, Positive Intentions, and Choosing Joy (coming Tuesday, April 27)

Day 3 – Choosing Not To Spank (coming Wednesday, April 28)

Day 4 – Creating a “Yes” Environment (coming Thursday, April 29)

Day 5 – Terrific Toddlers; Tantrums and All (coming Friday, April 30)

Do any of these describe you:

  • Eco-conscious?
  • Frugal?
  • Do you search for products that hands-down offer the best performance?
  • Are you a woman, or do you know one?
  • Are you more than a little grossed out by this statisticThe average woman throws away 250 to 300 pounds of tampons and pads in her lifetime.

There is an alternative. It is greener. It is cheaper. It offers better protection. Enter… the menstrual cup!

There are many varieties, but I recently sprung for the DivaCup. I’ve been thinking about it for years, but when my crunchy little sister beat me to the punch I had to quickly join her in DivaCup land. The cup cost about $25 (I bought at Amazon.com) and it should last a really long time (I am hoping for 10 years at least – though the company says only one year as their own CYA measure – you can read about that here and here). Contrast the $25 to an estimated $4,200 you could otherwise spend on pads and tampons.

I haven’t been using it for too long, but already I’m totally sold. Women, do you remember when you first started using tampons and you couldn’t believe what you had been missing out on by using pads? Think of the cup as the next phase of this evolution – and I don’t see how it can get much better! As if the other benefits weren’t already enough, I find the cup to be much more comfortable than tampons.

To those who are squeamish the cup probably seems “gross.” And if you think it’s gross then you probably haven’t even read this far… but I still have to tell you, using the cup is actually much cleaner than using tampons or pads. You stay cleaner and so does your bathroom trash can. I was surprised by this since I thought that tampons were as good as it gets, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

Dear readers, please tell me: have you ever heard of the DivaCup or a similar product? Is your initial reaction positive or negative, and why?

On Lactivism

April 17, 2010

Lactivism is the advocacy of breastfeeding. I consider myself a lactivist which should come as no surprise since I am nursing a toddler. Lactivists come in all forms and I try to remain mindful that I want to be the nice, helpful, non-judgemental kind of lactivist. I am unconvinced that militant lactivism is of benefit to anyone.

I wanted to share a few great lactivist links that I recently came across:

Newborn Breast Crawl – This is a really cool video of newborn babies crawling – yes, crawling! – up to the breast. Breasts shown, so you may not want to watch this one at work. Watching this I was reminded that babies are born to be breastfed.

Why Seeing Breastfeeding is Important – I’ve always nursed in public, though I find myself cutting back just a bit now that Calvin is getting older. I do believe that breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere is an important step in normalizing breastfeeding. I think nursing in public paints nursing in a very positive light: a content baby and a mom who can be anywhere she pleases.

Take the Risk and See – Give Extended Breastfeeding a Try – There probably aren’t too many first-time moms who plan to be in an extended nursing relationship. My personal set-in-stone nursing goal was to nurse exclusively for six months and to continue to nurse until the first birthday. After I made that goal, I would evaluate and move on from there. That was seven months ago and I haven’t even thought about weaning. Why would I stop giving him the perfect food? Why would I give up the ability to comfort and soothe him at the breast? And of course there is one of my favorite side benefits – why would I want to lose my ability to consume a little extra junk food?

If Calvin doesn’t show some interest in weaning soon, then I think I may end up tandem nursing. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. But I feel that the downsides to tandem nursing don’t even compare to the downsides of forcing a milkaholic toddler off the breast. The average human weaning age is somewhere between two and five years old. While I probably will not pursue a 100% child-led weaning method, I will certainly continue to use gentle techniques that show respect both to Calvin and to the nursing relationship that we have established.