The Many Advantages of Simple Living

Simplicity can be thought of as a tuneup of priorities, habits, skills and values. We can overcome the social roadblocks to living simply and make our lives satisfying and culturally rich while consuming less resources.

| December 29, 2010

  • Simple Living
    Author Dave Wann finds parallels between organic gardening and a lifestyle based on simplicity. Both are enriched with experience and creativity, and, in each case, what we “give up” is less important than what we get.

  • Simple Living

We Americans can and must design a lifestyle that consumes less resources. On the surface, it’s not difficult to imagine that we could create a satisfying, culturally rich lifestyle while consuming less fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources. For example, most of Western Europe consumes far less than we do.

Yet there are significant roadblocks to sustainability and simple living as a national ethic. One is a socially transmitted anxiety that changes will require sacrifice. While the idea of simple living is appealing to many, others dismiss it as “doing without” or “having less.” To me, the key question is, less of what? To give just a few examples, who would object to having less stress, illness or insecurity?

It’s Not About Money — or Stuff

When we think about having more or less in life, we tend to focus on money. But money itself is neither a good nor a bad thing; its real value depends on how it is earned and spent. A person’s skills, talents and good energies often result in monetary as well as other types of rewards. That’s great! But the real value lies beneath the money, in the essential assets that are often in short supply, such as the respect of other people, fresh ideas, time, health and citizenship.

If money becomes the central focus in a person’s life, the resulting imbalance may well create poverty in other areas, reducing his or her odds of being truly happy. For example, people may be poor in available time, or else have lots of time but not know what to do with it. We may lack meaningful connections with people, be culturally clueless, or lack vitality and playfulness. Natural systems may be less abundant as a result of our business decisions and excessive purchases, or the community we live in may lose the benefit of our creative, civic energy — all because we are off-balance, as many Americans now are.

Simplicity can be thought of as a tuneup of priorities, habits, skills and values. So many of us are too exhausted from a lifetime of physical and psychological detours to get what we need. Rather than just being consumers, we are being consumed! Personally, I’ve found that far too often, things that are not alive intervene in my life, competing for my attention. The house needs a paint job. The car needs a lube job. The microwave shorts out. But maybe this kind of stuff isn’t worth so much of my energy. When I stop to think about it, I find that I’d rather focus on living things, such as the trees, shrubs and crops in my garden.

Doing and Not Doing

As I worked in the garden this morning, I made a mental note of the similarities between organic gardening and lifestyles based on simplicity. Both are enriched with experience and creativity, and in each case, what we “give up” is less important than what we get. Organic gardening is commonly thought of as “doing without” pesticides and fossil fuel-based fertilizers — not really much of a deprivation. In return, we get healthier crops. Because the soil in a typical organic garden is a fertile, living system, its produce delivers more nutrition per forkful. Similarly, although a simple lifestyle often has fewer material things in it, it’s rich in emotional and experiential nutrients.

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