Monday, June 19, 2006

Reading in the Wee Hours

After giving up the hope of sleep due to the excitement of the armadillo chase, I eventually moved into the recliner last night and picked up another old Sun to read before consigning it to the recycling pile.

It was the August 2002 edition. The feature interview was with Duane Elgin, "On Simplicity and Humanity's Future."

I flirted with the voluntary simplicity movement 15-20 years ago, not long after Elgin wrote his first book, Voluntary Simplicity: Towards a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich. I've always appreciated the general tenets, but found the "real life" practice much harder than it sounds. It was interesting to read about voluntary simplicity again, and to see how much farther Elgin has moved in his thought process.

A few points really struck me in revisiting this concept. First of all, voluntary simplicity is VOLUNTARY. Since economic hardship isn't voluntary, this isn't a "noble" state to which we can justify confining people by paying them low wages. Secondly, the point of voluntary simplicity isn't to deny ourselves. The point is to prune out nonessential areas of our lives so that we can more fully appreciate and enjoy the areas of our lives that bring us joy and meaning. Because what brings us joy and meaning is individual to each of us, voluntary simplicity will look different to each person.

(This reminds me of a story I heard years ago. A college professor asked her students how many shirts they needed to make them happy. Were 7 shirts - one for each day of the week - enough? Double that? Ten times that many? How many shirts and what was their rationale? She had them write down their answers and their rationales, then she had them go home and actually count how many shirts and shirt-like garments they owned. Most owned many, many times the number of shirts they had logically decided that they needed to be happy.

A hundred years ago, few people owned more than a couple changes of clothing. Yet we often romanticize that time as happier than ours.)

I can hear the comments already - "But I like having hundreds of shirts. It makes me happy to have this much choice!" And I'm not going to argue. I just know that FOR ME, I've been discovering that the more stuff I have, the more of my time and energy I waste taking care of it. I'm tired of spending my life that way. There are 2 especially hard parts to this, though: 1) refraining from getting more new stuff that I just "know" will make me happy, and 2) choosing what, out of everything that we already have, we can easily and happily do without.

To quote Elgin in this article, "The simple life is about freeing up time for what matters most to us."

I could go on for a long time (face it, books have been written about this topic!), but I'll keep it simple for now. I think, maybe, that it's time for me to seriously revisit these ideas in my life.


prairiewolf said...

The options for the armadillo are well known and I won't belabor. Becker's quick learning curve was impressive. I expect further nights will be even more fun!

You are just now reading a magazine from 2002?! Well at least you are getting it read! I, for one remember reading it oh 2-3 years ago....

Gaia gardener said...

Guilty as charged, I'm afraid!