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No More Wretched Excess

© Joseph Helfenberger | Dreamstime.com

Why all the fuss about simple living? Some people simplify their households because of uncertain finances and rising costs, while others aim to lessen their environmental impact.

Many people are cutting back on consumption and extraneous expenses voluntarily, but an increasing number of people find simplicity when they are forced into it—due to a job loss or another drastic change in their life. Regardless of how you come to it, arrive at the threshold of simple living and the door will open wide with possibilities!

In 1981, Duane Elgin penned a book called Voluntary Simplicity that quickly became the "bible" of the simplicity movement. Elgin wrote about living in a manner that could be achieved through getting in touch with one's inner values.

Voluntary simplicity is "living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich." It is not about poverty or self-inflicted deprivation. Instead it is about living a life where even the most common actions are performed with thought and meaning. Every aspect of one's life is examined; the important things are retained and the extraneous "fluff" is discarded, leaving only those things that are most important to you.

Although the concept is new to many, its roots are ancient: Judeo-Christian religion ("Give me neither poverty nor wealth," Proverbs 30:8); Taoist teachings ("He who knows he has enough is rich," Lao Tzu); the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle (promoting the "golden mean" of a path through life); and Buddhist writing (a "middle way" between poverty and mindless accumulation).

So you've decided you need to simplify something, but what?

Your budget. Examine whether purchases are wants or needs, and trade spur-of-the-moment buying for acquiring things that really matter and make a difference in your life. Voluntary simplicity does not advocate giving up material goods, it just advises making conscious decisions to reduce "things" and increase the pleasures of time spent with loved ones.

Your health. Incorporate whole foods into your daily diet and avoid heavily processed foods, reduce the stresses brought on by long work hours and hectic schedules, and bicycle or walk to nearby errands rather than starting up the car.

The environment. Reduce your driving by combining errands or parking the car and walking whenever possible, take reusable shopping bags to the grocery store, choose locally raised produce, and be conscious of the consequences of your actions. A radical change in your lifestyle is not as important as making small adjustments that add up.

Your time. Let go of things that cause stress or that require an investment of time without an equal return in enjoyment. Choose to spend work time efficiently but set aside time for leisure and you'll immerse yourself in purposeful days that provide rewards along the way.

In a nutshell: Clean out your closets. Give away things you don't use. Get rid of clutter. Don't buy more than you need. Teach your children to save money. Act with compassion. Spend only on things that serve your life. Touch nature often but lightly. Work as much as you need to but not more. Share your triumphs and discoveries about voluntary simplicity with others.

You may have already found yourself striving for a simpler life, one that is guided by your own principles rather than being caught up in a compulsive need to keep up with others. Slow down, engage with those who share your values, and enjoy the journey. As Thoreau said, "Our life is frittered away by detail. . . Simplify, simplify."

Sami Arseculeratne Martinez has a grown son and daughter. She and her husband recently moved from their Hamilton home to Connecticut.

Check it out online

www.storyofstuff.com: Explores the often hidden environmental and social consequences of America’s love affair with its stuff.

www.simpleliving.net: Since 1996 this network has introduced people to a wide variety of teachers and practitioners in voluntary simplicity.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York