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Less is more


earth day
© Noriko Cooper | Dreamstime.com

Keep it simple: Gain family time by streamlining
your hectic schedule.



This Earth Day, April 22, get down to earth by simplifying your family’s entire outlook on life.

Many families will admit their lives are more complicated than ever and they’d give practically anything to make things simpler. Doing so may not be as difficult as you think. People, especially kids, naturally gravitate toward the most uncomplicated things. Starting to acknowledge your desire to make a change may be all it takes to get your family headed down the path of simplifying. And what better day to start than Earth Day?

In his book Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich (Harper Paperbacks, $12.95), Duane Elgin explores how people make the decision to live more simply. Voluntary simplicity is a lifestyle in which individuals choose to minimize the “more-is-better” pursuit of wealth and consumption by emphasizing health, spirituality, quality time with friends and family, conservation, stress reduction and social justice.

First, let’s get some common misconceptions out of the way. Simple living doesn’t mean living in poverty, denying progress or shunning beauty. Just moving your family out to the country isn’t going to make your life easier. A shift in thinking and acting must take place, and that can be done from the place you live now.

Voluntary simplicity means discovering what means most to you and your loved ones and keeping your actions and thoughts consistent with those priorities. It begins by recognizing that the more possessions you have, the less freedom you have.
This is easy enough to understand if you’ve ever had to put in hours of maintenance on an item just to use it for a short time, or if you spend hours at work to afford things you rarely get to use in your limited spare time.

Those who strive for simplicity begin to lead a life where they are more conscious of their connection to nature, people and spirit, and less to material goods.

Sometimes this isn’t so easy in a world where having lots of stuff is a sign of success. Advertisers tell us that we would be more beautiful, intelligent or well connected if we use their products. In some cases, that might be true. But in many cases the product requires something more of us—to find the space for it, keep it clean, and to fix or replace it if it breaks.

Take the example of a large home. The average 1950s house was less than 1,000 square feet. Today, many would consider that unbearably small. The average home today is more than 2,000 square feet, and we still don’t have enough room for the home entertainment system, wine cellar or sauna. Back when we were growing up, many families of four, five or more shared a single bathroom. Now, we have multiple bathrooms, which leads to more expense to acquire and equip, and more time to clean and maintain.

The whole idea of doing something voluntarily means that you make a conscious effort, rather than doing things by habit. If you find yourself in a mindless routine of waking up, getting your family dressed and fed, shuttling everyone off to their school and work, getting together again in the evening, running to after-school activities, overseeing homework, taking care of chores, and finally going to bed so you can do it all over again the next day, you may wonder where the joy and fulfillment to life is found. Yet some people with busy lives still find time to spend with their loved ones, take walks and enjoy family-time activities.

The idea of simplicity doesn’t mean doing more to become simpler but actually doing less. And doing less, while it might seem counterintuitive, is sometimes more productive, if what you are seeking is more quality time with family and friends, a less hectic schedule and simple enjoyment.

You might start by making a family activity of discussing how your lives are complicated and how they are simple. Take stock of the activities that bring a sense of satisfaction or purpose. Begin to draw distinctions between what you “need” and what you “want,” then begin to evaluate how the “wants” fit into your idea of simplicity.

Recognizing and evaluating your family’s desire for simplicity is challenging, but once you take the first few steps down that path, simplicity just keeps getting easier.

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