Gill Stannard

Monday, April 14, 2008

keeping it simple

What would make your life simpler?
Try not to censor the first thoughts that come into your head. If the answer is “more money” - what specifically do you need to buy that will make your life easier, more straightforward, happier, balanced?

Sometimes money buys an extra pair of hands – someone to iron the basket of washing that piles up each week that you detest? Or perhaps, really all you need to do is rethink your wardrobe – allow clothes to drip dry rather than throw them in the dryer. Or perhaps it is the job that is dissatisfying that necessitates the clothing choices in the first place. Keep paring the initial thought back a step to find what is the simplest.

At it’s most basic, the philosophy of “voluntary simplicity”, a name that was originally coined in the 1970’s, as is about downsizing aspects of our lives that use too much energy. It is also about questioning mindless over consumption and materialism, the trap of buying more stuff to reward ourselves when life feels hard and lacking in any real choices.

While the recent “Earth Hour” captured the spirit of 'tuning out to tune in' for a mere 60 minutes - consuming less electricity, buying less, working less, commuting less, trying to keep the your daily excursions to within 30 minutes of your home could ultimately have a bigger and more lasting impact on your ecological footprint.

Sometimes people mistakenly associate simplicity with poverty. It's not about doing without; rather it's about having enough. It's about figuring out what material level is enough for you, and this will vary from person to person. Inevitably, people who simplify discover that we don't need as much materially as our American culture would have us believe in order to be happy. They discover that there is a huge cost to excessive materialism, not only in terms of money, but also in time and energy expenditures.

Linda Breen Pierce, author of “Choosing Simplicity.”

A large chunk of voluntary simplicity philosophy concentrates on the work/consume cycle. The more we work, the more we want to treat ourselves with material rewards to justify the time and energy we invest in our working life. How much we feel valued in our work, tends to create a greater sense of job satisfaction than just what we are paid. In fact, Australians are now three times richer than they were in the 1950’s but despite this are no happier.

From what I have observed in clinical practice how much, or how little, we feel in control or our lives can strongly influence our sense of wellbeing. It is not how hard we work, love or live that brings us happiness but subtler values such as feeling connected to and valued by others in our lives.

Considering ways to make your life simpler is not a cure-all but because it is about making conscious choices, the sense being empowered about the decisions you make in your life can bring positive improvements to your wellbeing.

But how can simplicity improve your health?

Can we quantify the health benefits of being satisfied or happy? Certainly there is a clear link between stress and increasing your risk of almost every type of major illness from cardiovascular disease to most kinds of cancer. Through various biological pathways, when we feel stressed and out of control there is a strong, negative impact on our immune system (more on psychoneuroimmunology). American statistics show that around 90% of all visits to a primary health care provider are due to stress related conditions.

Just as meditation, appropriate exercise, a healthy diet and reducing our toxin exposure can improve our sense of physical and emotional well being – many aspects of the simplicity philosophy provide stepping stones to incorporating these tools into our life.

Steps towards a simpler life

Limiting material possessions to what is needed and/or cherished

Meaningful work, whether paid or volunteer

Quality time with friends and family

Joyful and pleasurable leisure activities

A conscious and comfortable relationship with money, charting a course between deprivation and excessive accumulation

Connection to community, but not necessarily in formal organizations

Sustainable spending and consumption practices, such as recycling and supporting local, community-based businesses with fair labor and environmental practices

A healthy lifestyle, including exercise, adequate sleep, and nutritious food

Practices that foster personal growth, an inner life, or spirituality, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, religious ceremonies, journaling, and/or spiritual reading

A connection to nature, such as spending time outdoors regularly
Aesthetic beauty in personal environment



Proponents of Voluntary Simplicity stress it is not an overnight thing, rather most people take a number of years to simplify their lives. There is not a rulebook. What makes life easier for one individual or family is more stressful for another.

Wikipedia on simplicity

The Simplicity Network

Linda Breen Pierce’s simplicity resources

Simplicity articles in Natural Life magazine

No More Stuff a collaborative Australian blog on reducing consumption

Zen Habits

Affluenza with the catchy tagline “to reform the world, we must first reform ourselves”


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