Friday, June 5, 2009

What Is Simple Living?

"Living simply isn't about self-imposed poverty; it's about consciously deciding what is important in life and reducing our needs to those of greatest importance."

- Linda Cockburn, Living the Good Life

I am reading Linda's book Living the Good Life at the moment and am finding it very motivating. I would recommend it to anyone interested in living sustainably. You can also check out her blog here.

There are a some ideas from Linda's book I wanted to mention today about living simply. I must admit the term 'simple living' is not something I usually say out loud. I find it has a certain cringe factor about it. A lot of people seem to have no idea what it means and end up giving me a sympathetic poor you attitude that assumes we are living simply because we can not do otherwise. I find people fail to realise the environmental impact of living a high consumerism lifestyle, as well as the health impact of fast, convenience foods. Even as I try to explain to them why we have made these decisions, they have already turned off - I can tell they do not understand.

I no longer try to explain our lifestyle choices to people. Friends can read about it here (and some do - hi Diana) and other friends are happy to remain oblivious and label us as hippies. That's ok, our choice to live simply was not made so we can broadcast to the world how great we are. There is no need for us to tell everyone about it, but for those that are interested I have always struggled to describe our way of life in a few sentences.

To me, simple living encompasses so many aspects - the environment, our health, saving money, reducing consumerism (and waste), the family and the list goes on. It is empowering because we are not being caught up in the flow of today's society that demands that happiness must come with excess packaging and a huge credit card debt.

But going against society's norm is challenging. It is hard to stick to your guns when advertising is screaming at you wherever you turn. When socialising with friends generally comes with a price tag. There are days when I really do feel like I am swimming against the tide - perhaps one of those really strong rips you avoid when you go to the beach. That no matter how hard we try, advertising will suck us under and back into the evil underworld of shiny plastic things. So why do we keep struggling?

Linda says "living simply or sustainably, whatever term you use, may mean that from the outside looking in, you may be labelled poor. This is a construct of our society, which builds its successful-person model on income, what products they choose to spend it on, how they 'wear' it, what house they live in and what they drive."

And yet, those of us that embrace simple living know that whilst it is the opposite of what society deems successful, it is far from poor. And that is what I sometimes have a hard time conveying to others. There is absolutely no need to feel sorry for people living simply. In fact I sometimes feel sorry for those who don't. But after reading Linda's book, I think I have found how to describe what we do and why we do it to people.

Linda describes simple living as "not about giving things up, forsaking them, frugality, denial, stinginess, deprivation or lack. It's about taking things up: self-determination, freedom, autonomy and abundant living."

What do you think best describes simple living? I'd love to hear your ideas on how or if you describe living simply to others and what responses you get.


Anonymous said...

Great post Emma. To be honest – I don’t try and describe sustainable living to anyone other than my husband. Whenever I feel the urge to speak to someone about the choices we make - I feel like anything I say will be criticising the way they live their life. So I find myself not expressing my true feelings most of the time.

There are the odd occasions I cannot keep my mouth shut – like in the tea room the other day at work when a few colleagues were chatting about how unreal it was that a ping pong table could be bought for $15. I made the comment ‘a ping pong table cannot possibly be made for $15 – if you didn’t pay for it all - who or what did?’ – they all just laughed and one said ‘you and your morals Tricia’. But I think my comment made them think.

To me simple living is mostly about slowing down, spending precious moments with my family and fairness. It’s just not fair that I take more than my share of the earth’s resources – so I try not to.


angela said...

I know exactly how you feel. Only this morning my parents came over to visit and offered to buy me a surround sound system for our TV. They thought I couldn't afford one so that was why I didn't have one. When I said that I didn't want one, they did not know how to accept that. They think everyone want's everything and could not accept that I had made that conscious choice, and why did I want to look poor.

Darren (Green Change) said...

It's a great book, I read it a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it. Lots of great ideas, and I liked seeing things from an "inside the family" perspective. As you say, looking in from the outside doesn't always give you the whole story, as people generally don't share everything for fear of looking wacko. :-)

I'm now reading The 100 Mile Diet, which is another great one to get you thinking about food, where it comes from, and how our environmental destruction affects it.

Sometimes sustainability is more palatable when you tell people you're doing it either for health reasons or to save money. And sometimes frugality is more palatable when you tell people you're really caning your mortgage for a few years so you can be more free later. :-)

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