I’ve been thinking for awhile about lifestyle changes and all the little things people are doing everyday to lighten their burden on the Earth, to be better stewards of the planet and everything and everyone on it. There are many reasons we all do the things we do; we tackle problems from different angles, and there are many positive aspects of our actions that we might not often stop to think about. But I, still trying to find joy in the benign, everyday experience, have thought about it quite a bit lately.
To me, even if suddenly issues like peak oil and climate change were no longer a problem, I would still continue to live the way I do and continue to try to live better with less, to me it doesn’t seem right that just because I live in an affluent nation I should be able to consume so much more than my fair share of the world’s resources. Let’s go out on a limb even further and say that global hunger and inequality were suddenly eradicated overnight, I would still live this way as I feel a wonderful sense of calm, freedom and homeostasis with the world around me.
Let me explain further. There is a concept Barry Schwartz talks about in the book The Paradox of Choice. It basically states that choice is a positive thing, to an extent, but it can get to the point where there is so much choice that even the simplest decision is suddenly not so simple. And if one is a conscious consumer of either products or information, there is even more anxiety that goes into decisions such as “what type of cereal should I buy? I have 75 different choices?!” or even more difficult “what source of news should I trust?” Living simply reduces a lot of these choices, though one’s choice of media is no simple decision no matter what, but when you buy locally, say at the farmer’s market, there is a variety of choice, but it is still limited in many ways. You won’t find lemons at the farmer’s market in Missouri, nor will you find 5 different kinds of them! If you subscribe to a CSA as we do, well, you get what they give you, and that makes things pretty easy.
But living simply goes far beyond consumerism; it has a lot to do with what you don’t do. Giving up our car was perhaps the most liberating thing I’ve ever done. Getting somewhere on my own accord is such a rewarding feeling. I know I am doing my part to reduce the negative aspects of gasoline. Not to mention, I don’t make useless trips, and thus get useless stuff, I have to think twice before I go somewhere as my ability to get there depends on the bus schedule, the weather, and if I feel like walking. At first this was tough, but then I began to appreciate having to figure out other things to do with my time. I began to do things like watch the birds in the neighborhood, even though they are just ‘lowly’ house sparrows, starlings, robins, cardinals, etc, and let me tell you, they are truly fascinating. Some of my favorite things to do now include taking a walk to the garden after dinner or reading a good book on a Friday night with the windows open and a nice cool breeze, not very exciting, but truly enjoyable and peaceful activities.
I spend time growing my own food, attempting to play music, learning about the people I care about, spending time with my animals, cooking, really very basic things.
I know so many people who feel overwhelmed by the ‘hustle and bustle’ of life, and I feel truly bad for them. We only have one life, and there is so much around us that we miss, small gestures from kind neighbors, baby squirrels making their way around one’s neighborhood, these small things are truly what matter in the end. We often complain about how we ‘have no time’ and for many this is a valid complaint. However, I often feel like we spend an awful lot of time talking about how little time we have, and we have to remember that we choose how to spend what little free time we do have. It feels wonderful to slow down, spend more time preparing meals, reading, enjoying nature, good friends, family, and neighbors.
Why am I waxing poetic like this? I guess it’s that I’ve seen a lot of signs of changes in our world to come, things that could be very bad like potential wars or climate catastrophes, possibly economic depression or collapse. But I also see signs of a change in the conception of reality for many people, close friends and family are coming around in ways I never thought possible, and I’m constantly amazed at the caring and resourceful people all over the world doing their little part. Not to mention, living in fear or with intense anxiety over a future out of one’s control can leave one feeling helpless and hopeless and cause many people to either just give up or become paralyzed with fear.
I live simply for many reasons, but I’ve found that as I’ve simplified my life, I’ve also limited the things to be anxious about but expanded the things I can get joy out of because I now appreciate things I used to take for granted. I’m truly happy, and I think many others too find immense personal satisfaction and joy in doing what they think is right: living simply, doing more with less, and having an identity defined by much more than the stuff they own or the size of their paycheck, or even how they earn that paycheck. I am much more than an Institutional Research Analyst.
I can only hope that if our world is forced to live a more humble way of life in the future that it can resemble something similar to the scene in my neighborhood last night. It was a gorgeous night; folks were out on their porches, cooling off and enjoying the weather; families were gathering to chat in the parking lots; a group of kids from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds were playing a rudimentary game of soccer in the parking lot; kids on bikes, a common nighthawk screeching and diving for bugs, you get the picture. It was a wonderful scene and it again illustrates how rich and beautiful a simple life can be.
I must also make note of the amazing sense of community the internet has fostered. It seems that many feel isolated in their physical communities. Not many people share our interests or values; we are vested in different things. Some of us, as we move through different levels of understanding about the world around us, begin to become distanced from those that used to be close to us, as we no longer see reality in the same ways. The common ground upon which we once stood is no longer there. Our neighbors are more like strangers. But what we’ve forged here in the blogosphere, though not real in the physical sense, has all the aspects of a functioning community, and I can’t speak for others, but you all have taught me so much, enriched my life, and given me a sense of belonging that is hard to feel when you are ‘out of the mainstream’. I think, given the specialized, self interested nature of many of our Western societies, like minded people may not be found next door, they may be across the world, but so long as we are there for each other, continue to teach each other, to continue to help each other through the troubles we all face, personal or as a whole, we have a common interest and common goals that bind us in ways our physical communities used to. That is not to discount our physical communities – anyone from Columbia, Missouri who reads this blog and is interested in what we stand for or have to say, please contact us; we would love to connect with more like minded people – but until things change, by choice or necessity, at least we have something, and as humble and minimal as it is, it is something to be thankful for.
So what do you guys think? In your journey to live a more ethical, sustainable, and socially just life, have you experienced any unexpected positive outcomes? Has living simply made your relationships easier, more satisfying or a nightmare? What has the blogging community brought to your life? To your sense of belongingness and ability to influence those around you? Do you see positive change on the horizon or more of the same? What keeps you all plugging away, doing what you can to make the world a better place?