My journey so far:
I finished my last two years of college in a rural school in Manitoba Canada. There I learned the importance of voluntary simplicity. Not only because of the lack of materialism, and simple mentality of most of the people attending the school, but also because it was a way of living that was heavily supported by a few of the teachers (who lived in a rural setting) who taught how to actively live a simple life in many of the classes. I also read the book “Voluntary Simplicity” by Duane Elgin, and it had a massive impact on my life.
I understand that my introduction to a simple life was very biased because of the environment where I first learned and experienced it… nevertheless, choosing a simple life is something that is very important to me today, and I believe that my imbalanced introduction to voluntary simplicity is one of the reasons why it has such a profound hold on my life.
The day after I graduated, I moved to a large urban center – Calgary, Alberta – to be with my fiancé and to start a new life. + Show Spoiler +
From the very get-go I had simplicity on my mind. We moved into a pretty granola part of town and I chose to find work where I could either bus or ride my bike successfully. I also started to value the arts above other extracurricular activities. Playing folk music and sharing my love of art with people quickly became a gateway to simple living. Music became a vessel to build meaningful relationships with people – instead of relying on other, more consumer focused activities to encourage relationship building.
while I was going to school in a rural area, I was living in the largest urban center in the province. I did not grow up on a farm and rarely have I lived in a rural space (except for in high school where I went to a private boarding school what was situated in a rural campus.)
My work-life journeys lead me to work at a homeless foundation where I learned the value in holding an occupation that was rooted in community and helping those in need. After a time of working for this type of organization, I branched off to a for-profit company where I had the chance to lead a team in marketing a business development, and presumably make a lot more money.
The pay was great, and there was a lot of opportunity to move ahead in the company. However, since the company was growing quite quickly many of the staff were at odds with each other to try and prove that they were worth a higher salary and the office quickly turned into a corporate game of hungry, hungry hippos. Eventually, as time dragged on and I became more disgruntled with the interpersonal bullshit, I left the company to return to the homeless foundation that I had worked at previously.
Much of my journey in living a simple life has been a challenge. Since I live in a Western, Capitalist nation, much of my simple choices is (mostly) at odds with what our society truly promotes. At times, despite my earnest wishes, I cannot break free from an environment that promotes consumption, materialism, unethical business models and general excess and wastefulness.
However, I have found some small victories in my simple living.
A Conscious Lifestyle
While in college, I never actually took at critical thinking course. However, after I graduated college, I decided that thinking critically (even in a grammatical way) was one of the most important aspects of life – and it is a call to simple living. I ordered a few used textbooks on critical thinking and read through them all to get a grasp on how to train myself to think critically.
In voluntary simplicity; critical thinking is at the root of how one should propose to live. Much of our society promotes an “auto pilot” way of living. For example, instead of taking the time to start a DYI project, we simple go and pay someone to do it for us. Also, we rarely think beyond our everyday choices and how they may affect the earth or the people around us. For most people, creating an option to ride a bike to work instead of driving is not important or viable… but perhaps it should be.
Now-a-days, my wife will get quite annoyed with me because I have to analyze or think critically about almost anything. Honestly, I can’t really control this anymore though. It is something I’ve simply trained myself to do. I’ve also found the joy in always staying engaged in life. I might be wrong, but I think that most people will go on “auto pilot” because thinking about everything all the time can be quite tiresome – we see this a lot when we go into a restaurant and people act like idiots because they’ve turned their brains off; but I don’t blame them half the time because they are on “vacation mode”. I never turn my brain off, and I try my best to stay engaged and thinking – many steps into the future – at all times.
Living in a Strategic Location
My wife and I live in an inner-city suburb. It’s located outside of downtown, but close enough so that work travel is very direct and easy. It is also a part of town right by the river where most of the residences are pretty “granola”. The cost of living here is also quite low, yet the community is still quite safe and free of crime. It is a working class suburb so the people are very down to earth and less interested in having big homes or a lot of material possessions. People value art and getting outdoors (a lot of people cycle throughout the year and own dogs – almost everyone in fact). It is not uncommon to meet strangers at the bar who are very friendly and are willing to create long-lasting relationships. While living here, I can cycle or bus to work very easily.
I believe situating oneself in this type of environment is crucial to living the simple life. We are all a product of our environment, in one way or another, and it is very important to have a conducive environment to a simple life if this is in fact how one wishes to live.
A Community Focused Occupation
I gave up a very progressive career option to return to the homeless foundation. I hold a managerial role here and I feel very valuable to the work that is accomplished on behalf of the needy population. Also knowing that I do not support the growth of the material world gives extra value to this position. I do not think my friends and family in the for-profit world are wrong or immoral or are living a bad life; I would rather choose this life for myself and my family and find an alternative way to work and exist in our society.
It was also very important for me to work downtown where I could easily access going to work without having to drive there in my own car. This was also a crucial reason why I left my last job, because our office had moved out of downtown due to extreme growth.
My work-life balance is also very biased to the “life” side of things. Even though I find much value in my work; I’m still “living for the weekend”. For me, my occupation is ranked 4th or 5th on my attributes of things that define me as an individual or define my ideas of what makes me important in this life.
Feeling Connected to the Earth and the Universe in General
I suppose you could say I am a spiritual person… my close friends might even say I am religious. I do enjoy the traditions of most wisdom traditions of our world (mainly Christianity – perhaps of the mystic and meditative persuasion) but I’m also a very analytic and down-to-earth type of person. Perhaps most people would not even know that I value or participate in spiritual practices if they ever met me, and I don’t care to ensure that they would know… One thing is for sure, taking an emphasis off of materialism, money and consumerism does open up room for other, more ethereal values to exist. On top of this, I strongly value art and music and many of the artists and musicians I’ve met hold similar values to spirituality and “feeling” things… I suppose this community encourages my need to experience “other worldly” things as well.
Technology and Simplicity
Some people who value simplicity move away from technology and try to “unplug” or live off the grid. On the other hand, I strongly believe that technology inspires simplicity and encourages a more simple life. For example, I no longer need to pay my bills by delivering a letter or physically driving to the bank; I can simply open an app on my phone and pay my bills. This is one of the main reasons why I love Stacraft2. I have paid roughly $60 for an amazing game that has provided hundreds of hours of enjoyment. I am always looking for better ways to use technology to inspire simplicity and make it a viable life choice.
My Struggles with Voluntary Simplicity
I have a burning urge in my heart to create a simple life for myself and my family. However, there are two major issues that arise from this. The first is the fact that a simple life means we will be limited in a society that is always grasping for more. I suppose, in a way, I have pigeon holed myself into a situation where I cannot attain more… perhaps I even self-sabotaged myself while working at the for-profit company. Regardless, this is the life I have chosen and it can be hard to live comparatively to the people around me in an affluent society.
My second issue is finding it hard to choose the simple options in a society that has deep roots in consumerism and earth-harming systems. Two of the greatest areas where I struggle are food and clothing. Some of my granola friends and family are trying to find a way to eat less earth-harming foods. However, if you’re not growing it yourself in your own garden, I strongly believe it is almost impossible to find/eat food that isn’t produced through earth-harming practices – mostly for those of us who live in large urban centers (if you’re living in a rural area, this may be more easily attainable). Also, much of our clothing these days is created through systems that not only harm the earth but humans as well. Ultimately, I believe these two areas are almost completely monopolized by capitalism and lost to commercial practices. Perhaps I need to do a little more research and try a little harder…
My overall goal is to die one day without leaving a massive footprint on the earth. I’m starting to believe that harmony with people, nature, the earth and the universe is one of the most important aspects of living a meaningful life. I believe in consciousness after death, and that consciousness is intertwined throughout the universe. I suspect these ideas may change as I continue to live my life and experience things. I aim to keep an open mind and heart as I explore a voluntarily simple life.