Simple living is so in right now. In the age of information overload, maximum efficiency, and consumerism, life is tiring. Many people are coming to the realization that as difficult as it may be initially, it is better to back away from facebook, the iphone, the laptop, that to-do list, the mall. Turning from the busyness and embracing simplicity can remind you that the world turns even when you’re not watching over it through the lens of your computer screen, that you really can make it through this autumn without that new anthropologie jacket, and that that phone of yours really is not a plastic sixth finger.
The noble thing about choosing to live simply is that it’s just that: a choice. To have the discipline to not check facebook first thing in the morning, or sit through a meal without giving in to the urge to turn on the TV, it’s admirable. Limiting yourself to reading just the important information, curbing digital time-wasting, reflecting on the exhausting money earning and burning cycle, aiming for more organic interaction with your friends… I think that we can all see the value in this decluttering of our time and brain-power, but it’s easy to get comfortable with the fast-paced, complex, entertaining world in which we live- in which we are encouraged to partake.
I have no choice in the to “live simply or complicatedly” matter right now. In two days, I will embark on my journey into simple living. I’ll only be towing one suitcase behind me (with a limit of 50 pounds). Here are some things that will not be hiding in that suitcase, objects I will be without for six months:
- My Chi straightener, hair dryer, and curling iron
- My 2 pillows (one firm and the other feathery)
- My… thirty-something dresses
- Make-up (this is terrifying me)
- Most of my jewelry
- Tabooli, the dog
- All but one of my credit cards (Ecuador uses US dollars, so I’ll be paying with cash to avoid foreign transaction fees)
- My own bedroom (found out today that I will be sharing a room with a German girl! I’m just as confused as you are)
- Huge salads topped with tons of vegetables, parmesan cheese, sunflower seeds, and vinaigrette (I eat one of these pretty much every day)
- Free, effortless, daily access to the internet
- My car (and, thankfully, all of its expensive problems… it broke down on the highway en route to my going-away get-together two evening ago… I am very ready to be car-less)
- My cell phone (well, I’m bringing it along for my travel days, but the service will be suspended when I’m in Ecuador)
- Easy, frequent contact with the outside, English-speaking world
- TV, and word of new movies
I’ve made efforts to strip my life of excess before. Although I was never Catholic, Lent appealed to me my middle-high school years because it gave me the chance to give up something (usually I picked TV). I’ve been four months facebook free. I’ve even tried going the basic dietary route (cutting out any food that stemmed in cruelty) and endured two months as a vegan (this was not nearly as simple as I thought it might be, but eating only plant-based nutrients did feel refreshing). There is something in me, probably in all of us, that just wants to live on the marrow of life, not the fat. Reduce our dependencies on technology, cut back on the mindless time-suckers like TV shows (that was hard to type, as I am prone to TV series addictions), reevaluate the value of a facebook friendship in light of an actual hang-out buddy, cut back on possessions we are conditioned to desire but don’t really need (since they end up making our lives and budgets more strained and keep us from being in a position where we have extra with which to bless others).
Each time I’ve been to a country in need (Guatemala and Jamaica), I’ve come away from the experience with a new sense of how to live simply and the joys of living simply. The people I have met in these parts of the world have blown me away with their ability to delight in the company of friends and share laughter over a slow-cooked meal, a good game of soccer, or a sultry afternoon spent relaxing outside. They seem to posses a true thirst for fellowship that we, here in the “developed” world, often lack. I’m a big fan of skype, blogs (obviously), and emails as a way to communicate with my friends from all over. And, yes, facebook can be fun (heck, many people reading this post probably found it using a link on my facebook wall). It’s just that I don’t even know my own neighbors. Not counting Jeremiah, I maybe hang out with my friends once a week. As much as I am drawn into it (checking it… many times a day), facebook is a poor substitute for authentic companionship.
And then there’s the value of monetary simplicity. I realized a while ago that if you want to save up money, you can a. work more, b. make higher wages, c. spend as little as possible. Options a and b are often not true options for me, so saving is usually my best bet. With volunteering, it really is my only option. I have a set amount of money and if I’m not careful, I’ll run out. And that would be bad. Sure, housing and food is provided, but transportation costs are not. Plus I know that, as simply as I’ll be keeping things, I will want to explore and experience Ecuador, which will not be free. The rule I have devised so that I don’t run out of money? $1 a day, or if I don’t spend my dollar one day, then $2 the next day. That’s all I can spend. No rule-bending possible! It should be a good way for me to get into the habit of budgeting and practicing saying “no” to my consumer urges.
I’m hoping to return home in April, reminded that I lived for six months on just a suitcase, minimal spending money, little access to technology, few beauty products, and few of the modern conveniences I use without a second thought at home. With that kind of minimalism under my belt, I hope to be better at living a small in excess, but large in quality kind of life for years to come.