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The Simple Life (Part 1)

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Wouldn't it be great to work less? And maybe work at things you really, passionately believe in? And be recession-proof? It's possible. In fact, millions of people in North America alone have been doing it for years. In a movement called Voluntary Simplicity.
The idea is to live an inwardly rich, but outwardly simple life. To stop being a consumer (who uses up the earth's limited resources) and go back to being a citizen (someone who's a contributing member of society).
Wait, I know what you're thinking: Yeah yeah, it's all very well to talk about living with less, but I have kids, a mortgage, credit card debt, etc etc.

Guess what? None of it matters. It may take you longer to get to a place of peace and financial independence, but it's never too late! Today, you're going to read (and watch) part one in a three-part series.
Read on!

Watch today's video!

Before we begin, here's how the series breaks down:
Part 1: What is voluntary simplicity--dispelling common myths
Part 2: How do I break my shopping addiction (concrete steps)
Part 3: How do I bring voluntary simplicity home to my spouse, parents or kids who want nothing to do with it.

So let's start with Part 1:
What is voluntary simplicity or slow living?
Wikipedia defines it as:
A lifestyle characterized by minimizing the 'more-is-better' pursuit of wealth and consumption. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in 'quality time' for family and friends, stress reduction, personal taste or frugality.

What it's not:
* Deprivation: The idea is to work less so you have more time to do the things that fulfill you. You also focus on personal and spiritual growth. When you're happier and more fulfilled, you'll find you need less stuff. So there's no deprivation. It just looks that way to folks who are addicted to material wealth.

* Poverty: Although some adherents of the VS lifestyle do live in the woods in shacks, a vast majority live in urban centres and even suburbs! So banish the image of the hippie in the forest. Simplicitarians come in all shapes, colours, sizes and backgrounds. You could retain your job as CEO while embracing this lifestyle. If your work gives you meaning and fulfillment, there's no need to quit. And you can make as much money as you want-- the idea is to use it wisely and thoughtfully. And not buy anything you don't need.

* A celebration of luddites and ascetics: Most of the simplicitarians I know own computers. A few even own cars. But they REALLY enjoy using them and aren't slaves to the items and technology they own. If you can make do without an item, then the idea is to let it go or not buy one. But if you truly need it in your everyday, by all means, enjoy! Simplicitarians also tend to own very good quality items-- this is because they recognise the social and environmental benefits of buying things that work well and last long. And since they don't fritter away their cash, when they need the latest left-handed veeblefeezer, by gum, they can afford it!

* Something for single people or renters: The benefits of simplicity are magnified when you have kids or a mortgage. Choosing work around your ethics and ideals makes you a better parent, lover and partner. And if you work less, you have more quality time to spend with your family. You have more energy at the end of the day and aren't likely to be distracted, married to your Blackberry or ignoring your kid's request for a bedtime story.

Okay, okay, I'm convinced. But HOW?
Ahh, for that you'll have to tune in (or visit the blog) this Friday. I'll bring you Louis Chauvin's step-by-step guide to breaking your shopping addiction. If you think this doesn't apply to you, take this little quiz:
1. Have you ever come home after a shopping jag and wondered, "why on earth did I buy this?"
2. Do you have more clothes (per season--adjusting for Montreal weather!) than you wear on a regular rotation?
3. If you went through your closet today, would you find something with tags still on that you haven't purchased in the last week?
4. Do you feel that your money just disappears out of your wallet without you having anything truly pleasurable to show for it?
5. Are you in debt?
6. Do you stay up at night wondering how you're going to make ends meet?
7. Do you feel guilty that you can't buy your kid ... (fill in the blank)?
8. Did you buy your kid a (fill in the blank) because you feel lately like you've let her down?
9. Does your "work" (what you do for money) line up perfectly with your morals, ethics and desire to leave this world a better place?
10. When you're angry/ tired/ frustrated/ depressed, do you treat yourself to "retail therapy"?
11. Have you, in the last week, bought something on sale that you didn't know you wanted till you saw it?

If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, sounds like you could use a little voluntary simplicity in your life....

To help you get started:
Don't want to wait till Friday for the next installment of my series? Check out these resources:
Réseau Québécois pour la Simplicité Volontaire: This is the Quebec chapter of the international movement. The website's all French and most of the services are offered in French only. But they're very nice people and can help you set up a local Anglo meet-up group if you're so inclined.

For folks who don't read French and want more info: The Simple Living Network. You can sign up (it's free) and read the articles, join the forums and get all the support you need.

Or, how about you swap the socially, economically and environmentally unsustainable American Dream for a New Dream? Again, a wonderful (free) online resource.

So there you go. A surprising side door that may lead many of us out of this fiscal mess. I want to know what you think? Is voluntary simplicity something you'd consider? Are you already living it? What are you doing to transform yourself from a consumer to a thoughtful citizen? Leave me a comment or call our Talkback Line: (514) 597-5626

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Comments (5)

Alison Proteau


THIS WAS AWESOME!! Geeta, kudos on running such a socially conscious and timely piece. I loved it.
Since moving to the 'burbs and a much more fashion conscious society I became more spendy. We had a better income so we spent accordingly since we hadn't been able to really indulge ourselves before. We'd made it! so we celebrated. NOW? I have been going back to my simpler ways now for over a year. I started focusing more on my gardens than on my wardrobe, growing beauty and food rather than needing more closet space. Lately, since the recession started causing some insecurity in our household, we took a hard stance at reducing our debt so that we can live a more free existence. By that I mean, a more secure and worry free existence.
Thanks a million for the links as well. You rock!!

Posted April 1, 2009 11:05 AM

Yana Gorbulsky


I think I have to agree with the saying that less is more...

Posted April 1, 2009 05:42 PM

Elena Kozlova


Wow, this is a really smart way to live! Though... If people work less time, doesn't that mean that they'll have even less money which they won't spend anyways? Since they still have to pay off any and all debts from the past before starting the Simple Life lifestyle?

Hehe... Just wondering.

Geeta says:
You're right of course. My advice is to get yourself the book "Your Money or your Life" pronto. It explains how to rid yourself of past debt even while working and earning less. I'm actually living it now myself-- I've had my schedule reduced to a 4 day work week. Sure I make 20% less, but I find I need fewer "treats" (restaurants, shopping sprees, etc) because I'm more relaxed. I have time to cook so we eat out less; I have time to prepare food for my animals, so we buy fresh ingredients instead of the pricier pre-mixed food, I want to go out less and just enjoy my time with my sewing or knitting or books. It's funny how synergistic it all is. But there's a process that you need to understand before it can work for you. And the fact is, there's no one-solution-fits-all. Look into it... I've only just begun, but already it's made a huge positive difference.

Posted April 3, 2009 07:20 AM

Elena Alonso


I completely agree with this lifestyle philosophy! For the past year I have lived in Qatar for a job I didn't like just to make more money, and I decided after my year contract not to renew and to go home and live happily rather than wealthily. Especially since here in the Middle East everything is energy intensive, and I've been driving around an SUV (gas is cheap at 22 cents a litre). I'm not sure I'll have a job when I get home, considering this awful economic crisis, but I don't need a lot - I have a condo downtown (mostly paid for by my one-year stint here - for that I am grateful), and since it's downtown I don't need a car - in fact I plan on signing up with Communauto, who have a lot two blocks away from my place. I love biking over to the Atwater market to buy fresh local organic produce and meats and cooking from scratch. The base ingredients are more expensive when they're organic but overall it's much cheaper than going to restaurants, and much yummier and healthier too! I love walking / jogging around for exercise, rather than joining a posh and expensive gym. In winter I take my cross-country skis to Mount Royal and really enjoy the freshly fallen snow. I can't wait to get my garden going, starting a compost and growing fresh veggies! I couldn't be happier at the thought of going home and simplifying my life - money isn't everything.

Geeta says:
Hurrah for you Elena! You certainly sound like a woman who knows what she wants. I feel exactly the same way. I too have discovered the joys of cooking from scratch with fresh produce (bought in minimal packaging). With our crazy schedules, my husband and I used to eat out at least 5-7 times a week. Now it's down to maybe once! And purely for pleasure. It's amazing how in just a month and a half, tracking my expenses has brought them down.

Posted April 20, 2009 09:49 AM

Louise Fabiani


Very thorough and inspiring description of a much-misunderstood concept. Managing simplicity can appear complicated, but you make it seem a lot more accessible. Hope this starts a renewal in interest, if only because of the economy!

Posted April 27, 2009 11:59 AM

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