This blog is about my own journey to sustainability—getting outside of the box and being more authentically human. It’s about not viewing 'wealth' as money, but as something much more holistic and broad. The ideas presented here come from my newest book, The Good Life: How to Create a Sustainable and Fulfilling Lifestyle.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time for Voluntary Simplicity

The Chinese pictograph for "busy" is composed of two characters: heart and killing. When I first learned this, I thought about all of the people who are "too busy" to return a phone call; the many children who get money instead of their parents’ time; and the many times that any of us has an opportunity to touch someone’s life with kindness but we are "too busy". Life is moving way too fast: more and more people are becoming stuck in the stress of excess, which begins with possession overload and ends in time famine. It starts with choosing "stuff" over time.

Glossy, multi-colored advertisements for sleep products are regularly found in most major magazines. People just aren’t sleeping like their grandparents did. Some even claim that they don’t have time to sleep—that they are "too busy". The sale of pre-packaged and take-out foods has increased as people claim to be "too busy" to prepare food at home. In 1900, the typical American household spent six hours a day in food prep and cleanup. Last year, Americans averaged 31 minutes a day. We have been culturally conditioned to believe that 'time is money'.

The philosopher Heidegger explored the meaning of being as defined by time. He thought that an analysis of time gave us insight into our nature, our being. Can something as important as our nature, our very being, be defined by money? Is our life measurable in dollars and cents? One answer to these questions is offered by a new phenomenon, called "voluntary simplicity", that is sweeping the Country. "Voluntary simplicity" describes a process whereby people opt out of the harried life of modern day living, and choose to live a more frugal, simple life. Frugality in this sense doesn’t mean poverty. Rather, it means getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have the use of. And, it frees up time!

Frugal is characterized by, or reflective of, economy in the expenditure of resources. Simplicity means making time for yourself in a hectic world. You clear out what is superfluous and make room for that which is meaningful. As the pace of modern day life has taken its toll on people and we have all become increasingly concerned about over-consumption of earth resources, the movement toward voluntary simplicity has grown. Voluntary simplicity comes from within. It is a social movement that invites a more sustainable and spiritually connected existence. Voluntary simplicity is a matter of personal responsibility and conscious awareness of how we live on the planet. It means identifying the difference between our needs and our wants. Needs are those things that are necessary for our survival and actualization. Wants are all the other things we desire and to a large extent are driven by media advertising. Simplicity is the identifiable difference between needs and wants.

As we invite meaning into our lives, we start to become aware of the shallowness of a life based on materialism and consumerism. We become conscious of how much energy it takes just to keep up with the daily 'rat race'. We discover that getting a good job, getting married, having children, and securing a mortgage with a two-car garage still leaves us feeling incomplete. Without a sense of a deeper, spiritual meaning, we have a 'hole in our soul'. Some try to fill the hole with more "stuff"—consuming more and more and feeling less and less satisfied. 'Consume' by definition means to do away with completely; to destroy; to spend wastefully and squander – to use up.

Simplicity is a counter-direction: a more viable correction. In choosing simplicity, we can remember that we are spiritual beings, in a physical body, having a human experience. The journey toward a more simple and sustainable lifestyle begins by examining our expectations and assumptions, including the belief systems that drive us to live our lives in fast-forward, with the pedal to the metal. Down-shifting--being content with less "stuff" and slowing down—helps us take back our time. Moving out of the mindset of a consumer and into that of a citizen builds strong community ties. So, the next time that we see one another, let’s not rush past each other on the street like Mad Hatters, trying to "beat time". Let’s step out of the fast lane--smile and say hello, taking the time to invest in building socially sustainable communities.