Voluntary Simplicity and Ecological Minimalism

“The only normal people are the ones you don’t know very well”
Alfred Adler

[This is a guest post from Eric over at greenminimalism.com , part-time worker but full time RV guy and anticonsumerist etc. etc. Eric’s like my brother from another mother. Check out his blog for other excellent posts. I particularly love this one. I hope you enjoy his story – Mr Simple]


I was 27. I’d just divorced my wife after only two years of marriage. Despite being a ambitious and hardworking guy, I was stuck in the most boring job in the world. My father died. I was depressed and directionless.

Today, I’m 29. I’m independent, self-reliant, very healthy, well read, disciplined, work some pleasant part-time jobs. I’m happy.
How did I get from A to B? How did I turn off the well-trodden path of dull work, mortgages, financial slavery and ultimate dissatisfaction and break into freedom?
Strangely, the rupture caused by divorce helped me repair my life and forced me to think deeply about where my life was going. I had a midlife crisis, just a little early. Apparently most people reach an ‘omega point’ at around age 40 where they realize that most of their life has been spent and they still haven’t fulfilled any of the goals that they dreamed up in their youth. I was determined not to have such regrets.
An awful marriage and an awful job shook me into understanding that the conventional way that people live their lives is almost always the WRONG way to do it. Fortunately I still didn’t have a house at age 27 and my stressful office job had already paid off many of my debts, so I was able to quit the game. I resolved not to enslave myself with a mortgage, or children, or other commitments until I’d considered my short existence and worked out what I was on this planet for.
Full-time RV living and ecological minimalism revealed itself to be the best way to avoid conforming. I decided that most people live a disgustingly selfish lifestyle, where even marrying is often done on the basis of financial ladder-climbing rather than love. Even spousal love is kind of selfish in the way that it is a sort of turning inwards from the world.
Poor Indian laborers were working even worse hours than I did to provide all the possessions that I’d consumed in my life so far, and I’d hardly given them a thought. Okay, we get this sort of message shoved down our throats frequently. Yet I just don’t think that most people understand the damage that simply BEING NORMAL causes in our society – to fellow humans, to the environment and to ourselves.
Helping other people off the path has become my new mission, and I feel privileged to be able to post this on another blog with an identical ethos. We are few, but we are vocal, and we are intelligent and healthy unlike many. The best that we can do is show people that there is another route, and that there are no good objections against taking it.
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The simple living challenge – staring … you!

“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself”

Muhammad Ali

Here is a challenge. Live more simply for one month.

The rules of engagement:

1. Don’t buy anything for the next calendar month.

2. Solve your problems without spending.

3. There are no other rules.

Simple.

How to approach the challenge:

  • Don’t preload. Let the challenge roll around and adapt to your circumstances. This challenge won’t test you if you have stockpiled 3 months of supplies in your larder before you start.
  • Say goodbye to supermarkets and retail chains.
  • No candy bars, luxury coffee or eating out (or takeaway food). Unless they happen to be in your pantry when you lift the page on the new month.
  • Eat from your cupboards until the real challenge begins (e.g. when you are hungry and your cupboards are empty). This is the experience that hundreds of millions of people around the world are sharing with you. The difference is that they won’t have the relief that abundance of food brings at the end of the month.
  • Figure out how to solve your own issues and emergencies without money (the exception being real life threatening emergencies- in those instances go ahead and spend the money!).
  • You may have some gas left in the tank of your car, but no refilling. Walk or bike instead. Cop out 1: You can buy 6 bus or train tickets per week, but no more. Six tickets is just enough to get to and from work on a few critical days, but still leaves two days with a travel challenge of how to get to work without paying for gas. Some will succeed here. Many may fail.
  • Borrow stuff. Rely on others more. The key is to barter, swap and trade. Leeches won’t last a full month. You must give to receive and giving is better but harder without money.
  • Cop out 2: Fixed utilities bills (gas, water, electricity) and other fixed monthly payments are excluded from this challenge. It’s altogether too much hassle, and too big a leap for most, to suspend these bills entirely for the month.

So that’s it…

From the 1st of next month staple your wallet shut or padlock your purse. Game on people!
In one month please return to this post and leave a comment to let everyone know how you found the challenge. What did you learn from this challenge? How did you exceed your expectations of yourself? Where and why did you slip up? What were you most proud of?

3, 2, 1, … go!

Dirt and stars

“Nothing exists except atoms and empty space; everything else is opinion”

Democritus

We are made up of bacteria, star dust and atoms. Empty space mostly.

If you think about it deeply we are an amalgam of many other things. All the molecules and atoms that have assembled to make you have existed for a long time in the universe as something else…somewhere else. You are soil, a cow, a spear, a raindrop, cosmic dust, a meteor, a bear and some sunshine. Parts of all these forms have somehow manifested together perfectly to form you. When you return to the earth the parts of you will disperse on the wind, into the water and to the soil to become a flower, some dirt, a river and a deer. Another small part of you might continue down through your family line.

If just if, this impossible universe wills it there might be a future where the band is bought back together for one last number. The long forgotten jigsaw that was once you recollected again in the perfect manifestation. Until then recognise everything that you experience in your journey as simply something else in its temporary form. Each month of your lifetime you are renewed and recycled from the molecules and atoms of other things that rise from the soil to the plant (to the animal) into you.

You will acquire parts from matter you may find vile (evil dictators, spiders, snakes) but without whom you world cease to manifest. The universe sees puzzle pieces not friends and foes. If you understand your place in the cosmic puzzle it becomes easier to be kinder, more considerate and more compassionate towards the other pieces of this giant puzzle that are not yet you or part of your children or grand children.

Appreciating how far matter has had to travel across the universe to manifest each person you meet fills you with wonder and allows you to let go of hatred and temporary annoyance. Life is very very precious. Live yours kindly and wisely.

The fortress of solitude

“Silence is the source of great strength”

Lao Tzu

What is the longest you have been completely alone?

When I say completely alone I mean no TV, no radio, no internet, no dogs or any other animals. No books, newspapers or magazines.

No pop ins. No interruptions from delivery people or strangers. No music or phone calls.

Complete solitude. Just you and the crickets.

As I grown older I have come to appreciate my need for solitude.

Solitude lets you hear the silence.

Solitude gives you space to reflect.

When you are completely alone, and only when you are completely alone, do you ever learn just who you really are.

You don’t have a cleaning problem, but you may have a lighting problem

“Don’t stress in happymess. Bright and white is impolite. Grey is okay. A candle is the only way”

Mr Simple to Ms Simple

One of the greatest burns on our family time, and a source of a good number of discussions and debates, is house cleaning. There is just so much that could be, should be done and needs to be done. It’s not that we don’t like a clean, clutter free house. We do, but we don’t want to spend most of our free time picking up and cleaning. Is there a utopia? A half way point between spic and span and a cockroach infested den of disease? Can we find our happymess?

Three areas that we are focusing on in this quest are:

1)      Dividing tasks between ‘what must be done’, ‘what should be done’ and ‘what could be done’.

2)      Simplifying routines for tasks that that must be to be done so that they are completed effectively and efficiently.

3)      Discovering if there are any ways that we can eliminate the need to do, should do, or must do tasks.

4)      Learning to let go of what could be done and putting that time and mental energy to better use.

I have often heard females colleagues complain that their man ‘doesn’t see what needs to be done’ so they feel the need to constantly encourage or nag him to do more of the cleaning. This is really a difference of opinions about what must be done, should be done and could be done. More harmony should result if both are on the same page about which tasks fall into each of these categories. By agreeing what must be done you can ensure that the workload for the essential cleaning is shared more evenly.

We’ve identified the following must be dones in our hovel:

Dishes – as soon as we’ve eaten

Laundry – at least twice per week (cloth nappies everyday)

Bedding – changed weekly

Floors and counter tops – wipe down after any meal and cleaned thoroughly at least once per week (but the floor around the babies feeding chair needs to be cleaned after every meal. He’s a messy pup!)

Shower, bath and toilet – at least once per week

Picking up, packing up and putting away – as soon as we’ve finished with it

On top of that there is a lot of other scrubbing, disinfecting, cleaning and washing that could be done.

Why do we feel this compulsion of scour and scrub. It does not appear to relate to our own desires. More so how others may perceive us. There is also a strong expectation, probably created by manufacturers of cleaning products, that a hygienic home is white and bright. We are made to feel bad if surfaces don’t glisten or our counter tops dull from extensive use.   If our house is not white and bright we are dirty, lazy slobs. Friendless social isolates!

Two generations ago people didn’t scrub their floor with Ajax on a toothbrush. It wasn’t solely to do with multinational corporations foisting products. It was fundamentally because we didn’t have the ‘white and bright is right’ myth pervading our domestic existence. White and bright is an invention that was impossible until Edison. Before the lightbulb we lived by candle light. I’ve certainly noticed how the dimmer the lights the more grey is okay. So my pro premium cleaning tip: Replace your electric lights with candles and disappear some of the dirt in your house!!.

Also, because a lot of tidying and cleaning is for visitors I recommend managing appearances whenever possible. Some simple tips are:

  1. Put dirty dishes in the oven (out of sight) if you don’t have time to do them before visitors pop in. Visitors –dirty dishes-think oven.
  2. Always dust your TV – if it is the centre of most rooms and people will notice dirt and dust more than in other places.
  3. Always keep your doorstep and hallway clean and clear of clutter. First impressions and all that.
  4. Bust cleaning down into daily small tasks. Avoid the big weekend recovery clean. Or the mother-in-law is coming over emergency clean.
  5. Realise an overly clean house is actually very impolite.

Wait let me explain that last one (Ms Simple disagrees by the way)…If you visit a friend and they have a very clean house you feel bad. You think gosh they do all this work, raise three children and keep their home spotless! What failures we are!  On the other hand if their house were messier than yours you’d feel better about yourself. The secret thought ‘God they live in a tip. At least our place isn’t this grimy!’ would likely cross your mind…and so having a cleaner house than your friends makes them feel inadequate. Knowingly making someone feel inadequate is impolite and by SIMPLE logic a bright and white house is therefore very impolite and highly unacceptable.

Free yourself from over cleaning. Take a box of candles home tonight for your special someone.

Remember:

Don’t stress in happymess. White and bright is impolite. Grey is okay. Candles are the only way…