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Friday, August 30, 2013

Are you possessed? Part 2: Wealthy or not, why living with less is good for you... and not only for you

Point and shoot kinda gal, Flickr

"Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate." (Victor LeBeau, Retail Analyst Post WW II)

It's happened again: a friend just told me about a successful lawyer who quit her practice, moved to a smaller town, and started writing cookbooks.

It seems like we are experiencing a different kind of brain drain these days: smart, successful people quitting their jobs to do something less prestigious, less stressful, more meaningful... even if that means letting go of a certain status, of a higher income and of good benefits In some cases, even if it means letting their diplomas gather dust.

Parallel to that (and often entangled with it) is the new tendency to simplify and downsize materially (as in: less having, less doing, more being).

As a general phenomena, this trend has a few different names:

  • Simple living
  • Voluntary simplicity
  • Frugality
  • Minimalism
  • And the occasionally associated nomadism (living on the road, living on the sea)

What those all have in common is that they aim at escaping the consumerist-based lifestyle, this never-ending loop in which you work, consume, work, consume, and rarely take (or find) the time to just BE:  

"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it." (Ellen Goodman)

People who move toward such disencumbered lifestyle are looking for a life that is simpler, lighter, more meaningful. This can take various forms and can be applied to various areas at various intensities.

Other than letting go of a demanding, unfulfilling job (or go part-time, or work from home), some become environmentally-friendly to the bone, live off the grid, or adopt a perpetual globe-trotter lifestyle. Some opt for drastic downsizing and get rid of most possessions. Some embrace thrifting, and barter goods and services. Most choose to live with less (sometimes very little) money and/or stuff, and less structured activities.


  • To lower stress and improve health: a lot of us are overwhelmed by all our responsibilities and the pressures put on us, and realize it doesn't have to be that way... especially when our health is suffering from it;
  • To put priorities in order: a lot of us feel that they are sacrificing the important (e.g. family, social life, creative activities, physical activities, contact with nature) to pursue the unimportant (a big title and a big paycheck, or simply a job we don't like);
  • To pursue a dream: a lot of us have a dream on the back of our head that we have put on ice in order to pursue more mainstream, approved and sometimes acclaimed endeavors;
  • To help the environment and the rest of the world: a lot of us realize that our consumerist lifestyle does not occur in a vacuum, and is detrimental to both the planet and other, less fortunate human beings.

Longing to have an impact on the world? 
Well, guess what... you already have one.
Just not the one you were thinking about.
Watch this fantastic video to learn all about it:

I am one to believe that simplifying our lives can only do us good. However, I am not one to build my own house and raise goats. I have fantasized over a life on the oceans, but I don't have the guts (and D does not have sea legs). Never mind those obstacles, I think moving away from a consumerist life and toward a simpler life can be beneficial for me. And so can it for you! 

You don't have to be particularly skillful, or a vegan, or a bohemian (although those are great!) You don't have to live an ascetic life in a monastery (but why not?) You don't have to be unusually wealthy or completely broke (although people from everywhere on this continuum go for the simple lifestyle). You don't need to become an extreme couponing adept (blah). You don't have to let go of all luxury (oh no!). You only have to find your own, personal, unique recipe to simplicity.

The benefits

Simplicity is like drinking water: if you've never really done it, you might find it tasteless at first... but get used to it and you will discover that it is much more fullfilling, and much lighter at the same time, than all the alternatives (juice, pop, alcohol, coffee). 

On top on saving money, your health and the planet, having a simpler life could help you:

  • Find serenity, feel free, liberated, and fulfilled in a way that materialism cannot fulfill you;
  • Reconnect with yourself, find your center and live according to your core values and priorities;
  • Reconnect with others: "Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people." (Elizabeth Green)
  • Reconnect with the universe: amazing things will start happening, or more precisely, you will start to notice amazing things you didn't notice before. For example, when I came out of the gym the other day, it had rained, and I noticed the dampness of the air and the smell of the water on the asphalt. I liked it. I paused to BE in the moment.

In the next post, we will study more in depth the HOW of simplifying our lives. Until then, tell us: 

How do YOU simplify your life, and how does it make you feel?


  1. We haven't really simplified our lives but for us we try to make sure that the things we are doing are because we love doing them not because we have to so that we can say we live a certain way or have certain things. Even with our boys activities we never force them to do extra activities but when they love things we support it 100%.
    For us, this seems to working Ok in keeping our lives semi-simple.

    1. What I hear in what you say is that you live a mindful life with an awareness of your choices. That's the first step to a healthy simplicity. :-)

  2. Great video and project! Four years ago, in a conscious effort to step out of a very stressful way of life, I took early retirement. My bank account didn't like it, but I sure did. Life is sweeter now, and I savor the little things. It isn't always easy, but it has been the best thing for my physical and mental health. I have rediscovered buying clothes and household items at thrift shops -- way back in my college days I did this, too. I still treat myself to, say, a weekly latte at my very favorite coffee roaster, and that latte is a joy to behold. There are so many ways that simplifying my life and reducing my consumption has added a richness and sense of purpose to my existence. I look forward to the next post! Great Job!

    1. Thank you Tara for that insightful comment!

  3. That is something I have thought about often, as our entire lives seem to be dictated by ever achieving more.

    We come into this world and go to kindergarten, then school, then university and then we work. All of these, except kindergarten (although many parents today even at that stage want their children to "perform"), ask us to reach the next goal: the better grade, the diploma, the degree, the promotion. We are rewarded with money for going through these troubles, but then usually only use that money to go into an escalation competition over possessions with our friends, colleagues and neighbours.

    It seems that only when our lives are nearly over we are free to say, this is it, I have done enough, now I can live.

    Isn't that, I asked myself, a bit too late?

    1. Nice comment, full of wisdom, evilcyber.

      We only get one shot at this, so my philosophy is to be happy with my life (and to allow myself to live) every step of the way. It doesn't mean sitting on my behind and sipping margaritas all day long, but it means finding a healthy balance.

  4. statistically, how many of those simpler life people are women?

    1. Good (and possibly loaded) question! hahaha!

      There might still be more pressure on men to define themselves through their paid work. For example, is it easy for a man to be a stay-at-home father and be accepted that way?

      On the other hand, there might be more pressure on women to accomplish things all across the board, i.e. the 2 shifts: 1 shift at work, and 1 shift at home with the kids, the chores, etc.

      As for the accumulation of stuff, there is another stereotype that women are shoppers and buy stuff more often... and focus on appearance more... but the stuff men buy could be more expensive (especially if it has a motor).

      I'm just throwing ideas in the air here, NOT making statements! :-) I would be curious to hear what others have to say about this!

  5. I have been thinking of simplifying my life for a little bit. Thanks for this inspirational article. I'm sure I can find things in my life that I don't need, and get rid of them.

    1. I'm confident you WILL find things (stuff, activities, etc.) you can get rid of! Come back and tell us about your progress! :-)

  6. I can't wait for your next post ! I want to know the tricks of the trade ! My life seems so complicated as it is now ......

    1. It's coming, dear! My own life just got busier (I'll tell you more soon), so the blog might be lagging behind... but it's for a good reason. :-)

  7. I support and share this kind of thinking, Julie!

    See, we called ourselves human BEINGS, not human DOINGS!

  8. Hi Julie! Relatively speaking, I live smaller than most people I know, regarding stuff. We have quite few pieces of used furniture. I shop thrift stores and donate to them too. I tell myself no to cute shoes on sale that I really don't need. I eat less food than I used to eat, which is good for the environment. I eat mainly vegetarian for about 5 days out of the week. I buy less baggies and disposable stuff than most people buy. I prize my family and personal time. I do volunteer for meaningful activities that enrich me.

    My middle daughter lives "small" with her clothing. She told me that for each piece of clothing that a person gets rid of, the favorite clothes actually get wore more often. And consequently, a person looks better for donating clothing that is rarely worn. I tried this and it is--really true! I am looking better on a daily basis. :D

    1. You seem to be doing good in your relationship with stuff, Marion!

      And your daughter offers a valuable piece of advice here. :-)

  9. I so agree with you on the importance of paying attention to other routes to happiness besides money and status and possessions!

    One of the things I love about Provincetown is that its full of people who fell in love with the beauty and creativity of the place and gave up professions and homes and made all sorts of compromises in order to come here. Many take lower status jobs and live on less in order to pursue their dreams as artists, writers, performers etc. Often the person selling T-shirts in the souvenir shop or waiting tables or doing landscaping work used to be a lawyer or an accountant or an SVP of a big company, but now they are painting or singing or whatever. Love being around that kind of energy!

    1. Wonderful example, Crabby! It must be a great energy to be around! The daily environment in which you live (in this case, Provincetown) might be as important as your actual occupation.

  10. LOVE your water analogy!

    These are cousins of one of my best friends. I'm hoping to spend time with them this summer to get a real taste of off the grid, minimal living.

    I have scaled back so much, and enjoy the freedoms greatly. I do plan on scaling back even more though. I have zero debt, so one possible exploration is to rent a room somewhere, and try living off minimum wage for a year. I'm even willing to walk away from my business to explore this. Easy to consider, much harder to pull the trigger -- though I am a trigger puller at heart...


  11. Yes, scaling back brings freedom.

    I chose to live with very, very little while I was a student to avoid amassing debt. Best decision of my life.

    Thank you for your comment!