Voluntary Simplicity

Lännersta, mars 2007photo © 2007 Lars Rodvaldr | more info (via: Wylio)

Recently, I decided to move to a simpler life.

I enjoyed simplicity while I was growing up. But once I started earning, there was a period of lust for buying different things. Everyone around me seemed to be doing it and I joined in. However, in the last two years, I have felt that most of these possessions only provided momentary satisfaction, before the need to have the next one arose. It felt like an addiction. I felt that, in the long run, these were causing more stress than pleasure. They cause clutter in the house – there were so many things to use and do, that I would get confused which one to put my attention to. Once they were out of use, which was often, I did not feel like getting rid of these expensive things and would feel guilty for not using them. Also, I realized whenever I was faced with the larger question of boredom, of the lack of happiness and contentment, I bought something new and tried to find happiness in it.

I realized that happiness does not reside in any thing outside of our selves, it is a state we choose, it lies within us. We don’t require anything or anybody to be happy.

And then came the idea of simplicity. I am reading a book I found at my local library. Its called ‘Voluntary Simplicity’, by Duane Elgin. I quite like it and am relieved to find him explain simplicity as not outright abstinence but as voluntary alignment to life’s purpose.

Simplicity has a wrong notion among a lot of people. People relate it with a life of scarcity and poverty. They identify simplicity with folks living in villages with bare minimum possessions. They think it is to renounce all comforts and progress, to renounce aesthetics and beauty. This is all wrong, an ill-informed, fearful response towards something that people don’t understand.

What is simplicity?

Borrowing from Richard Gregg, a student of Gandhi,

Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance in other directions.

Simple living is empowering and enriching. It is enrichment of the inner self. It means to live a purposeful life that is in harmony with life around us.

Uplifting simplicity vs outright abstinence. Simplicity does not mean you have to force yourself into a life of abstinence from comforts. It means you decide to consciously cut down and keep yourself to what is essential for your purpose and a comfortable life. Cut down anything that neither aligns with your purpose nor gives you any comfort. You might have enjoyed it at some point in time, but now it needs to go.

Voluntary simplicity vs involuntary poverty. This is an important distinction. Poverty is not simplicity. Whereas poverty is involuntary and creates hopelessness and despair, simplicity is voluntary and makes a person feel empowered, purposeful and happy.

The introduction of ‘Voluntary Simplicity’ is given by Ram Doss, a well known authority on simple living in the Western world.

He talks about his time in India where he saw the slow moving, simple life in a village. Although life is simple in such places, it is not out of choice. It was the life they were born into and saw no option out. Most of them harbor a desire to have more material possessions and comforts. They haven’t even seen a lot of the comforts of the ‘developed world’ and their desires haven’t been tested by the pull of the material comforts and possessions possible for humans today. Some of these people are very poor and don’t know where their next meal would come from. This is not simplicity, this is poverty, debilitating and demeaning.

Its expression is different for different people. There are no well defined steps to a simpler life. Different people find different purposes in their life. Different people also have different ideas about the optimum standards of living. This means that what is unnecessary for one might be important for the other. Every person has to decide for himself/herself what is essential.

We cannot compare two people starting out on simplicity. If they have totally different purposes or different standards of living, what they cut out on will be very different. If you are rich, you don’t need to feel guilty about it. Nor do you need to make any drastic changes that suppress your desires and leave you wanting more. It has to be an easy process that feels light and right. It should make your life feel de-cluttered and simple. Its not an instant process but a life long commitment.

What is important here is to consciously strive for a more ecological, earth-friendly and compassionate living. If you do that, its a good start!

How simplicity helps.

Here are a few benefits you reap with a simple life.

  1. It helps remove stress from life.
  2. It promotes organization and clarity by removing distractions and clutter, both in your surroundings and in your mind.
  3. It helps make your life focused and purposeful.
  4. It brings easily sustainable beauty and aesthetics to your surroundings.
  5. Saves you money.

Ways to live a simpler life.

As I said before, there are no fixed steps to a simpler life. Each one of us has to select our own expression of simplicity. However, there are a few things you can focus on to find it :

1. Identify your primary purpose. You need to know exactly what your primary purpose is. If you don’t have one, don’t fret over it. Just keep looking for it. In some ways, simplicity and purposeful living are complementary. As your life grows simpler, your purpose starts getting clearer.

2. Remove anything you don’t use. Look around your house and workplace. If there are things that you haven’t used in the last year, you are, in all probability, not going to use them ever. Remove such clutter, sell it, give it away or throw it. Don’t feel guilty if you have to throw away. Its not going to be used and is worthless as such. Just focus on the space, ease and clarity you are creating with this exercise.

3. Things you use sparingly. Are there things you use once in a long time(say once a month or once in few months)? If there are, think whether you can do with out them. Maybe you can rent or borrow it when you need it. For example, I had bought a PSP(portable gaming device) about three years back. I played a lot on it for a few months. Then it was reduced to being used only on journeys. Since I don’t travel so often, I use it only once in a few months. I still enjoy it on my journeys but I am selling it off. I have other stuff(mostly books) to entertain me with.

Its not just one item, if you look in your house, you will find many such thing. Some of these, like winter clothes, may be important to your life in spite of being used infrequently. But most are such that they add little value to your life but are a constant part of clutter that fills it. Get rid of them.

4. Savor the small joys. Don’t keep waiting for the big moments, they are few and far between. Instead, live mindful and enjoy the everyday moments of joy and beauty. You won’t constantly feel the need to have more, get more.

5. Be in the Now. This goes with the one above. Be present in the current moment. This takes off worries of the future and resentment of the past. The present moment is always very simple and focusing on it fills you with life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge