"I believe that examining the hidden impacts of all the Stuff in our lives is a way to unplug, which is the first step toward changing things." ~Annie Leonard
A few days ago I started reading the Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. I haven't finished the book yet, but so far it rocks. The book prompted me to think about why I write and why simple living is important.
I write to help others, to constantly reevaluate my own beliefs and to be part of a community. I started this blog as a personal journal and to rethink my world view. My goal is to create social change through simple living. A social movement of people who are living simple, authentic and uncluttered lives.
It's my hope that the writing on this blog will inspire you to join a movement of change and to rethink your perspective on life, community and relationships. This blog has never been about scolding or trying to make you feel bad. Rather, I want to foster a community where we focus on positive change and how we can help others. Further, my hope is that you will question the status quo, your consumption choices and your world view.
I worked in the movement to end violence against women for over 10 years, in a variety of capacities. I provided counseling services to rape and domestic violence victims, did research and public policy advocacy. During that time, I learned a lot about what it takes to sustain a vibrant, fully inclusive movement for change. Most problems (like violence against women) are systemic and are connected to the economy, public health and the rights afforded to women across the globe. More importantly I learned that we are all connected.
I think it's important for activists in any movement for change to examine problems from a holistic perspective. I consider myself to be a systems thinker. System thinking means considering an issue's effects on broader systems, like the economy, the environment and public health. That's part of the reason I write about such a broad variety of topics, from downsizing to living a car-free life. Money, jobs, and people operate within systems. How we chose to live our lives and whether or not we're involved in our community has a huge impact on broader social systems.
Below are some of my overarching beliefs about simple living, why I think it's an important concept and how simple living can change your life for the better.
1. Saying "no" to the wasteful consumption habits will bring happiness and health to your life.
Like Annie, I am not against stuff. I'm against mindless consumption and trashing of the planet. Our choices matter and your dollar counts as a vote. I think it's essential that we share products and are mindful to weigh the true cost of an item against the potential benefits.
Stuff isn't inherently bad. When I purchase stuff, I buy from local artisans, thrift stores and ask questions about where things are made and by whom. Rather than mindlessly consuming and then throwing things out, I think we should value stuff, share stuff, repair stuff and truly appreciate who created the item.
In the end, I think it's about questioning what is "enough" and what we really "need" to be happy and healthy. Study after study shows that once our basic needs are met, more stuff doesn't bring us happiness. In fact, it often leads to depression. Saying "no" to consumption and getting off the work, sleep, eat, shop, repeat treadmill will bring an incredible amount of happiness and satisfaction into your life.
2. Doing what you love will give you an opportunity to help others.
Open your own doors. It's so easy to let the lizard brain get the best of us. But it doesn't have to be that way. We can make beautiful art and make a difference. Even if you aren't 100% happy with your job, there has to be at least one area of your position where you feel you can make a difference and help others.
If not, you can do something. Consider sharing your ideas on a blog, volunteering or spending more time with your friends and family. The little things in life can bring us more joy than we realize.
3. Everything is connected.
It's hard to talk about lifestyle design when we know that:
- Over 1 billion people in Africa and Asia do not have access to clean drinking water.
- One in six American women has been the victim of a rape.
- According to UNICEF, 25,000 children die each day due to poverty.
- 25% of the world's population in industrialized countries consume about 75 percent of global resources.
Living a simple and authentic life allows people to focus on helping others. The statistics I mentioned above are more than numbers. These are real people who need help. Simple living is about more than tiny homes or learning how to live clutter free. For me simple living is about social change. The movement is about holistically examining the money economy, the materials economy and our health. Everything is connected.
4. Be happy with what you have.
If you lost everything today, who would you be? If you couldn't do the work you love, what would you be known for? Are you happy with what you have and the life you are leading? Or are you looking to make a change?
I think we all need to embrace change. Changing our behavior isn't easy, but I think it's something that has to be discussed. We can't ignore pertinent conversations about capitalism and the amount of resources used by Americans everyday. I think we can live a good, authentic and intentional life without consuming so much stuff.
5. Reading will open your mind.
Reading a variety of material is one way to open your mind to different perspectives. Changing behavior isn't easy and it doesn't happen over night. I'm still sucked into consumer tendencies. However, I'm able to keep them at bay by not watching TV and reading as much as possible.
Without books, amazing blogs and indie newspapers my perspective would have stayed static. I wouldn't have learned about the benefits of simple living or the interconnected nature of so many important issues. I'm far from perfect and always look for ways to expand my horizon and knowledge base.
6. Getting connected to your community will improve the world.
I truly believe connecting to a like minded community and being open to different perspectives will improve the world. We can't create any kind of movement without community or the ability to listen to opposing viewpoints. You might not agree with me and that's okay. However, the conversation has to start somewhere. Conversations about improvements must happen in active, engaged communities.
I think we can move away from fragmented solutions to many social ills and move toward comprehensive change. For that to happen people need to get involved in the political process, voice their opinion and use their privilege for good.
If you are reading this, you have access to resources that can open up new and amazing worlds. What are you going to do with that opportunity? How are you going to improve the world with your next decision?