Blocks to Choosing Simplicity

Author Tim Jackson, in Prosperity Without Growth, has a chapter on the challenge of living simply. I am referring here to an actual movement. Several years ago, I read several books on simplicity. Some focused on living simply as a way to achieve financial freedom, freedom from debt, for example. It was timely for me as I was letting go of a full time job to care for my mother. Some focused on the freedom from addiction to stuff, others on caring for the earth. I loved reading these books and felt good when I was able to apply their principles and practices.

Jackson names some of these in his chapter, “Flourishing – within Limits”. He quotes Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply that others may simply live”. Duane Elgin is mentioned. His book, Voluntary Simplicity is in my personal library and I read his on-line newsletter for years. But what is really helpful is that Jackson lists some of the social impediments to those who choose simple living as way of life. I already mentioned in previous blogs the idea that if we all chose voluntary simplicity, our economy would collapse. Jackson mentioned London Mayor Boris Johnson who told the citizens to go out and spend their money in spite of the credit crunch and President George W. Bush who infamously told citizens to “go out shopping” after the 9/11 attacks. We can’t continue to risk our own financial well-being to support the country’s well-being. At least I don’t want to do that nor do I want my children and their children to do that.

Below is a list of blocks, besides national economy, that Jackson offers for people who may want to go the route of simple living:

  1. Generally  prosperity is associated with material wealth and there is a point where lack of material wealth carries a sense of shame. Too much limiting of goods can position one as being  in a lower status.
  2. Proponents of simple living figured out early on the need for community. I (Judy) remember when our family was young realizing how difficult it would be to reduce the level of Christmas giving, especially for our children, to be able to live among friends who were lavishly gifted. It isn’t surprising why the Amish and Mennonites form communities that are separatist. Other communities have formed over the years that are not religiously based. I know of one in Sauk Center here in Minnesota. This is why Circles of Simplicity were formed.
  3. “Equally important are the subtle but damaging signals sent by government, regulatory frameworks, financial institutions, the media and our education systems,” Jackson says. Examples he gives: business salaries are higher than those in caring professions, children are brought up as a “shopping generation”, and success is determined according to a person’s material posessions (house size, number of cars, etc.)
  4. Some aspects of affluence are difficult to surrender in living simply. These contribute to quality of life. One that comes to my mind is our owning a second car and being able to travel. There is a certain level at which we choose to participate in the system of consumption. It is interesting that Jackson names the choice for individual transportation rather than mass transit as one of the barriers to the choice for simplicity. The choice for public transportation involved a cooperation between citizens and the business sector and/or government.

I am delighted that so many people are thinking about these things.  For me, it means that as we consider simple living, there is a chance that we won’t be acting in isolation. We can go forward with a community to accompany us.