Recently, I read the Get Rich Slowly review of the book Voluntary Simplicity. J.D. didn’t like the book very much at all, while I recalled it being pretty interesting, so I went back and re-read it. Voluntary Simplicity is pretty light on the specific details (and a bit over the top with New Age type philosophy), but underneath it is a basic life philosophy that I find pretty valuable.
In a nutshell, Voluntary Simplicity refers to making all your lifestyle choices in line with your core values. That can be applied in a lot of different ways depending on the individual, obviously, because it depends heavily on both your core values and your environment. Given this perspective, I would say that over the last year I have adopted a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity – here’s how.
I buy substantially fewer things. Even though my income level is higher than it has ever been, I buy far fewer things than I did just a few years ago. I simply don’t like cluttering up my house with stuff I’ll barely use and have to worry about maintaining. In a nutshell, my threshold for making a purchase has gone up.
Here’s an example. My wife and I went through a period where we devoured television series on DVD – I have to say that it’s the best way to watch a quality dramatic series. This meant that at the time we spent quite a bit buying series on DVD and renting them on Netflix. Yesterday, I strongly considered buying the first season of Heroes for $36.99 … but I didn’t make the purchase. Why? Buying it would cost me almost $40, and then enjoying it would eat up many hours of sitting in front of the television. The total cost of enjoying that first season of Heroes is more than I would like – $40, the space on the shelf taken up by the DVDs, and the time investment of watching all of it isn’t worth the enjoyment I would get from it. So I passed.
When I do buy something, I choose it based on quality and research the purchase carefully. For example, I finally acquired a KitchenAid Professional 6 stand mixer – I had carefully researched mixers, knew exactly the one I wanted based on quality and not price, then waited until I found one that matched what I wanted to spend. It’s a quality item that fills a role in my life – and it will fill that role dependably and with great quality.
What about basic needs? When I first bought kitchen and other household items when I moved into my own apartment, I bought very low end stuff – think rejects from the Goodwill Store. Over time, I am replacing these items with very high quality replacements. One example: throughout most of the time I lived in the apartment, I used a toaster that was made circa 1970 that featured a broken leg. When I finally realized it needed to be upgraded (one slot burned the toast, the other left it raw), I actually researched toasters and finally selected one that handles toast, bagels, and English muffins and has a number of adjustments to get everything just right, plus it has aesthetic appeal in my kitchen.
Another example: I started off with an extremely basic set of kitchen knives that were terrible to use. I was given a rather high quality set as a gift to replace them, and these will do for a long while. If I ever decide to upgrade those (not likely for quite a while), I will buy some extremely high end kitchen knives, ones that will always do the job I ask of them.
When I make a decorative change, I don’t add without subtracting. My decorative tastes move more towards “spartan,” while my wife likes many things on the wall. So we compromised – when we moved in, we decorated the rooms with some basic principles (there’s a little more than I’d like on the walls, but not overly so), but we have a general standard that if we get a new decoration, the old one goes. I hope to gradually acquire some pieces of original art for the walls in various places, which is in line with the “quality upgrading” philosophy mentioned above.
If something now goes into “storage” without an explicit purpose of ever pulling it out again, I take it to Goodwill instead. When we moved out of the apartment, I was aghast at the piles of junk in storage. Never again. After going through it (and getting rid of most of it), I realized that I didn’t want the storage areas of our house to become filled with unmanageable hordes of junk. Thus, if something goes into storage without a specific reason (like stuff for the next child or stuff for specific holidays), then it’s going out.
I actually schedule big blocks of time for “reading” and “spending time with my family.” I have a lot of responsibilities, so in order to make sure I have plenty of time for the basic, simple things in life, I schedule huge, empty pieces of time where I just relax with my family and do personally enriching things. I usually schedule an entire weekend day for this, along with a two or three hour block each weekday. If a job requirement begins interfering with this regularly, I’ll move on.
I put special effort into recycling and producing my own food. I have a barrel composter in the back yard where much of our organic non-meat waste goes. We have already made two boxed gardens in our back yard, even though we can’t begin a garden until the spring (those lovely Iowa winters…). This means less trash to deal with, less need for fertilizer, and the enjoyment of being able to walk out in the yard, pick a tomato, walk in the house, slice it, and put a slice on my sandwich during the dog days of summer.
To me, this is what Voluntary Simplicity was talking about, once you dug through the New Age talk: living your life and making choices so that your core values can always shine through and take center stage.