Monday, January 28, 2008

"Simplify, Simplify!"

In the footsteps of Thoreau:

I’ve never lost my grasp on the importance of simplicity (though living simply remains a day-to-day challenge). Simplicity frees one to make any range of choices and pursue any range of possibilities. And such freedom is hindered by complexities like financial demands, time constraints, and the baggage of material belongings. By consciously seeking simplicity in life, one places oneself in a condition of gratitude. And gratitude, by instilling an awareness of one’s blessings, clarifies one’s vision and helps one establish goals.

Read the whole thing.

When I moved from Orlando back to Virginia for school, I downsized to the point where everything I owned fit into two pick-up truck loads. Other than new books and clothes, that probably remains true today and I still feel like I have too much stuff. There is a real freedom that comes with owning few things. It's certainly made returning to the life of a grad student a much easier transition for me than it might have been otherwise.

Over the years, I was able to travel to all 7 continents with carry-on only luggage. There has never been a single trip where I wish I had brought more stuff. Every time I returned home after living with so little for a few weeks, I'd look at what I owned and wonder why I had so much stuff?

(Thoreau's cabin near Walden Pond. Coincidentally, the furniture in my room consists of a similarly sized bed, a small round table, and a desk.)

Is it just me, or does it seems like the more developed an economy gets, the easier it is to comfortably get by with less stuff? Rental markets deepen which means you need to own less (cars, boats, kayaks, cell phones, movies, books, etc. can all be rented or borrowed). As people continue to specialize in the jobs they do, there is increasingly less need for tools and workshops at home, less need (and ability?) to do car maintenance at home, and less need to have a lot of equipment for yard work. (Most homeowners I know who are my age hire others to do lawn maintenance and lawn mowing.) Twenty-four hour convenience stores and Wal-Marts and ever diversifying locations make an incredible array of products within a 15-minute drive of most Americans. There is less need to keep things on hand "just-in-case" than there might have been in the past. To start-up many new businesses, all that is needed is an idea, a laptop, and a printer. Kinkos can provide print services to the average consumer that were previously available only to large firms. They too are open 24-hours.

We live in a time of unprecedented choice and opportunity and it is likely to only get better. One of those opportunities is to intentionally live more simply with greater ease than in times past. This is an idea I'd like to explore further.

See my other posts on simplicity, renting, and small spaces. Also, read this great essay by Phil Graham about Stuff.

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