Living Simply So Others May Simply
2003 I saw a painting at the Ringling Museum of Art
that changed the direction of my life. Peter Paul
Ruben named his canvas, "The Departure of Lot
and His Family from Sodom", but to me it depicted
an old man being led by an angel into whatever awaits
us at death. Beside him an old woman cries while
he looks back over his shoulder at three young women,
one pregnant, one carrying a basket of golden items
and one who looks at him with adoration. His expression
says it all - he realizes that he cannot take anything
with him - not family nor riches nor fame. We leave
with even less than we came with - not even our own
bodies can cross that final threshold.
Suddenly I understood the futility of spending my
life working for material things and the approval
of others. I decided to make some major changes in
my life so that I could spend less time acquiring
things and more time acquiring experiences, insights,
and relationships. Simple living, also know as Voluntary
Simplicity, has given me the freedom to pursue
my dreams, work for change in my world and have control
of my life.
If you're addicted to conspicuous consumption, as
I was, simple living will take some getting used
to. But it IS possible to own your own life if you
are determined to do it. Here are a few ways anyone
can start being a conscious consumer insead of a
- Get rid of all the stuff that clutters your life.
You are paying a premium in utilities, rent and
mortgage and insurance just to keep a roof over
- Downsize to the smallest living space possible.
Value only the basic essentials you need to be
comfortable. Minimize the number of rooms. Think
of all the time
you'll save in housekeeping! It's so much easier
to keep just one bathroom clean!
- Stay out of shopping
malls, big-box stores and super markets. These
environments are designed to tempt
you to buy more than you need. Buy as much of your
food as possible unpackaged from the bulk bin or
your local farmer's market or produce stand. Learn
to cook simple meals from scratch so you're not
paying for packaging and "branding" and
you know what you are actually eating. If you are
not a vegetarian,
consider limiting the amount of meat you eat.
- Don't buy anything new - if you must buy something,
go to thrift stores, swap meets, garage sales
or classified ads. Find out if there is a local
group in your area. Read about the Compactor
Consider getting rid of your car (or if you
have more than one car in your family, try
to get down
to just one car. Walk, use public transportation
and car pool. You'll be doing our planet a
favor and tying up a lot less money in a vehicle.
off the TV and cancel your magazine subscriptions.
Reduce your exposure to advertising so you
won't be tempted to want things you don't need.
about why you are making a purchase. Is it
because you absolutely need something or is
to impress someone else. What a waste to
have to spend
your precious life working to pay for something
that is going to make someone else feel
impressed or jealous!
If something will actually add to the quality
of your life, weigh the hours you will
have to work
to make the purchase against the improvement
to your life the purchase will make.
- Take responsibility for your own health.
By eating a healthy vegetarian diet
and getting plenty
of exercise due to walking, I seldom
to this: either we spend our money
on supporting a healthy lifestyle and buying organic
food or we'll spend it on health care and medical
- Reduce need for insurance, except
what you are forced to pay such as mortgage
- Learn to live on a very small
income. First of all this means getting clear
with money and recognizing all
the poor spending habits that are eroding away
You must learn to live with less
and stop wasting
money. Track your income
and expenses and stop buying
to relieve boredom.
- Get out of debt. If you have a debit card, you
really don't need a credit card unless you are
your means. With the exception of your home,
if you can't afford to pay cash for it, you can't
- Don't eat out every
day, pack a lunch instead.
- Minimize your use of electricity.
Do all the practical things wherever you
a small house,
put a timer on your electric hot
water heater, change
all the incandescent bulbs to low
watt fluorescents, turn lights off when
you leave the room,
reduce the amount of phantom load
appliances in your
those convenient electronic devices
that rely on remote controls to operate. These
consume energy 24 hours a day!).
- Compost your kitchen scraps, weeds,
etc. and if possible grow a garden.
The Karma Compact
A small group of Bay Area residents made an informal
vow to not buy anything new in 2006. The Compact,
named after the Mayflower pilgrims' revolutionary
credo, started at a dinner party as a way to fight
a rampant consumer culture that’s wreaking
global ecological havoc. About 50 extended friends
decided to go an entire year without buying anything
new besides food, health and safety items and underwear.
Suddenly it became a movement with chapters in
most US cities and around the world.
The Karma Compact Agreement
The Compact has several aims:
- (As in the Mayflower Compact) to go beyond recycling
in trying to counteract the negative global environmental
and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture,
to resist global corporatism, and to support
local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step we hope
the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact
- (As in trash Compact-er) to reduce clutter and
waste in our homes
- (As in Calm-pact) to simplify our lives
The Compact Rules
First principle: Don't buy new products of any kind
(from stores, websites, etc.)
Second principle: Borrow or buy used.
A few exceptions:
(Using the "fair and reasonable
person" standard, you'll know in your heart
when you're rationalizing a violation)
- Food, drink,
and necessary medicine (no elective treatments
like Viagra or Botox)
- Necessary cleaning products, but
not equipment (don't go out and buy the Dyson
Animal, for example).
- Socks and underwear (utilitarian--non-couture
- Pajamas for the children
- Utilitarian services (plumbers,
electricians, auto mechanics, veterinarians,
dry cleaners, house cleaners, etc.) -- Support
local and encourage used parts (rebuilt transmission,
headlight unit, etc.)
- Recreational services (massage,
etc.) & local
artisan items (good sources for gifts, but should
not be over-indulged in for personal gratification)
contributions -- Seva, Heifer, and the like
(an even better source for gifts)
- Plants and cut flowers
(whenever possible, cultivate from free cuttings
OK in extreme moderation when purchased from local
businesses (i.e., not the Target Garden Shop)--and
again, within reason
- Art supplies - First line of
attack: SCRAP. When absolutely necessary (for
the professionals and talented
amateurs in the group), from local businesses
newspapers, Netflix - renewals only, no new
subscriptions. Even better to consume online
video rentals and downloadable music files
-- freely shared and legal, please.
The Compact Yahoo Group (8,000 members)
This group is too large to manage getting emails.
Instead I suggest you choose one of the local groups
they list, such as the San
Diego group listed below. There is an excellent
list of links and resources for simple living.
San Diego Compact (27 members)
A San Diego county group of Compacters, a
sub-group from the nation-wide Karma Compact Yahoo
group. This group is for those living in or near
San Diego county who are interested in and living
to the aims of The Karma Compact.
The Simple Living Network
Classifieds, free section, forums
for local business leads, etc.
San Diego Earth Times (Carolyn Chase)
Oceanside Freecycle (1343 members):
In Oceanside the concept of Freecycling is simple.
You have something you no longer need (a couch, crib)
and you wish to recycle it rather than dump it in
the land fill. Or you're looking for a specific item
(a couch, crib) and you'd love to get it for free
from someone who no longer wants theirs. OceansideFreecycle@gmail.com
Here are some other good sites to check out:
Pescadero Ave. San Diego, CA. 92107 ~