Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Ethics of Simplicity

Some people live simply because they prefer fewer things around them. Too many things can be distracting. Cluttered environments affect how we think and live. Monks live simple lives because they view consumption of goods as worldly living.

I live a simple life and resist being a consumer because such a life is real. A decision to live simply makes me less prone to accept the illusions peddled by our society. That being said, monks and I have something important in common. We are single and not responsible for raising children.

But what about young parents with children still at home? In voluntarily seeking simpler lifestyles are they putting their children at risk?

Here is an interesting article on the topic.

Though it may not be the stuff of the typical American dream, the voluntary simplicity movement, which traces its inception to 1980s Seattle, is drawing a great deal of renewed interest, some experts say.

"If you think about some of the shifts we're having economically - shifts in oil and energy - it may be the right time," said Mary Grigsby, associate professor of rural sociology at the University of Missouri and the author of "Buying Time and Getting By: The Voluntary Simplicity Movement."

"The idea in the movement was 'everything you own owns you,"' said Grigsby, who sees roots of the philosophy in the lives of the Puritans. "You have to care for it, store it. It becomes an appendage, I think. If it enhances your life and helps you do the things you want to do, great. If you are burdened by these things and they become the center of what you have to do to live, is that really positive?"

Juliet Schor, a sociology professor at Boston College and author of "The Overspent American," said the modern "downshifters," as she called them, owed debts to the hippie era and the travel romance of the writer Jack Kerouac.

"Their previous lives have become too stressful," Schor said. "They have a lack of meaning because their jobs are too demanding."

Aimee Harris, who with her husband home-schools their son, Quinn, 5, and plans to do the same with their 15-month-old daughter, Nichola, agreed that there was something of the hippie ethos in their quest: "the ideals, the peace and love, the giving and freedom."

But she said they had no tolerance for idleness or drugs. "Any state that can be induced by drugs, the mind and body are already capable of," she said.

Aimee grew up in Wisconsin with her mother and sister. They were so poor, she says, that they nearly froze to death in the winter and had to cook their meals in the fireplace. She developed a weight problem, ballooning to 200 pounds, or 90 kilograms - she has since shed half of it - and suffered for years from the chronic pain disorder fibromyalgia, which she overcame, she says, by improving her diet.

In April, the Harrises began detailing their story on a blog (www.cagefreefamily.com). They were taken aback by some of the hostile responses. "Some people seem to be threatened that they're not making the same choice," Aimee said.

The timing was right, she said. They had been feuding with their landlord over conditions in the simple house they rent in Austin for $1,650 a month, and felt they had to get out.

At first they intended to auction what they owned. But "we were unable to define the worth of something we didn't want or need," she said. They finally decided to donate much of it to a children's home in the Texas Hill Country and the bulk of the rest to an agency for the homeless in Austin.

Read it all here.

No comments: