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Ten Steps Toward Living More Simply In 1998

Ten Steps Toward Living More Simply In 1998 image Ten Steps Toward Living More Simply In 1998 image Ten Steps Toward Living More Simply In 1998 image
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■ article about simplicity ? If you answer, "Because I can ' t stand this frantic pace any more," or "Because we have too much stuff in our house," you're in the territory but not yet on the road. Linger a while and you might find it. Simplicity as a movement has, unfortunately, been co-opted by the media. Ads for sleek luxury cars now have charming Shaker hymns in the background, and design magazines portray the simple look in suites of cleanly styled Mission furniture. Sorry, but simplicity is mostly about what you don't buy. Some of the books on the market that purport to help uncomplicate your life focus on the obvious luxuries that bubble to the top and can be easily skimmed: "Sell your speedboat," "Fire your personal trainer." The fashionable author Elaine St. James offers platitudes for mental peace in the midst of too m uch tangible property : "Use ■ your right brain mode," "Release your attachment to possessions." . Anotherslantisbeingemployed by those who give seminars on how you can work smarter or fit more into your closets. Maybe you're just missing the looseleaf divider tabs of life, they say. This clutterbuster fix may get you organized, but it doesn't help you buck cultural attitudes against true simplicity. Even if you never watch televisión, never browse the Web, never glance at a billboard, the peer pressure to consume is heavy. Co-workers expect you to dine out with them; neighbors get peeved that you don't hire lawn sprayers so that the whole block can be dandelion-free. If you have children, any parental simplifying tendencies may drive them to seek a foster home, with cries of "Everyone at school wears Nikesgoes to Disney Worldplays Riven!" Simplicity in America is like dieting. As long as overindulgence gives you more satisfaction than being trim and healthy, you won't lose weight permanently. As long as the trappings of consumer culture take precedence over your true goals, you won't be able to live simply. The people who are successful at simple living for many years are the ones who have something specific driving them: Amy Dacyczyn and her husband had an income of under $30,000 a year when they decided what they wanted was to raise their kids in rural Maine. Their frugal living forseven years enabled them to buy their dream farm, complete with bam. Amy went on to become the founder of The Tightwad Gazette, helping others to live cheaply . When the family saved enough money from her newsletter and books, they exited the labor economy to achieve their goal of spending a lot of time with their six children. The late Joe Domínguez was a financial analyst on Wall Street who retired at age 31 to live on interest income of about $7,000 a year. "Your Money or Your Life," the book he co-authored in 1992 with Vicki Robin, is now the bible of the simplicity movement. It has sold over half a million copies, with royalties directed to Joe's nonprofit New Road Map Foundation, teaching about sustainable futures. An Ann Arbor couple raise organically in their backyard almost all the vegetables their family of six eats in a year. They buy the rest of their food in bulk, wear used clothes, and seek out inexpensive entertainment. It took them thirteen years to achieve their goal of paying off their mortgage on only one income. Next they 're planning to remain debt-free while putting the kids through college on that one income. A former Ann Arborite who has taken the name "Redmoonsong" travels around the country, surviving on the contents of her backpack and about $2,500 a year. As she marches with antinuclear activists in Nevada or protests the death penalty in front of the Supreme Court, her goal is to work for peace and social justice. She has reduced her possessions dramatically because her way of life allows her the freedom to volunteer full time. Therisa Rogers, a gradúate student I've interviewed, began her conversión to simplicity several years ago, when she first went to study in Egypt with fourteen pairs of shoes (and matching handbags) in her suitcases. Her hosts asked, "Why do you need so many shoes when you have only one pair of feet?" As she advanced in her research, Therisa concluded that it was hypocritical and insulting to live in a proflígate Western manner while studying people who possessed so little. Having adopted much simpler ways of dressing and eating, she found that she could accumulate savings while living in Ann Arbor on a scholarship of under$ 10,000 a year. In a downtown Ann Arbor building, a businessman lives in a single room and rents out his other rooms to international students. He sells his art works to make a living but keeps his income below taxable levéis because he does not want to contribute to the support of the military. The profiles of "simplicians" (as I cali practitioners of simplicity) are certainly not uniform. People of all races, sexual orientations, religions, and political views have adopted simplicity. Some get on the Internet daily; others organize conferences about the dangers of technology. Simplicians can be found both on wilderness homesteads and in urban apartments. But they have in common an understanding of the relationships of time, money, and possessions. Simplicians are constantly aware of how the little expenditures add up - the newspaper subscription, the weekly Lotto ticket, the call-waiting feature, the daily Coke from the office machine. For many people, money disappears mysteriously, but not for simplicians. They gladly control every penny, because they see how mastery over money allows tremendous freedom in their life pursuits. Americans console themselves for the disappointment of their demeaning or overly demanding jobs by buying goodies. The Jacuzzi and the surround sound may ease the pain temporarily , but the owner must continue working to make the Visa payments. And those possessions claim wads more time and money for operation and maintenance. Basically, a saner schedule and a less cluttered house are by-products of a mindset of simplicity. If you think you're ready for some serious simplifying in the penultimate year of this millennium, here are ten steps. 1. Psych yourself up. Gather your nears and dears for a goal-setting session. Do you have an intense commitment to wasting fewer of Earth 's resources? Do you want to get out of your 60-hour-aweek job and start a part-time home business? Do you have a long-term objective that you could achieve by socking away half your income each year? You may want to relate material goals to your broader spiritual or religious beliefs. Decide which elements of your lifestyle you will retain so that you don't view simplicity as deprivation. The gardening family mentioned above, for example, writes into their budget enough funds for musical instruments and lessons. Seniors, you may find yourself resisting, feeling that you deserve luxury because you lived through a Depression and a war. Remember that you also were in your peak earning years in the 1950s and 1960s, when one job without overtime could easily support a family. Bluntly , the more you simplify, the less junk your heirs will have to clear out of your house when you pass away. Teenagers floundering in consumerism may be the toughest to convert. The best anglc may be environmental: they'll be the ones with no air to breathe when the effects of current carbon emissions hit in fifty years. Empower them to ride the bus, earn money for their soccer equipment, and find funky castoff clothes. 2. Turn off your television(s). Televisión beats into your subconscious that the way to happiness is buying hair care producís, visiting casinos, and engaging in cutting repartee with every conversation. Few of us have the strength to fend off such persistent manipulation. The soul of a sihípifciárf ñeecls hiiftüfiñg Trom rikë-rnindëcf ' souls, so meet with other simplicians or read a book instead. Compare number 3. Advanced mode: Sell your television(s). 3. Reassess your leisure activities. The calendars in AGENDA can direct you to free or low-cost cultural events, including Top of the Park and West Park band concerts in the summer, School of Music recitals during the academie year, gallery and museum art exhibits, book groups at the award-winning Ann Arbor District Library, poetry readings and jazz at cafes. Volunteer ushering is a terrific way to see theater and dance; if the performance reeks, you can leave after intermission without feeling ripped off. Video rentáis and Fox Village have drastically reduced the cost of the movies. Could you shoot hoops at the park rather than pay dues to a racquetball club? Could you exercise in ways that help you simplify, such as biking to work? Is that Amazon adventure vacation worth two months' (or even two weeks') salary? I admit that when I lived in Minneapolis I would drive six blocks for my three-mile hike around a lake - pretty dumb. In the Ann Arbor area, free nature walks, bike tours and fun runs abound. Hobbies focusing on collections are a particular hurdle. Could you collect edible garden herbs instead of Precious Moments figurines? If shopping is your hobby, you' 11 require a strong will and an intense commitment to your goals. Divert shopping energy to food purchases only, seeking the simplest meals possible. (Compare number 5.) Meet with those who share your life to choose one money-intensi ve or time-intensive activity per person: bassoon or softball or skiing or ballet. This applies especially to kids, who are run ragged in the name of enrichment. Simplicians argue that kids would be better off around the house more often with their parents, working on projects and chatting. 4. Purge 10% of the possessions in each room of your dwelling. When you have less stuff to dust and trip over, you'll have more time for other costcutting measures. Easy items to get rid of: food and medication way past the expiration date, useless kitchen gadgets, hideous china you recei ved as gifts, clothes and shoes you haven' t worn in a year, ancient sports equipment, dried up cans of paint, leftovers from house projects, outgrown toys, stacks of magazines, ugly holiday ornaments, rusted patio furniture. I don't recommend a garage sale for your purged possessions; you'll end up with leftovers that you'll haul back to the basement. The Ann Arbor Waste Watcher booklet (cali 994-2807) will teil you how to sell on consignment, dónate for reuse, or dispose of various materials. I thought I was cutting our possessions to the bone when we moved in 1994. When we unexpectedly made two more moves in 1995, I really became a pro at pitching. The only object we missed was our sofa, which we recently replaced with a sturdier and smaller one. 5. Shop for food purposefully and only once a week. Scan your supermarket receipts, circling in red the nutritious foods (no, Ben and Jerry's doesn't count as dairy, and cigarettes don't count as leafy vegetables). From the nutritious items, créate a master shopping list that you copy, jotting comparison prices for reference. Check off whát "yöü nêêd each week, then stick to your list. If you stop eating junk, an added advantage may be a reduction in your costs for antacids. Convenience and deli foods, though seldom tastier than homemade, are hard to resist, so don't put yourself in temptation's way too often. For three weeks of the month, buy fresh foods, in season, at a place such as the farmers' markets, food co-ops, or produce stores. Visit the supermarket only once a month to stock up on nonperishables. Advanced mode: Become vegetarían. (Sell your Weber grill.) Dine out only on state occasions. 6. Stop buying new clothcs. Count up those hours spent driving to Briarwood, pawing through the racks, doing alterations, coordinating accessories, and ultimately sorting for Kiwanis. Catalog shoppers, you spend more time than you think on your shiny pages, not to mention the trips to the post office to return shocking pink outfits that looked pastei in the picture. A corollary is that you should gradually clear out your "dry clean only" clothes. With many more employers accepting casual wear, even men who used to need several suits can manage with perhaps one suit plus a wardrobe of washable shirts, sweaters and trousers. Advanced mode: Stop buying used clothes, too. Ann Arbor has such great used clothing shops that you can end up buying twice as many used duds as new ones. Instead, seek out free sources of clothes, such as hand-me-downs or clothing exchange programs in community organizations you belong to. Or devote your usual mail time to some clothing repair, then wear out the clothes you already have. Do you have to display a different outfit at work every day of the month? Could you wear a different outfit only each day of the week? If your clothes are tidy, do they need to be conslantly shifted? Is fashionable clothing more important to you than your goal? 7. As your small appliances break, don't replace them. As recently as 1960, American homes did not have mini-vacuums, answering machines or leaf blowers. Electric versions of pencil sharpeners, deep fryers, toothbrushes, cheese shredders and can openers were rare. Yet life in that era was not especially barbarie. Evalúate your absolute need for each appliance in light of the waste involved in purchasing, operating and cleaning it. Pay particular attention to battery-eaters such as portable CD players, clocks and remote-controls. Consider your situation. The nonconformist farmer-essayist Wendell Berry (author of "The Gift of Good Land" among many other books) uses a manual typewriter, but you may decide you need a computer and fax for your home business. You may find that a cordless screwdriver is essential for saving money on home repairs or that an energy-efficient slow cooker aids you in the preparation of nutritious soups. Advanced mode: As your major appliances break, ponder a while before replacing them. In her landmark book "The Overworked American," economist Juliet Schor documents that time spent on housework did not decline with the proliferation of appliances in the late 20th century. Washing machines, for example, increased housework time because they raised expectations for the cleanliness of clothes to ridiculous levéis and replaced efficiënt neighborhood laundry services that many middleclass families used in the late 19th century. Do I truly mean you might live without a (FROM PREVIOUS PAGE) washer'.'TheOctober 1995 issue of Plain, a QuakcrAmish simplicity magazine, described a way to wash clothes in five-gallon plastic buckets, mainly by soaking and briefly jostling, with minimal soap and no antique washboard. Although you may not be ready for that, you can comfortably hang your clothes out to dry six to seven months of the year in Ann Arbor's climate. 8. Close off a room of your dwelling to see if you could live in less space. Even if you share a tiny dorm room, you can block off a small área as a demonstration project. Instead of just moving the belongings that cluttered this space, sell them or give them away. Subdivisión developers will have you believe that you must always move to a bigger house, even when your family numbers shrink. These houses devour more of your income, but more importantly they devour your time. Either you do the maintenance yourself or you put in extra hours of paid labor to afford a cleaning service, a mowing service, and repairs to the plumbing of three bathrooms. If you lived in a smaller, cheaper place for a while, would you save enough money to arrive at your goal a year sooner? At one point, my family of five livcd in a 2000-square-foot house. Toys and dirty clothes seemed to accumulate on every inch of floor space. After a few months, we removed the furniture from the family room and blocked it off, mainly so I'd have less to clean. We soon sold the house and moved to a place that we renovated to have about 1400 square feet in a confïgurationbettersuitedtoourneeds. 9. Sell all but one of your cars. This one may seem American, but there are other honorable modes of transport. Carpooling might work. Public transit in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti is very good, reasonable even for the disabled. Since you'll be spending less time buying gas, changing the oil, and writing checks for the insurance, you could walk on some trips. (Walking may help with number 3 above.) Do money-saving preventive maintenance on your one car. Every time you start the engine, think of your car as a taxi, with the dollars ticking away on the meter. If you don' t own a bicycle, keep an eye out for a free one. Two years ago, I put out word that I'd like a spare bike. I'vesalvagedfive extra bikes, including one cast off by a relative and one abandoned by neighbors moving out of town. Advanced mode: Sell your remaining car and rent a car only when you need one. If you have to move closer to work, you might take the opportunity to move to a smaller place. 10. Set aside at least 10 minutes every day to think about simplicity. You might cali this "meditation" or "relaxation" or "prayer" or "organization time." Whatever - you need a daily dose of remembering your goals and renewing your commitment to simplicity. Paul Bantle, who runs the Community Farm of Ann Arbor along with Annie Eider, carves time for meditation from his days of agricultural labor: an hour and a half each morning and an hour and forty-five minutes each evening. "I'm too busy," you may retort. The 1 6th-century theologian Martin Luther was once asked how he had time to produce so many umes of translation, commentary, and religious instruction. He is said to have replied, "I pray three hours a day." What's the downside of the simple lifestyle? Many of your friends will think you're crazy or self-righteous or both. However, Gerald Célente of Trends Journal predicts that by the year 2000 about 15% of middle-aged Americans will be seriously pursuing the simple way, so you should be able to find some kindred simplicians. Lack of affordable health and dental care can be an impediment to simple living. Major medical insurance with a high deductible is a possibility, but even this minimal, catastrophic coverage can be prohibitively expensive for a family or for persons with preexisting conditions that are excluded. If you adopt simplicity without sufficient financial provisión fordisability or for infirmity in oíd age, you could become a burden on your family. Until enough Americans demand a humane national health plan, the best I can suggest is finding a workplace or other group for health coverage and keeping fit to reduce your chance of illness. Another negative is that, with some approaches to simplicity, the simplician must spend time in mind-numbing work in order to accumulate capital for independence from the labor market. Even in this scenario, the days of a simplician do have a self-defined purpose. What keeps me going to work is my goal of-èvemuaUy'biM kling a tiny solar house that my husband is designingfor absolute minimal environmental impact and maintenance. Simplicity isn't anything new - think of Buddha, Confucius, Sócrates, Jesús, Thoreau and Ghandi. The American tradition in particular has seen simplicity weaving in and out - the Puritans, the Mennonites, even the Arts and Crafts movement. Although backto-the-land living has been a significant component of simplicity, the urban variety has been gaining at this end of the 20th century, allowing city-dwellers also to subordínate the need for material goods to the needs of the mind, the soul, or the community. You may cali it "downshifting," "sustainable living," or"frugality," but simplicity requires no membership card or dues, no oath of allegiance or initiation rites. May be 1998 will be the year that you take a step toward a different Ufe. Key resources at the library: "Your Money or Your Life," Joe Domínguez and Vicki Robin, on understanding money and escaping the labor treadmill. "The Tightwad Gazette" (I, II, and III), Amy Dacyczyn, on specifics of serious household economy. "Living the Good Life," Scott and Helen Nearing, the classic on the subtopic of rural simplicity. Voluntary Simplicity," Duane Elgin, on the soul and mind of the simplician.


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