Monday, August 6, 2012

Simplify: Why? How?

It seems like "Simplifying your life" is the newest catch-phrase. I see it mentioned everywhere. It generates a bazillion Google searches.

But there is nothing new about it at all. Simple living was encouraged by Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. St. Francis of Assisi, Albert Schweitzer, and Mohandas Gandhi all lived simple lives. The Amish, the Mennonites, and Quakers believe in living simply. Henry David Thoreau wrote about his simple life on Walden pond. William Morris advised us to have nothing in our homes that is not beautiful or useful.

Real Simple Magazine was a hit as soon as it hit the shelves 10 or 15 years ago. It claims to tell us how to make life easier every day. But then why is it full of ads begging us to buy more and more 'stuff' to fill up our lives? What is easier about that? What is simple about it? I don't get it.

What Does Simplification Mean? And How Do I Do It?

For some, simplifying their lives may be quite simple; for others, maybe not. We all live our lives in different ways. One thing might be very important to one person and not matter at all to the next. I think of simplifying as a long term goal - something I am moving closer to all the time. It seems that there is always one more step I can take - one more way to make my life a little bit simpler. What seemed simple ten years ago may seem totally extravagant and wasteful now. There is always room for improvement.

Make More Time for the Important Things

Simplifying is making sure that you have time for the things that are really important to you. Do you have enough time to enjoy relaxing with friends? Do you work 60 hours a week but always wish you had more time to spend with your children or grandchildren? Sure, working all those hours may bring in lots more money for fancy toys, but what is more important - toys or family?

Reduce Consumption

Simplifying is realizing that you really don't need to own every new electronic toy as soon as it comes out. Or a new car every two years. Will those new clothes really fit in your closet? Or will you have to throw something out to make room? Think about why we seem to need to shop all the time. Why are we allowing advertising agencies so much control over our time and money? 

And think about your carbon footprint. How much pollution is your lifestyle causing? How much gas do you burn? How much electricity do you use? How many trash cans do you fill every week? Isn't most of it packaging from all the stuff you buy?

Reduce Possessions

Simplifying is going through your cupboards and closets and garage and deciding what you need and what you don't need. What can you sell? What can you pass down to the kids? What can you give to charity? When you've gone through the house, what about that storage unit? Think about how good you'll feel when everything actually fits and it all stays nice and neat.

Increase Self-sufficiency

Simplifying is increasing your self-sufficiency. So many of us have forgotten how wonderful real food can taste because we are so used to buying pre-made processed foods that are full of fat and sugar that ruin our health. Learn to enjoy real cooking with real food. Buy fresh fruits and veggies and actually cook them. Better yet, get them fresher and more locally from a farmers market. Or grow them yourself in a backyard garden so you can walk out the door and eat it as soon as it is picked.

Do you get in your car and drive to a gym to work out? What does that gym membership cost? How much time do you waste driving back and forth? Do you pay someone to clean your house and mow your lawn so you will have to time to go to the gym? Here's a radical idea... What if you use that time instead to go for a walk or jog with your partner, a friend, your kids, or a pet? What if you get your exercise by doing your own housework and mowing your own lawn? People actually used to do that stuff instead of hiring it done. And they were healthier and in better shape.

What else do you pay good money for that you could easily do for yourself? The less you pay out, the less you need to earn, the more time you have for yourself, and the sooner you can retire.

Simplify Your Diet

Simplifying your diet can save you time. It can save you lots of money. It can save your life! So many of the illnesses that are ruining our lives can be directly related to what we eat. The current drought in the US may be killing the corn, but it may be good for the health of the nation. Most of that corn is not used as good old corn-on-the-cob, anyway. It is processed into high fructose corn syrup and put into almost every can and package of processed food on the grocery store shelves. This is the plan our government came up with to use up all the excess corn that the mega-factory farms produce with their government subsidies. This extra sugar in everything is what makes it taste so good that we just can't stop eating it. It is a huge part of the reason why over 60% of Americans are overweight or obese.

Simplify your diet by doing your own cooking. Try buying most of your food from the outside edges of the grocery store and very little from the middle rows of processed stuff. Simplify your diet by eating more fresh produce, and whole grains, and legumes and seeds. It's a really good place to start.

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