Living More with Less

February 10, 2011

Melissa opened our Voluntary Simplicity meeting on Sunday with a three-minute meditation, a perfect way to transition from our lives’ hurry-scurry to a discussion about “living more with less.” For the last couple weeks, she has been meditating for fifteen minutes every day—most of us had trouble sitting quietly for three!

The discussion topic, “living more with less,” specifically meant living more with less stuff, a concept we are clearly interested in. Judy, our facilitator, opened the conversation with the question, Is the idea of living with less attractive to you or does it cause anxiety? For me, one month into the No Stuff Experiment, living with less is extremely attractive. I purged my closet and dresser of items I no longer wore or had multiples of the second week in January, and for the first time in months (or maybe years), I don’t feel lacking for clothes.

Perhaps this has something to do with what Barry Schwartz calls “the paradox of choice.” Essentially Schwartz argues that the overabundance of choices we face as American consumers has caused our happiness to decline, via paralysis in decision making, escalation of expectations, and shift of blame for imperfect outcomes to the consumer. (To hear his argument in detail, watch his TED talk.) Because I have eliminated the option of buying new clothes, I no longer find myself stressing over the number, quality, or style of items in my closet. I not only have to make do, but I find myself better appreciating what I have.

Others in the group have similarly found freedom in minimizing their stuff. Nan gave away most of her possessions when she moved from Virginia to Colorado in spring 2009. Being able to fit her life in her car has allowed her to visit friends all over the country, some for a week or two, some for a few months. Judy recently moved all of the furniture out of her living space so that she and her husband could install new flooring. She loved the openness of the space so much that she has moved very little back in.

Although none of us are ready to give up the variety of choices we currently have in the marketplace, we are hoping that Voluntary Simplicity will provide us a practical means of approaching the abundance. Again the word “deliberate” surfaced in our conversation. We talked about shopping in a more deliberate manner, taking inventory of what we have, thinking about a purchase before making it, and recognizing the true cost of material goods. (If you haven’t already, check out The Story of Stuff.) Early in our discussion, Mary pointed out that there are many ways to disengage from consumer culture. By the end of the meeting, we’d determined that there are many ways to engage thoughtfully as well.

Thanks to Helene, Judy, Mary, Melissa, Nan, and Sally for all the great ideas and stories they shared on Sunday. Many found their way into this post.

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