Friday, January 4, 2008

not-so-voluntary simplicity

I got all excited about a book I'd ordered off of PBS, Voluntary Simplicity. Title sounds like everything I've been thinking about lately, right? And it arrived, and I glanced through it, and signed.
Because it was boring.
Well, boring to me. I am a book snob, I guess, because I like non-fiction, but not all non-fiction. Ie, not non-fiction that's very theoretical.
The premise of V.S. is that there are so many ways to do it that how can you describe any one way in any detail? One must just talk generally about how the world is being revolutionized by V.S. movements, and how that's going to solve all the worlds' problems, and it's going to happen Soon!
The book was written in 1981 (albeit updated in the 90s).
Since it has written, we've increased our consumption, as a nation, exponentially.
So I didn't put a lot of stock in its predictions.
Also, the little survey they included at the end kind of turned me off. (Snarky conservative Christian commentary coming. Abort! Abort!) The authors surveyed V.S. devotees to find out about their lifestyles and why they pursued simplicity. One of the question asked about which "personal growth" practices you adhere to: A) Traditional religions (ie, Judiasim, Christianity, Buddhism), B) Psychotherapy (Jungian, Freudian, etc) C) Meditation/Zen/etc D) Other (Encounter groups, mind-altering drugs, etc)
My objections:
A) Lumping all "Traditional Religions" under one big category. When 90% of the world belongs to these "traditions", and most of our history and civilization has developed alongside them?
B) Calling religions "personal growth" practices. As if faith were all about personal growth. And not about God. Or ethics. Or faith. Or tradition. Or community. It's sort of like a stunningly self-centered view of what religion is for. Sort of like me saying that it's great to have kids just because of how much it makes me work on my issues. Sure, having kids makes me confront my issues, but is that the only benefit? Is that the primary benefit?
C) Sorry, but how hippy-dippy is it to equate mind-altering substances with all of the other options listed (ie, religions, meditation, or psychotherapy). Sure, there are artists who have explored the limits of the psyche due in part to their use of drugs, but it's a little extreme to do so. The risks of drug use to one's personal growth and health might seem to outweigh their mind-expanding benefits. So it's at least a wash.

Anyway, now that my ranting is over, I have been thinking about simplicity a lot lately. Mostly not-so-voluntary simplicity. Because we left our house and 90% of our posessions and moved in with my parents.
Now my parents have a pretty posh crib. Granite! Custom cabinets! Goat cheese with port wine sauce! It's not a gigantic house, but it is bigger than ours. And we have a bedroom/bathroom all to ourselves, as well as a room for Dyami to put his computer.
But still. We have no drawers. We don't have our own kitchen. Bathroom is across the hall. There's not a lot of space in our bedroom--not really enough to sit on the floor very comfortably, for example.
I'm surprised by how little it matters. We have extra help with Lucy, which is worth much inconvenience. We have extra time with family, which is fabulous. We have enough clothing and space to accomplish what needs to get done. And having less stuff makes it easier to live in a smaller space. (I'd already noted that in our home...but we're really talking much less stuff).
It's also a lot more efficient, having two families in one house. Half the heating costs. Dinner prep shared. Food shared. Laundry time shared. Effort spread across several people.
I don't think my parents want us here long term. (Right mom and dad?) I don't really want to camp here long term. And I'm sure the rough edges of living with another family in such close quarters will show themselves sooner rather than later. But the benefits are real, and are quite interesting.
So much of our striving in this country is devoted to the Single Family Home ethic. And our open spaces are getting covered over with tract houses, paved for traffic-clogged freeways, and we're all killing ourselves to afford ridiculously high mortgages.
What if our lives could be, well, simpler?

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