I was a bit surprised when I looked up the term “simple living” on Wikipedia. Obviously the result of authorship by committee, the article makes it a point to explain that the idea of simple living is not incompatible with any political belief, and notes that a capitalist can choose to live simply consistent with his beliefs. However, the article states or implies in several places that simple living is a rejection of consumerism. It also says that “its proponents are consciously choosing to not focus on wealth directly tied to money or restrictive, cash-based economics,” whatever that is. I’d therefore like to tell you a bit about what simple living means to me.
I like wealth and property as much as the next red-blooded American. To me consumerism–defined as consumption beyond one’s basic needs–is not an evil in and of itself. I don’t need all the clothes I have, and I certainly don’t need a DVD player and movie collection to live a satisfied life, but those things make me happy and give me enjoyment, so I think they’re fine to have. Living beyond one’s basic needs becomes a problem only when the accumulation of property becomes a source of stress rather than enjoyment. Unfortunately, I think finding balance is difficult for many because purchasing and accumulating can be effortless, while planning ahead and organizing takes effort.
Recently I came across an article in The Atlantic about the burgeoning industry of people who specialize in managing the property and lives of billionaires. If you’re that rich, you can have so much stuff that you can’t possibly take care of it all yourself. One might not have enough cash to hire a “lifestyle consultant,” yet nevertheless have enough accumulated stuff to feel overwhelmed. Choosing to live simply, to me, is trying to find balance in order to enjoy what one does have, and to avoid becoming overwhelmed by clutter. It means consciously choosing to have fewer things, but knowing that what you will have will be high quality items that you truly cherish.
Simple living, therefore, should not be about asceticism, but about getting rid of (or preferably avoiding) distractions that prevent us from enjoying a modern, luxurious life. It’s about smart consumption, not no consumption. As Albert Einstein said, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”