How living with less can create more
I still vividly remember a conversation I had with my best friend 10 years ago. We were on a six-month sabbatical from our corporate jobs and travelling through Southeast Asia. One night, whilst sitting on our bungalow balcony, she looked at me and asked, “How much money do you want to be making in ten years?” I considered the question and answered something along the lines of “Probably around 80K.” But then I paused, considered a little more and piped up, “Wait, no. I don’t think I care how much money I make. I just want to be happy.” Epiphany had!
Less than a year later I left my 9-5 city job in Sydney and moved to the humble Northern Rivers of New South Wales. Ten years later and I’ve barely looked back, slowly transitioning from ambitious career-gal to part-time yoga teacher, writer and Aunty. Each morning I wake up, do my yoga practice, perch myself in a sunny patch in the backyard and watch my chickens frolic, then go about my day pottering around the house, helping my sister with my nephews, visiting family and friends, taking care of life logistics and occasionally (about 10 hours a week) writing a story or teaching a yoga class. This earns me enough to pay off a humble mortgage with my partner and generally get by. Occasionally I’ll have a busy week or two (or three!) where the sun’s shining and I make hay. I’ve had to overcome a lot of insecurities along the way but it’s a good life, let me tell you!
While I know the simple life is not for everyone (I’m sure many people would find it impossibly dull), if you’re craving simplicity, it’s absolutely yours for the taking, and not nearly as terrifying as you might think (or others would have you believe).
Even for those of us who crave a simpler existence, somewhere in the evolution of our crazy consumer culture we’ve managed to convince ourselves that more is less. We buy the books that tell us how to simplify, the storage solutions to tidy our space and the label maker so that we know what everything is (no judgement – I actually did this last week) only to look around a few months later and realise that not only do we have more “stuff”, but we’re no closer to feeling peaceful than we were at the start of our simplification goal. But you see, the goal in itself is part of the problem. For as soon as we fulfill one desire, another one promptly appears to fill its space. So, instead of working so hard to accumulate all the things so that we can finally relax, wouldn’t it be easier to minimise our material cravings? Trust me, I say this as much for me as for you (I have been known to drift off at night dreaming of homewares): simplifying is a largely internal job.
Dealing with desire: Wise words from Buddhism
According to Buddhism, desire is the root of much suffering. By craving pleasure, material goods and immortality, we inevitably put ourselves in a position to suffer by becoming attached to things that are impermanent. Imagine if, when you went to buy something new, you considered what condition it would be in in another 10- or 20-years’ time. That shiny new toy may one day be the same object that arouses contempt as it’s thrown in the ‘throw-out pile’. The Buddhist points out that everything you are attached to is temporary, and ultimately the source of great suffering. Anything that we crave, desire and attach ourselves to is temporary, and so its loss creates pain. Attachment, of course, cannot realistically be completely avoided (except, perhaps, for the monk who spends his life in a cave) but exploring our attachments may allow us to become less tied to them and therefore, in a sense, freer.
Annie Raser-Rowland can vouch for the benefits of living simply – she even co-wrote a very entertaining and inspiring book on the topic. The Art of Frugal Hedonism is all about how to lead the best life without selling your soul and giving into the grind. The best parts of choosing to embrace living with less (money, that is!)? “Getting to do work you love doing because you don’t need much income really is indescribably luxurious, taking holidays at least three times as often as most people, and staying healthy – because home cooking with whole ingredients plus no car really makes that much more likely”, she says.
Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting you get rid of your wheels – just maybe think twice next time you go to buy yourself a treat after a long week at the office. Annie agrees, “Don’t fall for the ‘treat yourself – you deserve it’ spin that has become a mainstay of advertising these days. Usually, the treats being marketed make you feel somewhere between unfulfilled and distinctly worse once you’ve consumed them. Most people actually find greater satisfaction in pushing themselves to do something challenging than they do in consuming yet one more product that our planet can’t afford and that our ancestors would’ve considered obscenely extravagant.” Hear hear!
The quiet life
One of my favourite modern philosophers, Alain De Botton, has dedicated an essay in praise of the quiet life(aptly named, In Praise of the Quiet Life), via The School of Life (www.theschooloflife.com). In it, he says, ‘There are for many of us plenty of options to take up certain career paths that carry high prestige with them. We could have something deeply impressive to answer those who ask us what we do. But this does not necessarily mean we must or should follow these possibilities. When we come to know the true price some careers exact, we may slowly realise we are not willing to pay for the ensuing envy, feat, deceit and anxiety. We may – for the sake of true riches – willingly, and with no loss of dignity, opt to become a little poorer and more obscure.”
We are, it seems, in a bit of a habit of piling an endless amount of stuff on our plate and then wondering why we’re overwhelmed. This ‘stuff’ is not always material, but exists metaphorically in the workplace, in our social lives and at home. We over-commit ourselves because, perhaps, we’re a little bit scared of what other people might think if we don’t appear very busy or own lots of nice things. But in order to reap the rewards of a simple life, we must be willing to look into our psyches, and realise that these concerns are actually kind of silly when it comes down to it.
You don’t need to give up all your worldly possessions and move to Byron Bay to embrace simplicity. You might turn off your phone for a day in the bush, spend a little less time with your notoriously unreliable friend, or swap your Sunday morning café brunch for some bacon and eggs around a backyard fire pit. Or, you might completely change your life. Either way, at the end of the day, you won’t regret it – I certainly never did.
Words by Jessica Humphries for Being magazine