When I hit a wall with the whole work thing this weekend, I somehow ended up engrossed in organizing my online bookmarks instead. I came to the folder marked “simple living” and spent a little time going back to some of the websites I’d checked out a few years ago and for some reason had stopped visiting with any regularity. I’ve had a few brief, intense periods of being really interested in this concept of “voluntary simplicity,” which some of you may know if you’ve been paying attention over the years. I’m not sure what started it—I think it may have been a book my friend Annie gave me after I’d shown interest in it during a visit to her house—it was a kind of workbook for simplifying your life. I never actually went through the steps, but did read the author’s other book, Choosing Simplicity, and thought a lot about how some of the ideas it presented applied to my own life. Then time passed, and I got distracted by other things. When I was living in New Jersey, I came back to it, browsing some of the books at the library near my parents’ house and eventually buying my own copy of Your Money or Your Life. I read it cover-to-cover in just a few days, going so far as to write down my responses to some of the questions it asks but not actually working through the steps methodically. Maybe I will someday.
One thing that I remember is that a lot of this reading and thinking actually left me feeling disappointed. The concepts I was reading about were hugely appealing, yet I wasn’t sure what I could do about it. In many ways, I’ve done a pretty good job of living a life of voluntary simplicity without even realizing it. I didn’t have huge, life-altering changes to make, and I almost wished I did have outrageous spending habits and a big fancy house and a new car, just so I could go through the meaningful process of shedding them all. Perhaps that’s why it feels like I haven’t truly stuck with the “program.” Yet I have continued to operate under the same principles I have for years, less because I was following any particular doctrine than because I knew what was important to me—traveling, freelancing, living abroad—and I wanted to make it happen. It’s easy for me to “do without” when I have much bigger goals in mind.
Browsing old, familiar online content about simplicity, as well as some new material, was a nice refresher, with concepts like this, from the Simple Living Network, coming back to the forefront of my thinking: “Simple living is not about living in poverty or self-inflicted deprivation. Rather, it is about living an examined life—one in which you have determined what is important, or ‘enough,’ for you, discarding the rest.” There’s even a new book coming out today, called Get Satisfied, a collection of stories of people finding “the satisfaction of enough.” And I decided I want to revisit these ideas more often, because today it hit me that there are always little things I can change in how I think, how I approach things. In the last week or two, for example, I’ve started thinking about getting a new camera and a new memory card, things it had never occurred to me I needed—until I started comparing my equipment to other people’s, started realizing how small my 256-MB card is (considering you can get cards of many gigs these days) and that I don’t think they even make cameras with 3.2 megapixels anymore. The goal of printing pictures in larger formats and even submitting photos for publication may someday be reason enough to upgrade, but those aren’t things I’m doing right now, so the idea of “needing” these things is certainly questionable. If I ever do something with the thousands of pictures I’ve taken that are just sitting on my computer and online, then maybe it will be time to reconsider. But for now, isn’t it enough to just start taking more pictures and playing around with the camera I do have? I’m satisfied that it is.