Lately I have been concentrating on simplifying. Namely, paring down possessions by selling and giving things away to friends and strangers. Living in the land of plenty we tend to collect possessions – it’s a deeply ingrained priority of our society… One that is so accepted and so closely followed that one can seem strange to coworkers and neighbors if they drive an old car when they can afford a new one… Keeping up with the Joneses I guess.
I have found that living in a rural area makes selling and even giving away ‘stuff’ more complicated. There simply aren’t as many people who use websites like craigslist or freecycle. A friend in a similar phase turned me on to a facebook group of local people selling things to each other. In trying all three methods for the past many months I have found that craigslist is more widely used around here than freecycle, and the people who respond to my ads have been very nice… The facebook group, however, has been more trouble than it is worth. Ultimately, the best way to just give things away is to load up the vehicle and drive into town (10 miles) and drop boxes off with the thrift stores whose sales benefit the local animal shelter or hospice.
For months now I have been slowly winnowing down my clothes closet. I have given lots of stuff away and sold some nicer things at a local consignment (which, in a rural area, is also a very limited method of getting things out of the house). Happily, we have a local food shelf that also gives clothing to people who need it. More than anything I want to get my unwanted things to people who will use them. I certainly don’t want to dump good stuff at the landfill!
One fun thing has been to choose objects I know a friend will love and pass them along. I hope to be giving away my second bike to a friend soon. I can ride only one at a time! I have been asking family if they feel compelled to give a gift – to give of their time rather than to send more things, or steering them toward gifts we can use. It’s not that people give us silly things, it’s just an effort to make it clear that we are trying to simplify and would rather have a letter written by them, or a visit, than one more cool thing to put on a shelf or on the wall.
Another choice I made a little while back was to approach my daily activities with an eye to frugality and simplicity. Living over ten miles from a grocery store means planning ahead when making trips into town and always making a list of groceries and of other tasks (a trip to the bank, a visit with a friend, etc.) – not just running in to the store for some milk. I have also greatly enjoyed making the shift from car commuting to riding my bike to work most days. I arrive invigorated and ready for the day! I also sleep better at night – because of the exercise and because I have consciously saved fossil fuels by using my legs instead, and by making well-planned trips into town.
A while ago we realized that eating out can often be a waste of money for two people who love to cook! Although we thought it would be fun to go out to eat we began to realize that the cost often was not worth the experience of inferior food, or unenjoyable atmosphere. Simply put – we love good food that makes us feel good, and we like our own space and at our own pace.
We once had a bumper sticker on our car that read “Live Simply That Others May Simply Live”. Over the years we have both made changes in our approach to life that reflect this ideal. We have many miles to travel in order to truly live simply, don’t get me wrong! But we have learned to live a questioning life. Reordering priorities has been helpful to us and less harmful to the environment. In addition, some of the small changes we have made over the years have helped us to save money that will facilitate us following our dreams in the future.
One of the hardest things for me to realize has been that buying things will not bring happiness. I love clothes, I like gadgets, etc. As I have altered my priorities from those of my teens and twenties I have realized how much my approach to money has been shaped by a consumer-oriented society. Now that I have chosen to simplify life my approach has been to try to understand my motives in buying something, honestly questioning whether it is needed and examining how I will feel after purchasing it. Simply questioning myself often brings to the surface the true reason – what I call a poverty of spirit… The feeling that I will be more complete/cool/happy/whatever by owning this thing. Along with that realization is the knowledge that I often will feel bad after buying that next big thing. Buyers remorse?… Or the understanding that happiness does not come from filling my life with toys and possessions, but from gaining higher self-esteem, giving of myself and my time, sharing the love of friends and family, wandering to new places, feeling a part of something larger – this world, this life, this moment.