This is the year

Voluntary Simplicity; It’s the frugal sensation taking over the nation and it’s not just good for you and your pocket book, it happens to be really good for the environment.

Voluntary simplicity is a term that basically describes a lifestyle based on the motto ‘less is more’. It isn’t necessarily about going without, it’s about getting more out of what you have and having only what you really need. It’s not just about consuming less and being frugal, but also about finding balance and living a more healthful and mindful existence.

I’ve been playing around with the idea of voluntary simplicity for a few years now. The whole movement just makes so much sense to me. By definition sustainability is about living within your means. When we take into consideration that our ‘means’ includes the limited resources of our planet there is no doubt that living simply is good for the environment. If we consume less then we create less waste and use less resources.

I could spend the next thousand words or so talking about what voluntary simplicity is or isn’t but I am not even sure I am qualified enough just yet, and it’s all been said a lot better by other people. Here is my favourite blog about voluntary simplicity if you’d like to learn more. http://www.choosingvoluntarysimplicity.com/

When I was thinking about starting this group, I was really concerned about what kind of challenges people would be expecting and whether or not I could deliver. I am not all about the kind of eco-friendly lifestyle you can buy at the store. I do not believe that you must replace everything in your home with ‘better’ items labeled ‘natural’ and ‘eco-friendly’ in order to help the environment. I will, at no point in any of these challenges ask you to go out and buy something. Instead I want to embrace the spirit of voluntary simplicity and pose fun and easy challenges you can do without having to buy anything you couldn’t find, recycle, repurpose, make, or barter for.

With that in mind I think a logical first challenge will be simply to simplify. The motto “less is more” will be our mantra this week. I took the liberty of cruising the internet for tips about starting a life of simplicity and have created a mash up list of suggestions for ways you can embrace simplicity. Take some time to reflect on these things and your lifestyle and try to come up with at least one way that you will simplify this week. If at the end of the week you feel like this whole simplicity thing is for the dogs that’s quite all right, it’s not a requirement for the rest of the challenges, but there is certainly no harm in trying.

Slow Down:

How many of you read my motivation mini-challenge to go outside every day and said to yourself ‘I just don’t have time for that!”? No one ever has time for anything these days it seems. But what if you started thinking about your time as a resource, a limited one with great value. How would that change the way you spend it?

With every item on your schedule comes a cost, maybe that cost is the fuel it takes to get you where you need to be, or the energy you consume participating in that activity. Maybe the cost is less time to cook or enjoy a meal, or less time with your family. Whatever it is, have you really thought about whether or not it’s worth it?

Try a Shopping Embargo:

Every year Ottawa mother and blogger, Andrea Tompkins, at “A Peek Inside The Fishbowl” puts her family on a post holiday shopping embargo. For two months they purchase nothing but essentials and focus on mindful spending over recreational shopping. Check out her post here for tips on how to simplify your spending habits.

If you’re not into participating in this embargo for two whole months like Tompkins suggests, maybe pick one day this week and challenge yourself to buy absolutely nothing. I don’t mean see something you like at the store and go back for it the next day, I mean really be mindful of the things you want to spend money on and simply choose not to buy them. The results may surprise you.

Limit your media:

The more time you spend in front of a screen with an internet or cable connection or any other kind of media the more energy you use, the less time you have for other things (remember that your time is a valuable resource), and the more time advertisers have to convince you to buy things you don’t need.

All forms of media have their uses, and I am not at all against any one of them entirely. But I feel like the amount of time we spend in front of various media (myself, the smart phone junkie, included) gives that media a lot more power then it should have. Spending a reasonable amount of time unplugged is so important for our health, our wellbeing, our relationships and I for one hope to embrace that a little more this week and the rest of the year.

D.I.Y.:

Every time we purchase a service or item from someone there is a hidden cost to the convenience for both ourselves and the environment. The more we do for ourselves the more certainly we can say where our materials came from and how they were handled, whether or not all parts were ethically sourced, and we can spend less money.

A large portion of my goals this year revolve around doing things for myself. It may not sound simpler but on some level or another it really is. For example: last year I started making my own bread. The first few weeks this seemed like an awful big chore but once I fell into a routine I hardly noticed the extra effort at all. We saved a ton of money and I avoided a lot of excess sugars and additives in my family’s diet.

Doing things yourself is really rewarding and often comes with learning new skills or honing long forgotten ones. It can also be a great way to bond with family or friends and give you a new appreciation for the convenience items and services you rely on.

De-clutter:

This is the one my family is focusing on right now. I have this theory that stuff begets more stuff. The more you own, the more you need to maintain what you own, the more tools you need to maintain it, the more stuff you want to own to go with all the stuff you already own.

More than that, an excess of stuff can just generally bog us down both physically and mentally. Sometimes I look around at my family’s two bedroom 600 square foot apartment and I feel claustrophobic. Not because it’s a 600 square foot apartment inhabited by three people, we have plenty of room to play, eat, bathe, and sleep, but because the stuff the three of us have accumulated over the years litters every available horizontal surface of our home.

A wonderful thing happened last week when I started to sort through all of this stuff and really critically think about what is necessary and what I was holding onto for no real practical reason. I started to feel lighter, more energetic, and hopeful. I shook off all of this stuff and realized that underneath it all was simplicity so awesome I very nearly wept. For realsies. (That was probably the annual winter depression lifting, sorry for getting all gooey on you)

The most wonderful thing though, is that the more stuff we get rid of, the more I really like being free of it, the less I think about buying other things or lust after luxury items, and the less I actually buy. My family and I keep things pretty simple as far as not buying things we don’t need, but there’s always something you don’t really need that advertising and a little envy will convince you that you do and resisting those temptations has become a whole lot easier since we’ve started embracing minimalism.

I am in no way suggesting that you need to finish reading this post and go burn all of your earthly possessions on the front lawn. (Although some friends of mine once sold all theirs and moved into an old camper trailer to live on the west coast like coom-by-ya singing hippies and I was so totally jealous of them) Going to any kind of wild extreme right out the gate has the potential to back-fire into feeling deprived and then binging on retail therapy. I am, however, suggesting that maybe you have some things you aren’t using that could be better used by others. Or maybe you have some things that were gifted to you and you kept them out of politeness and loyalty instead of actual want. Perhaps you have some things that will give you a good laugh (or cry) to go through and then some relief when you finally let go of them. Give it a try and see what happens.

The logical reasons I had for starting the big de-clutter in our house seem pretty secondary now but it has also given me the space needed to do some pretty exciting challenges over the coming year!

What do you think fellow challengers? What areas of your life could use a touch of simplicity? Please share your ideas and insights with us!

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