Sep 30, 2009

Frugality Bloggers

Katy over at The Non-Consumer Advocate just republished a great post where she asks some fellow frugality bloggers about their experiences. As I still consider myself a novice when it comes to topics of financial simplicity and frugality, I am relying heavily on the wisdom and experiences of others to get me going. So check out Katy's post and let me know what you think. What are your experiences with financial simplicity and frugality? What triumphs and struggles can you share with the rest of us?

Sep 29, 2009

Simple Living Through Social Change - Great Resource and Interview

You can read a great interview here about one person's perspective on and experience with simple living as a way to affect social change. Here's to some thoughtful reading and reflecting.

Sep 28, 2009

Personal Challenge: Paring Down the Stuff

Here's an update on my first personal challenge, which is to get rid of (through donation or other means) ten items a week and then reflect on the process and its implications for both voluntary simplicity and social justice.

I dropped off a nice bag of clothes at Goodwill, sent a few books to family members and friends to keep the books in circulation and clear up some bookshelf space, and sent some cards that I've been meaning to get in the mail for a while. (I'm not counting the cards as part of the 10 things, although my desk does look cleaner without them there.)

I've noticed that since I began making a habit of culling through my clothes and getting rid of things on a regular basis, the process has become easier and easier. With the exception of a very few items, I could almost just go into my closet, randomly pick out a few items, throw them in a donation bag, and never think about them again. This realization got me thinking. What is it about our stuff that we get so attached to and what can we do to detach as we move towards a simpler lifestyle?

One of the primary reasons I think we get so attached to our stuff is that we never stop to think about it. It's as if at some point most of us have jumped on the never-ending treadmill of consumerism and waste and never stopped to think about what we were buying or why. Of course, there are many, many people who are exceptions to this generalization. If you are interested, here are a few links to check out people who advocate and live a non-consumer lifestyle:

But in general, this blind consumerism combined with our susceptibility to advertising and "Keeping up with the Jones" and here we are... in a mess.

At one point in time my parents, brother, and I lived on a 27-foot sailboat. We had very little stuff. Now my parents own many cars, many homes, and many things to fill all these homes. I am not pointing this out to be critical, but rather to show how it is so easy to go from so little to so much in a relatively short amount of time. 20 years is a short amount of time in the whole scheme of things, I think. The ironic thing is that as a general rule, more stuff does not equate to more happiness. There are numerous studies that have shown this. Relative to the rest of the world, most people who live in the United States have A LOT of stuff... and yet we as a society are not happier than people in other parts of the world who live with less.

Moving beyond my political rant, I also want to recognize that there are many other valid reasons that people get attached to stuff. Our stuff has sentimental value. Ask me to go through and get rid of my photographs, or some of my most treasured books, and I will look at you like you have asked me to sell my soul. Seriously. And there might have been a point in time when I felt the same way about some of my clothes (which seems ridiculous to me now). But the more I've given away, the easier it becomes. Every time I drop a bag, or a trunk-full, or a truck-full of stuff off at a donation center, I can immediately feel the elation, the sense of peace, the space that I know I have now cleared in my life. So I guess the point of all this is that the more you give away, the easier it becomes. Try it. See what happens. Leave me a comment and let me know your thoughts. Why are we so attached to our stuff and how can we detach? Do you think you could participate in the 100 Things Challenge? This guy just took up the challenge. You can follow his progress here.

Sep 24, 2009

Jonathan Kozol and Educational Justice

There are some wonderful educational justice advocates out there who are writing about the gross injustices in our school systems. One of my favorites is Jonathan Kozol. If you are not familiar with his work, start here. Kozol tackles issues of educational inequities by speaking with and writing about the experiences of children. It cannot get much simpler and more complex than that. His messages are clear, his insights profound, and his stories haunting.

Here's a few more links for your perusing:

And some videos:

And, of course, some:

Sep 23, 2009

Maybe This Is Not Supposed to Be a Race

One of my favorite blogs on financial literacy is Get Rich Slowly. The writing is concise, yet thorough. And the author makes financial issues seem less scary than a lot of other experts who write about similar topics. Plus, I like the honest focus on taking things slowly. I think that part of living a life of voluntary simplicity is taking the time to slow down and to realize that maybe this journey we are on is not supposed to be a race. I applaud Get Rich Slowly for tackling financial issues in a novel and refreshing way.

Sep 22, 2009

Cecile Andrew's "The Circle of Simplicity"

A few years ago, I happened to pick up a book that was sitting on my dad's coffee table. Something about the book drew me in immediately - maybe it was the soft yellow cover, or the word simplicity in the title. Whatever it was that drew me in, once I started reading it I became immediately hooked. I actually found my self nodding during certain passages. It was like Cecile Andrews' book had landed itself in my lap at a time when my life was otherwise in a state of complete chaos. I was wearing so many different titles I couldn't even keep them straight in my own head. I was a full-time doctoral student entering my second year of coursework; I was a full-time high school English teacher responsible everyday for 180+ students; I was a head coach; I was a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister, a friend... I was in over my head and was drowning quickly.

Reading The Circle of Simplicity gave me a new perspective on life. I began to slow down immediately. I cleaned out my personal and professional possessions. Then I cleaned them out again, and again, and again until I finally felt like I had spaces that were workable and peaceful. I started a simplicity circle with one of my colleagues from school. We focused on how we could simplify our lives amidst the seemingly never-ending chaos. I began to once again place my own needs above the needs of all those around me. I started saving money so that I could take a year off of work to finish my dissertation. I began to run again, and cycle, and do yoga. I started treating my body better, slowing down when I ate, fueling myself with healthier, whole foods. I lost thirty pounds. My anxiety began to lessen, my chest pains went away, I began to sleep better at night. I started to incorporate the ideas and ideals of the voluntary simplicity work into my doctoral coursework on social and educational justice. Maybe I started to smile more.

Those are some of the personal benefits I received from reading Andrew's book, creating a simplicity circle, and putting some of her suggestions into practice. Here are some of the book's highlights, in no particular order:
1. The focus on community - Andrews is a big advocate of people getting together to talk about their journeys toward simplicity (thus, the mention of "circle" in the book's title). It's about sharing our stories, but I also think it's about accountability to ourselves and others.
2. Andrew's honesty with sharing her own story - Now THIS is something I can really relate to. It's always nice when authors are honest, yet humble, about the journeys they have traveled. Andrews is one such author.
3. The quotes - There's some really good quotes in this book. I'm sure I'll be citing them frequently throughout my posts.
4. The fire metaphor - For some reason, this is a metaphor that works. She compares the journey towards simplicity to the lighting of a fire.

Andrews has a brand new book out. It's a collection of essays and mine just arrived in the mail yesterday. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on this book in a later post. If you haven't read The Circle of Simplicity, though, go to your local library or used bookstore or whatever source you have for getting good used books, find the book, take it home, and curl up on your couch with a blanket and a nice cup of coffee or tea. Happy reading.

Sep 21, 2009

More and Less

Eat less. Exercise more.

Buy less. Give away more.

Work less. Relax more.

Stress less. Smile more.

Talk less. Listen more.

Spend less. Save more.

Watch less. Read more.

Personal Challenge: Paring Down the Stuff

I still have too much stuff. I have been simplifying my personal possessions for the past couple of years, but I still have more things than I need and/or want. And so my first personal challenge is going to be to donate 10 items a week. I am starting small with this challenge, because part of my personal quest to live a simpler life has been to let go of the need to be perfect and to overextend myself with unrealistic expectations. So 10 things a week it is.

Some people might ask what getting rid of stuff has to do with voluntary simplicity and social justice. So here are a few of my musings on the topic:

1. The more stuff I have, the more I have to worry about taking care of it, cleaning it, organizing it, moving it, storing it... I could go on and on. Living a simple life is about more than just simplifying and getting rid of things. However, I've found that clearing away the external clutter naturally leaves me space to work on the internal stuff.

2. As long as I have too much stuff and others do not have enough stuff, I feel that I should continue to do my part to help distribute resources more equitably. And if I have something that I can donate to Goodwill or another donation center, then not only am I helping to provide a solid organization with the resources they need to be sustainable, I am also hopefully providing an individual or family with something they can put to good use.

3. The more we buy used goods, the more we are helping our environment. If you haven't already done so, check out The Story of Stuff. We are all connected to each other and the Earth. I think it is important that I continue to take steps to help contribute to a more sustainable and responsible model of consumerism.

I will update my progress on this challenge for the next month or so, when I will probably pick a new challenge to focus on and write about. This post was inspired by this one... and this one.

The image published with this post is available at

Sep 19, 2009

Reflections on Humanity

This is part of a post I am reprinting from a previously-published post on my other blog.

I have come to believe that we are all so much more connected to each other, to the earth, to the past, and to the future than we generally act like we are. I have also come to believe that, as a whole, people have come to live lives that are too disconnected from each other and the world in which we all share. However, humanity is everywhere...

I have seen humanity in so many teachers who refuse to give up, no matter how difficult the education climate in this state has become, no matter how many times they are told to do things that go against what they know to be good for children. These teachers continue not only to show up everyday, but to love and believe in their students in ways that lift these young people to heights previously unimagined.

I have seen humanity in the way that some people remain hopeful in the face of all kinds of adversity, who believe that they are on this earth to serve others, and who selflessly give of themselves without sacrificing their souls.

I am learning more and more that one of the most beautiful things about embracing voluntary simplicity is that by being true to myself and my own values, I can also free up resources that others might need. I've learned that poverty and voluntary simplicity are two very different things. I have never been poor, but I have worked with countless students and parents who, although impoverished in terms of their economic situations, were rich beyond measure. How can so many of us continue to live with such excess, while so many in this world cannot even afford to meet the basic human needs of themselves and their families?

To be human means to look at all other humans as equals. Period. It is as simple and as complicated as that. I'm working on this equality thing, because I don't think that we are brought up in this society to learn how to treat each other as equals.

To be human also means to be aware of how our decisions affect ourselves and others. I think that if we were to truly learn about where our food comes, how it is manufactured, and how we are fed so many lies in the name of profit and big business, we might begin to work towards a healthier world. I am proud to say that I have not given one penny to the fast food industry in a number of years, and if I could take back all the money I gave to them years ago and instead give it to local, organic farmers I would in a heartbeat. I am also proud to say that I continue to educate myself on where my food comes from. I am a vegetarian who tries to buy locally grown and organic when I can. I know I can and should do more. And I do not admonish those who choose differently than I do. But I do believe strongly that if we knew more we would make different choices and begin to change the course of history.

And I believe that to be human means to believe in the possibility of hope and change.