LIVING SIMPLY | The new Simplicity

Lately, I’ve been talking to people about the “new” Simplicity. Part of me feels it’s silly to use that word, “new.” After all, that’s the way we get people to consume — even my shampoo has “New!” stamped on it. 

But, on the other hand, people are looking at Simplicity in new ways. 

For instance, people always ask me if it’s really “Simplicity” when people consume less because they’re forced to (Involuntary Simplicity rather than Voluntary Simplicity). To me, Simplicity implies a conscious choice to live differently. You’re choosing to cut back on the consumer culture of work and spend. 

“Simplifiers” like having less debt so we can afford to work less and have time for things that are meaningful to us. We try to focus on what’s important and what matters, cutting back on the inessential so we have time for the essential. A lot of us cut back on the pursuit of an image: We buy fewer clothes, have smaller homes and don’t buy cars as status symbols.

But, ultimately, Simplicity is not just for ourselves. Simplicity is asking about the effect of our behaviors on the well-being of people and the planet. Consuming less reduces our impact on the planet because we use fewer resources, pollute less and reduce carbon emissions that combat global warming.

So what about the people who are consuming less because they are forced to? They’ve lost their jobs; they’re in debt; they simply can’t afford to consume. Is this Simplicity? Well, it may not start off as Simplicity because it’s not chosen, but it often becomes Simplicity because people discover that they prefer this way of living. 

They don’t want to go back to the old ways of overwork and overconsumption. They like having less “stuff.” They like living more lightly. They begin to choose to live simply. They like living with a sense of meaning and making a difference.

Sharing economy

In particular, people are excited by the new “sharing economy” and “collaborative consumption,” where people share, swap and barter. If you do an Internet search for these topics, you’ll find hundreds of new ideas. (In particular, check 

In the “old” days, people passed their baby clothes on to friends or had babysitting coops; now, this sort of thing is being organized on-line. 

Individual ownership has become old-fashioned in many ways. Think of the people who don’t own a car but join something like Zipcar. Some people are even doing peer-to-peer renting of their cars. Others just get things free from Freecycle. 

But you’re not just saving money by buying used stuff or bartering; people are also making some money. Check out Airbnb, a website that lets people rent out their rooms to tourists. Or take a look at Taskrabbit, where people get paid for doing chores or errands. 

Pursuit of happiness

The other thing that is new is the interest in true happiness. We’re beginning to realize that our old belief that “if we’re rich, we’ll be happy” not only doesn’t work, it’s bad for people and the planet — when money becomes our primary goal, corruption and injustice result.

This new interest is stimulated by the Gross National Happiness movement, a project to replace gross domestic product (GDP) as our measurement of progress. GDP only measures money flowing through the system — money that might well have come from negative things like accidents, wars or oil spills (search for The Happiness Initiative at Sustainable Seattle). Gross National Happiness advocates policies that encourage community involvement, work/life balance and trust in your government.

People are realizing that the main source of happiness is social ties — community and connection with others. We realize that we want to contribute to make the world a better place and that the pursuit of power and status has resulted in huge income inequality that harms us all. A lot of this is coming out in the Occupy movement, with people discovering the joy of standing up with others for what they believe in. 

The new Simplicity, then, is much more about caring and connection, creating a culture in which “we’re all in this together.” We can’t just focus on living simply for ourselves. We must live simply to save the world and the people around us. We begin to truly understand the phrase, “Live simply so that others may simply live.”

CECILE ANDREWS is the author of “Less is More,” “Slow is Beautiful” and “Circle of Simplicity.” She can be reached

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