voluntary simplicity

Toward the end of my Human Behavior & Energy Consumption class this semester, we had a really great discussion about the motives of individuals when it comes to energy consumption–are we able to override the consumption drivers we have and simplify? Are we able to do it without incentive? Just because it’s right & good for all of us? Just because it’s not hard?

Maybe not on a large-scale level (yet), but lots of people are practicing “voluntary simplicity” (basically to simple living). They’re choosing to forgo modern conveniences in favor of simpler, more traditional & lower impact options. Choosing Voluntary Simplicity is a site full of examples… but sometimes it’s the examples that turn us away from voluntary simplicity.

After watching No Impact Man, in which a man & his wife transition to a nearly carbon-neutral lifestyle, I felt like I was just oozing carbon emissions. I felt like a failure. But I had no motivation to do better. It was everything, all at once. Fortunately, the No Impact Project took the idea & scaled it back–keeping the same end goal, but providing a sense of community that lets you work one step at a time.

This week, Joe & I really failed at our CSA. We got two bags & two heads of lettuce, a reminder that it was really not necessary to sign up for the full share. Today, I put nearly two bags of lettuce in the trash. We managed to eat loads of kale & sturdier greens, but we’re still wasting significant amounts of food. I get really bogged down by these things, especially in financially strained times. How can we bounce back, in both money savings & waste prevention? It’s a constant question.

We try to take one step a week toward a simpler, less modern convenience-dependent lifestyle. This week?

So whatever your motive–just because, or for your religion, or for your budget, or to increase your chances of surviving a zombie apocalypse–I have this suggestion: make a list of all the ways in which you could do better. Some will be huge (get a super fuel-efficient car). Some will be really simple (hand-wash part of your laundry). Then, each week or month pick one. Focus on doing that task well. Make it a habit, then add another task.

For me, it’s using my bike for more errands. Yes,  that involved an initial investment in panniers (I got these). Yes, my bike gets heavy on the way home with groceries. It can be exhausting, & sometimes I want to quick. I even walk it up the big hill home some days. But I’m trying, & I’m sticking with it. And who else can say they work out while getting groceries or buying stamps? Multitasking for the win!

So, the point of this blog post was to say this: I write about these things in a way that sometimes feels dishonest, & I wanted to clarify that we are not awesome at this either. It’s just important not to stop. Find ways to motivate yourself to reduce your impact. Find resources to show you how. Break it into steps. Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed. Enjoy the process–in my experience, each step toward a simpler life has been a step toward a more active, less incumbered, happier life. If that’s not the case for you, try a new item on the list & give yourself credit for trying!

P.S. Later today, I’ll be playing with this recipe for madeleines. Excited to share the results with you!


About meganbetz

human geography PhD Student at Indiana University; wife, reader, writer, baker, gardener
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4 Responses to voluntary simplicity

  1. Erika says:

    I totally relate to your struggles. I absolutely hate wasting food, yet every week I throw out bags of food we don’t eat! Gotta plan better, maybe I should add up the cost of what I’m trashing for motivation.

    • meganbetz says:

      I love that! We should definitely add up the cost. For us, we even plan ahead for the week–buying ingredients to make specific meals–and still end up off.

  2. inspiring, as often you are. Thank you!

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