Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy, and Lasting Happiness is a collection of essays edited by Andrews & Urbanska on the subject of simplicity. Voluntary simplicity – choosing to work less, spend less, buy less, and live in less space – is an excellent topic for Lent, so I dove in.
Andrews begins by defining simplicity, and explains how a simpler life is a social justice issue. When corporations go profit-mad, workers are exploited. When individuals go consumption-mad, Earth’s resources are wasted, leaving less for the poor. If we use up all the oil, there is none left for other nations; and if we’re buying new gadgets every week, we have less money to spend on charity. [People accuse me of zero-sum thinking when I say things like this. You know what? When there’s a finite amount of a resource someday it will be gone. The solution is not to plug our fingers in our ears and continue using it profligately until we get a rude awakening; rather, it’s to use the resource wisely until we can either find a substitute or make more of it.]
However, the book is not a recitation by Debbie Downer or a polemic designed to make us all feel guilty for breathing! Instead, it’s contains the perspective of a individuals who chose a simpler lifestyle and the positive effects it has had on their happiness, their relationships with family, and their communities. Contributors include:
- Social scientists who found that people who lived mindfully and according to their values were happier than people who did not.
- An American Swede who explains the Swedish concept of lagom, or just the right amount.
- Practical advice how to prevent your children from being over scheduled.
- A woman who gave up a lucrative career in advertising to move to her parents’ native Poland and work at factory making hand-blown glass Christmas ornaments.
- A couple who formed an association that reinvigorated their Minneapolis neighborhood.
- A doctor who made drastic changes to his life after a smoggy day in Washington, DC (have a handkerchief handy for this one).
Last month, I reviewed Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living, which did a great job on the whys of simplifying our lives but had fewer suggestions for the hows. This book has the whys but also gives us some of the hows. It’s not an instruction manual, rather, these individuals explain how and why they revamped their lives, and in so doing, provide us lessons for how we might change our lives. And while it’s by no means a religious book, lessons from Christianity are sprinkled in here and there, including my favorite quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
Overall, an enjoyable read, and good food for thought!