It’s Not About Scarcity
No Impact Man, Colin Beavan, wrote a book and created a documentary around trying to erase his carbon footprint for a year. Picture his family playing charades by candlelight, washing clothes by hand in the tub, trudging up stairs in tall New York City buildings and giving up coffee as they learned to eat more locally. Here are just a few reasons why I liked this book:
1. He knows the task is impossible, but he has fun trying.
2. Accompanying him on the adventure reminds us that we are actually in charge of more of our life than we think. It challenges us toward intention, growing a critical view of the status quo and playfulness.
3. The journey became surprisingly spiritual for his wife and him. When they consumed less, they automatically started thinking more about life and death and being human. She started covering a wall in her house with poetry. He dealt with emotions and memories that hadn’t surfaced in years.
4. Martyrdom was never the goal. Even though he slowly tackled different areas of life (transportation, electricity, food etc), which required major changes in behavior, it was never about giving things up. He didn’t have a scarcity mindset. And he knew that nothing was irreversible. At the end of the year, he only kept the changes that were life-giving to him, the ones that worked. Giving up the TV led to more communication, intimacy and sex with his wife. He liked that. They said no to functions they couldn’t bike to, and liked their freer schedules. In many cases, doing the right thing for the environment proved to be the right thing for their happiness, too. Yet in the end, he goes back to using the fridge, washer and dryer and drinking coffee.
I was reminded of Beavan and his year of becoming No Impact Man recently when the question came up yet again: Can simplicity be fun? We only tend to think that downshifting our lives means giving up things we love. Doing the right thing doesn’t have to be a drag. Being less consumeristic can lead to abundance, not scarcity. Beavan was brave enough to find that out, but he’s not alone. One of my favorite writers on intentionality, Mr. Money Mustache, in a recent post reminds his readers that his lifestyle is in no way about extreme frugality or living in poverty. It is about building a life that is decluttered enough to maximize family time and happiness:
This is not about being cheap, minimalist, or extreme. It’s about using logic and science to design a Slightly Less Ridiculous Than Average Lifestyle in order to live more happily…Learning to separate “happiness” from “spending money” is the quickest and most reliable way to a better life. The side-effect of this is that your life will become much less expensive and you will therefore become much wealthier very quickly.
Marie Sherlock promotes abundance via simplicity in Living Simply With Children. She stresses repeatedly to be honest with your children about why you are making the simplicity decision you are making. Don’t say, “We can’t afford to buy this.” Chances are, you can afford it, you are just choosing not to. Your children will respect that. The book is full of ideas of how families can downshift in a way that makes daily life more fun, more full. If you do it intentionally, your kids won’t miss a thing.
And while you’re reading, try David Cain’s blog Raptitude. In a recent post, his 67 pieces of advice give you a nice sense of his philosophy and what he likes to muse about on the site. Here’s a sampling:
Consciously plan your life, or others will do it for you.
Get rid of stuff you don’t use.
Unused and unappreciated things make us feel bad.
Spend as long as it takes — five or ten years even — to move towards a line of work that feels well-suited to you.
Try making small, humble presents instead of buying big ones, and see how different it feels for both you and the recipient.
Donate clothes that you don’t feel good wearing.
When you’re about to buy something, think about what feeling you’re actually after. Ultimately we only want things because of how they promise to make us feel.
Beavan, MMM, Sherlock and Cain have downshifted successfully. And luckily for us, they have documented their process and tricks of the trade. They show us in their own ways how downshifting can lead to wealth, more enriched family time, and a heightened sense of our humanity. They want to share their methods with us because they have found more in less and believe that we will too if we are brave enough to let go and give it a try.