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Voluntary simplicity was a popular topic at one time. There were books written on the topic, simplicity circles sprang up, and David Thoreau became a household name for a while. The basic idea behind voluntary simplicity is that you can gain more meaning in your life by simplifying your possessions, your activities, your lifestyle choices down to the those that have the most value to you. This frees your mind and your time to focus on what really matters to you. It came to be associated with minimalist lifestyles, self-sufficiency, frugality. Marie Kondo’s approach to reducing possessions to only those that “spark joy” is a more recent manifestation of this idea that less is more.
But to me, living simply is not about giving things up or seeking meaning in everything I own. It is about living mindfully. By that, I mean identifying my core values and living my life in alignment with those values. It means examining my choices through the lens of those values. Sometimes it means giving things up, and sometimes it means investing more time, money and effort into something that I cherish.
One of my core values is environmentalism: the belief that I have a responsibility to nurture and protect the natural systems that support life in a way that allows these systems to function for generations to come. My climate activism sprang out of that environmentalist core value since human activity is disrupting our climate to such a degree that it is threatening the long term survival of humans and other life forms.
Air travel for leisure, for example, is not consistent with my core value of protecting our climate so I have chosen to forgo that pleasure. That decision was hard, but it is made easier because I know that it is a decision that is true to who I am and who I wish to be. On the flip side, I have chosen to spend extra money, time and resources on insulating my basement. Not only does that reduce my carbon footprint, but it also makes my home more comfortable to live in: something else that I value. While my decisions are right for me, they may not be for others with other life priorities. My hope, however, is that our society will increasingly come to value climate change mitigation and will begin to prioritize the choices that are consistent with that value.
The Working Centre here in Waterloo Region has put out a study guide for simplicity circles. It has readings, activities, and guides for facilitated discussions that are designed to take place in ten sessions. It is ideal for a group of 4-10 people who are committed to honestly exploring how they live their life in an environment of mutual support. It can be difficult and it can be incredibly rewarding. I have participated in such a circle twice now and each time I gained a deeper understanding of myself and my fellow travelers on the path. It feels good to know that I am living a life that is true to who I am, a life that supports a safe climate future, a life that may not be minimalist but is mindful.