What was simple living about again?

The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.
~Joan Didion

Lupa reminded me in my last post that balance is key. I often hear that one of the big draws of simple living is the need for a life “in balance.” But a life in balance isn’t a life lived Amish-style. Nor is it, as I said earlier, a life lived so sterilely minimalist that one can’t even have someone over without having them bring towels and their own bedsheets.

Extremism is pretty popular in simple living, though. And I’d have to say, “Sorry, but I don’t want to live in the 50s.” You know what? The clerks at the grocery store don’t know me by name but many of them recognize me and more will converse. And this is not a small town. That’s why I don’t go to Wal-mart. The checkers at Wal-mart don’t have time for short conversations with customers. I’d rather pay ten cents more (if that) and get a few extra chats in. If I do a family dinner there’s no distractions…shit gets shut off. Hell, the most distracted I get during the weekly Pizza Rolls and Beer Night is to hit the internet for a minute before going “oh, yeah…food!” Same for friend time…most of my friends are far more interested in conversation than they are in their phones.

Is this just an exaggeration? Do people really text someone while you’re both out for coffee? Do you really find yourself getting constantly distracted by phone, internet, and TV during Pizza Rolls and Beer Night? Are you and yours so damn out of it that you would consider these things possible, much less sit there and let it happen without going “Hey, I’m right here. Not in the phone.” Or is it just a case of trying to make up excuses to want something you can’t have and that probably wasn’t that great to begin with?

Want dinner without distractions? Turn off the phone, the TV, and the computer. It’s so damn easy it’s not funny. MAKE SOME RULES. And then enforce them.

But I digress. Instead of searching for ways to balance modern life with the supposed simplicity of earlier times, it seems that people just want to reject modernity altogether. Or at least the part not manufactured by Apple. It’s not just related to the number of items you own or the way in which you eat dinner. It’s also those stupid digital sabbaticals and car-free lifestyles. That’s not balanced, that’s unbalanced. In the opposite direction. There’s a reason people in the so-called “developing countries” want to live like us so bad. Because we have it so god damn easy we have to reject it to be happy. Or some of us do.

I do admit that once you’ve got a spouse and/or children to care for, things can get a little more difficult, but again, RULES. And there are, of course, always those who are binary…either on or off. I’m quitting soda again for this very reason. I either don’t drink soda at all, or I drink it four times a day (or I’m well on my way to four times a day). I can’t moderate my soda intake very well. Some people may not be able to monitor their Facebook/Twitter/Fuckwhat intake very well. But it seems the simple living response to this is to have days in which there is no Fuckwhat access allowed at all, rather than advising the person to get a phone that doesn’t do internet.

But I suppose bitching about the life you lead or going for a Neo-Luddite kind of life is easier than trying to balance life and Minecraft. Or maybe I’m just one of those people who find it easy to balance things, although I find it pretty difficult not to. Good friend calls, asks me out for dinner, no fucking question, I’m going. Why the hell would I want to play Minecraft when I could have dinner with friends? Why text on the phone when there’s someone facing me to talk to? Why tolerate distractions during family dinner time? Why go to Wal-mart when I can go somewhere else where the cashiers actually know the fine art of small talk? Why is the sky blue? Why do people seem to have problems with this stuff? Someone enlighten me, please.


11 Responses to “What was simple living about again?”

  1. The thing is, this whole simple living thing is to get people to realize how much they’re consuming that they don’t need. IMO, ultimately it’s not about keeping up (or down) with the Joneses. What it is, is knowing what you need vs what you want, and minimizing the unnecessary wants. What a need is and what a want is varies from person to person. For example, I consider my smartphone a need at this point from a business perspective. I need to be able to have access to my email and the internet immediately in some cases to be able to keep up with important communications, and I don’t want to always be tied to my computer. But I also have phone-free times, like hiking. In a similar vein, wants can sometimes be needs on a psychological level; certain things with very strong sentimental value (like old stuffed animals, for example) may not have pragmatic use, but can be very supportive of mental and emotional health.

    • “IMO, ultimately it’s not about keeping up (or down) with the Joneses. What it is, is knowing what you need vs what you want, and minimizing the unnecessary wants. What a need is and what a want is varies from person to person.”

      I think you said it best right there.

      I admit, I’m biased against smart phones, since I’m not a smart phone person. Occasionally one gets handed to me and I’m all D: “It did a thing! Make it stop!” And I’ve definitely got a stuffed animal I would run into my burning apartment to save (after my cats, of course).

  2. “Why go to Wal-mart when I can go somewhere else where the cashiers actually know the fine art of small talk?”

    I’m one of those people who, if I have to buy anything, I go into the store, grab it, pay, and head out. But for the stop at the cashier my body language can sometimes be barely distinguishable from a robbery.

    Even if I walk into a store with very specific parameters and questions the first thing that comes out of my mouth if approached by any retail staff is “Just browsing” with an implied “Please go away”, the fact that they actually could have helped me be damned.

    Why? I could probably make up a whole slew of reasons but they all boil down to some compulsive need to get away from people, however much I might actually want human contact. From the sorts of reactions I get when I try to break out of this habit in a public place, it’s not only not bizarre but not even remotely as abnormal as it seems like it ought to be.

    • I do that sometimes. I have days when all I want to do is get in, get out, and not deal with anyone.

      And I have to admit, there a point of familiarity with store employees that can be rather awkward. There have been times when I’ve become rather known at a store only to suddenly start trying to avoid it because of that familiarity. I can’t really describe it.

  3. Something I have seen in terms of simple living extremists is a complete rejection of anything good coming from our technology. That, to me, is kind of ludicrous. Yet, on the other hand, the imbalance from the other side offers me just as cold a comfort. I find a balance between the two, learning to live off the land while still living with modern convenience.

    I certainly appreciate the ability to ‘talk’ here and elsewhere, finding conversation with like-minded and completely different-minded people at all hours, especially when my brain is decidedly ‘on’, and writing helps wind me down. Something that has been difficult at times is limiting my computer use. Yet, when I do shut a lot of things off of my computer (except my phone which is on and on silent a lot of the time) sometime I feel more connected to the world around me. It’s a balancing act between myself, the world around me, and the various little things that distract or entertain me online.

    While I am interested in the Earthship project, that doesn’t mean I’m going to dump my computer. If anything, I want to chronicle that journey. With the way that we can live alongside nature with low impact, I don’t see as big a need to get rid of all the conveniences of modern life. Like you said, set rules and ENFORCE THEM. Sometimes you step over your own rules, but hey, everyone screws up. You just get back on the horse and keep riding, or back on your feet and keep walking.

    • Precisely.

      Hell, the internet is the whole reason the simple living and minimalism movements got off the ground…minimalism is almost completely synonymous with blogging. To a lesser degree, it’s the same with the modern simple living movement. To see people whose careers revolve around the computer decry it in favor of “digital sabbaticals” just seems kind of…weird.

      • Given I was turned on to the Earthship project by friends who threw me the link online and then watched the Garbage Warrior documentary, I agree with what you have to say here. I probably would not have known (or at least, would have been a great deal more skeptical) without the research available at my fingertips.

        The digital sabbaticals thing is kind of weird, especially for someone like myself who really likes being hooked in. Sometimes though, I got to get offline for a good amount of time, so sometimes having a kind of “internet fast” helps me reconnect to the world around me when I get to ignoring the world around me.

  4. Dragonwolf Says:

    “But a life in balance isn’t a life lived Amish-style.”

    I don’t know. We could actually learn a lot from the Amish if we paid attention to what they do. There’s actually a lot more to the Amish community than just living without electricity and cars. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that they embody the very ideals of simple living that you’re touting.

    Granted, our own culture and community (not to mention architecture) no longer feasibly allows us to live without things like electricity, but there’s actually a very good method to their madness. The Amish don’t shun technology outright (many of them actually use cell phones, gas powered lawn mowers, and even have solar panels on their houses), but rather don’t adopt technology for technology’s sake. They take a good, long, hard look at a given piece of technology and decide whether it’s in line with their ideals of simple living and serving Jehovah, as well as whether it’s sustainable and still allows them their autonomy.

    I think there’s a lot we could learn from them about simple living, even if we decide not to go as far as they do. Live simply, eat locally (and organically), build community, adopt technology for necessity instead of technology’s own sake, take care of each other and the earth. These are but a few lessons we could learn from them.

    • I agree, to a point. However, “technology for…technology’s own sake” is the whole reason we have much of what we have today.

      I’m a fan of technology, be it for necessity or not. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be on the computer right now. I don’t regard the computer as a necessity, merely as a luxury, just like my cell phone.

      The Amish have their idea of balance, as does the blogger I linked to, and as do I. I don’t feel the Amish way of life is the one for me, just as they probably feel my life isn’t the life for them. But as this is an online blog, I tend to gear my posts to an online audience, which probably leaves most of the Amish out. :)

  5. Justin Says:

    Sounds like you have it all figured out. Good for you.

  6. I am pleased that Dragonwolf mentioned the Amish. My understanding is that the Amish are much more involved with their community than Americans are, and at a much more personal level. Amish share work at a level seldom seen outside the military today, help each other, gather for worship and then extended intermingling and conversation. They race their buggies, some of them, are competitive, and quite often joyful. Even the sometimes rigid oversight of members of each community by the district Bishops for adherence to the ordnung helps to bind each member to the others.

    The way the IRS binds Americans into a distrust of the government doesn’t even come close.

    I recall a visit to a local Pizza Inn about three years ago. I watched a couple enter with their two children. The son pulled out a DVD player and set it on the table; Dad carried the battery pack. Dad spent 90% of the time on a cell phone. Mom and daughter chatted with each other (daughter sat as far from Dad as the table allowed.)

    And while you are dissing the Wal-Mart checkers, I am minded of the number of times, and hours of the week, that the line of folk waiting in line to check out is long enough to make people angry — which tends to focus one’s attention on keeping the line moving as a courtesy to the rest of the folks in line. Think of Wal-Mart as enabling the other stores in town to focus on what they do best, and leave the cheap and mass selling to Wal-Mart. The other cashiers in town would lose their chance to chat without Wal-Mart, Dollar General, Lowe’s, Builders Supply, Home Depot, etc.

    As for why people have trouble with what you euphemistically call ‘balance’, that comes down to media exposure. Most particularly, to advertising. Advertising in print, on TV, on radio, on the Internet — it is all colorful, blatant, and intended to distract from the ‘story’ being told.

    Wired.com had an article this week, on research showing that advertising creates false memories. Merely being exposed to the ad tends to create a memory of personally enacting the advertising scene or claim; repetition, I imagine, tends to reinforce that deja vu legacy of having used, and thus needing to continue to use, the advertised product. Spend time watching or reading stories of fantasy or romance, and we are more likely to incorporate articles, practices, and mannerisms into our daily lives.

    There is also the aspect that if we see ten stores selling phones — or an aisle in Wal-Mart — that we notice our friends, neighbors, and community members carrying cell phones, discussing plans, texting, etc. Or maybe our boss, our mother in law, our church asks us for our cell phone number — or complains about a missed opportunity because we weren’t ‘available’.

    The Amish that you mentioned actively strive to limit the exposure of mass media and advertising on themselves and their children. Where they spend their attention and recreation hours with and about family, discussing their crafts and farms and families, the rest of America is texting, discussing the movie some anonymous or famous entity is making available online or at the local theater, the car some company is producing, the school someone is offering parents to ‘educate’ their children just like ‘successful’ people.

    Taking a deliberate break from various aspects of the profligate life that has become the American norm is quite extreme. Think of it as life-boat drills, practice in case the ship sinks. Drills are important — they teach us to use the emergency equipment, show us what skills to sharpen up, and help reveal, in a time when we have latitude to act, what might have been overlooked.

    Jenny Craig starts out their dieting program with an intense, “avoid anything we don’t sell you to eat” period when most of the change (weight loss) occurs. Then the transition begins to get on with the rest of your life (supposedly, maintaining the loss isn’t typical — which is the same thing you see with extreme tech avoidance that happens for a bit, then left behind like a bad wife.

    Taking the time to choose a mate-prospect with the aptitude, interests, skills, and character to make a good, shared life isn’t very popular today. Neither is choosing a life that makes good use of the energy needed without squandering resources.

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