Personal growth

Voluntary simplicity, and a crisis of conscience

Originally posted on myspace 12/24/2006

Lately I have been feeling that I am at somewhat of a turning point. With the impending move into my new apartment, I have been thinking a lot about simplifying my life. Both in an outward and an inward sense. I’ve had an increasing awareness that I have a lot of things I don’t need. Many of my possessions have been in storage for the past year and I’m sure I’ve forgotten about many of them and have already demonstrated that I can get by just fine without them. It’s always been hard for me to get rid of things because I feel that I may want them “someday,” or they hold some minor sentimental significance, or they were gifts. But I feel ready to clear my life of unnecessary possessions and focus on what’s really important to me. I want to write more. Play my guitar more. Do more yoga. Volunteer more. This also coincides with a time in my life where I have been focusing more on health and nutrition and buying more organic foods, as well as contemplating what else I can do to protect the environment beyond the recycling I already do (which is, sadly, much more than most people I know. Yes, I am the girl who fishes aluminum cans out of the trash at work). All of this goes hand in hand towards living a more centered, deliberate, sustainable lifestyle. And guess what, there is a name for this, and a corresponding movement: it’s called voluntary simplicity.

According to the Simple Living Network, voluntary simplicity “is not about living in poverty or self-inflicted deprivation. Rather, it is about living an examined life — one in which you have determined what is important, or ‘enough,’ for you, discarding the rest.” Duane Elgin, author of the book Voluntary Simplicity, describes it as “living in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich.” Yesterday, after searching online for some books on the subject, I picked up a back copy of my mom’s Yoga Journal magazine only to discover an article on this very topic. It’s all around me, and the impetus to transform my life is undeniable. In fact, I feel that I am in the process of returning to my true self, and that (for various reasons, which I won’t go into here, but of which I have been keenly aware for a long time) for the past several years I have on a path away from that true self. I spent the later years of my twenties too concerned about other things, and it’s well past time to get back on track.

Which brings me to a somewhat more disturbing component of this desire to transform my life. For many people, voluntary simplicity means leaving an unfulfilling career to work in a field that gives them more joy and energy. Let me just start off my saying that I like my job. A lot, actually. I do feel fulfilled, and challenged, and appreciated. I am allowed to be creative and work independently, I have some great benefits, and I work with some great people. And for all this I feel very fortunate, because I’ve had some really awful jobs and it’s taken me to my thirties to get to this point. And perhaps most importantly, I can find value in the fact that I work for a non-profit educational corporation. I left another job in marketing several years because of the overconsumption and waste involved in that particular industry, at which point I began my string of afore-mentioned awful jobs in my search for something meaningful. So I do feel good about working in an industry that offers a service to others. However. We are also direct mailers, which means we put a lot of printed material into the mail stream, most of which I’m sure is promptly discarded (probably not recycled). Last week I visited our printer in Pennsylvania, and even though I’ve been there before, this time I was struck by the vast amount of paper consumed by the printing industry. And even if the printer itself recycles its paper waste (which I did not, regrettably, take the opportunity to ask), it is ultimately in the hands of the end consumer to properly dispose of this material.

I’m not sure yet how I go about reconciling being an environmentalist and a direct mailer, but I think sooner or later I am going to have to make a decision. Does the fact that we are an educational corporation at least somewhat compensate for our resource exploitation? Can I continue creating something that many people would consider “junk mail”? I only hope that, for now, focusing on the other things that are of value to me can help me come to terms with the fact that I am killing a lot of trees at work. At the very least, it’s apparent that I need to increase my volunteer work with the recycling centers and step up the recycling efforts that are already in place at the office. Maybe doing that can at least get me through to the point where I feel that I have learned enough in my current field and I am ready to move on. And when I do, at least I will know that I did everything that I could to counteract my industry’s impact on the environment.

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