Simplicity

Sitting at our back doorsteps, all we need to live a good life lies about us. Sun, wind, people, buildings, stones, sea, birds and plants surround us. Cooperation with all these things brings harmony, opposition to them brings disaster and chaos.” ~ Bill Mollison, Introduction to Permaculture

Simplicity as Tool for Social and Ecological Change

Simplicity is a complex concept 🙂

For some of us living in wealthy countries, simplicity may mean reduce consumption and waste and “get rid” of the clutter in our lives…

For those (the majority) living in poorer countries, and for all those living “under the poverty line” in these “rich” countries, simplicity may be a bad joke: reduce what? De-clutter?

They do, however, live complex (not simple) lives: many of them are stressed due to lack of water, food, healthcare, education, safety, stable economies, jobs, etc.

Many of these scarcities, wars, social unrests and general dysfunctions are caused by an unbalance between how we (from this side of the world) use (and abuse) the world’s resources.

Ecosystems don’t live a simple life either: these days, plants, animals and all the other elements and factors shaping an ecosystem are also struggling for balance, resources and trying to adapt to the rapid change our consumption patterns are causing them.

If you think you deserve all you have because you worked/studied hard to get it, that you haven’t stolen anything from anybody and you are a good citizen of the world because you donate to those in need, think again: we don’t “deserve” more than our share, lots of people in the world work way harder than we do (and in very unsafe/unfair conditions) and get less than half of what we get, we are all stealing not only from others (where do we think the rare metals for our cell phones or the quinoa we love come from?), but from future generations (we are using, directly or indirectly, fossil fuels and resources at an unprecedented pace and there will be nothing left for others in only a few decades from now)…

The only solution to this is: simplify!

There are four components for simplicity:

  1. Be thankful for what you already have:

We tend to want what we don’t have. Somebody said, long time ago, that the best kiss is the one you never have: because you can fantasize with it and it will always be more tender, sweet and passionate than the kisses you may get from those around you.

But a kiss you’ll never have is also sad: because it may prevent you from enjoying what you get from those who truly love you.

Not everybody has something to be grateful: there are people in this world whose lives are miserable since the time they are born.

Look into your life and house, look into your community and find things you can be grateful for: I have found so many that it is astonishing: we have water each time we turn the tap, we have hot water to take a shower whenever we like, we have food both in our balcony and at the many local grocery stores, we have houses, even when they may not be paid until we are 80, we have a safe and reliable public transportation system, we have plenty of appliances that would be magic only 100 years ago: we turn them and they cool, heat, cook, mix, bake…they even talk and show images from around the world, music and allow us to communicate with people in faraway places…

And even if we don’t have “stuff”, we have family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, some may not care about us, but many do…

We have our stories and our inquiring minds, our hearts to feel and our capacity to dream and envision a better world. We have skills and attitudes, we have an able body and we can see, smell, touch, hear and taste…

If you feel you are starving or lacking, try this: every day, take a few minutes to stop and watch around you and within you and write down the things you are and have…every time you feel miserable and lacking, go back to that list…add a new “item” every day…

  1. Stop or reduce acquiring:

Through re-thinking priorities and embracing ethics, we can reject, reduce, reuse, re-distribute, repair, re-consider, re-gift, recover and (as a last resort), recycle…

As one of the things I do is teaching emergency preparedness and first aid to communities, I was used to the “survivalist” mentality of “hoarding”: stock pile food, water, survival stuff and so on…

The reality is that in the event of an earthquake, flood or fire, or even if a financial bubble explodes, being “light” is better for you than being heavily burdened by “stuff”: stuff you will lose (think fire, flood), stuff you may need to move (think earthquake, forced evacuation) and stuff that may be stolen from you and you would need to protect (think social unrest)

This does not contradict that you must have a minimum of water, food and alternative for all your basic needs (shelter, heating/cooking, sanitation, waste, etc)

Using the same mentality, you may want to re-design your “priorities” and “needs” and instead of filling your life with “stuff”, you may want to fill it with supportive guilds (of caring, nurturing, skilled, like-minded people), with skills (re-skilling yourself so instead of hoarding food, you know how and where to get it from (wild, foraging, growing, preserving), and so on…

I have a few addictions: books, gifts and beautiful things…

I am slowly learning to get fewer books (I still rationalize that they are an asset for all the community, I consult them many times a week and that, if needed, they are good as insulators and as fuel for heating and cooking)

I haven’t learnt how to stop giving: what I am trying to do now is to create the gifts myself, instead of buying them: I love giving things to people I love.

And for beautiful things, a phrase from an old master (Sister Mila) still remains in my mind: “If you love flowers, you don’t need to posses the garden, you can still be happy because other peoples’ gardens have beautiful flowers you can admire”

So now, I am starring to enjoy the beauty in other people’s gardens and being happy about that…

  1. Reducing waste:

This, at least at the beginning and while you re-consider what to do with all the stuff you already have and the one that keeps entering to your life, may be in contradiction to the “reduce” above as you may need to actually “keep” much of the stuff entering your life (after all, putting it in the garbage or recycling bin doesn’t do anything but pushing the wrinkle further)

We are surrounded by waste: almost everything at the grocery store comes in some type of packaging we need to dispose, we throw away kitchen scraps, disposable cups and plates from coffee shops and restaurants, shopping bags and so on…we even throw away our human-waste (or humanure) when only 150 years ago that was gold for farmers!

The best way, apart from trying to reduce buying stuff and actively ask for less bags, packaging, etc at the store, is to re-think what else we can do with: 1) what we already have and 2) what keeps entering our lives…

I’ll post what do I do (and what I found it can be done) with all types of “waste” and “stuff” under the “waste” chapter…so keep connected!

  1. Re-distributing resources/sharing:

Some of us were born into a culture of “ownership”: we think it is “normal” that each household has a fridge, a washing machine, a lawn-mower, a ladder, a toolkit and so on…but this is not only “not normal” for many peoples in the world today, but it is also abnormal compared to 150, 100 or even 50 years ago in many, many places in the world, including where we currently live…

One way to go simple is to re-distribute and share the things we “own” and those things we no longer need.

There may be several things you own but don’t use much (think drillers, paint brushes, ladders, even luggage, boxes, etc)…is there an opportunity in your community or among your family and friends to start a “tool library” or something similar where you can store all those things and use them only when you need them? Yes, you may need a system to ensure nobody abuses and that everybody cares for the stuff. You may accept donations of some sort if you are the main donor of all the tools, machinery, etc (or you may just donate them and forget about your “investment”, you are now investing in something bigger: community)

Other things may be stuff you don’t use but others need: I, for example, use glass containers to store food, seeds, craft materials, etc. or as containers for gifts. For somebody consuming lots of prepared food coming in glass containers, keeping them may be too much, but for me they are awesome!

One of the changes Permaculture asks from us is to be resourceful and creative: how else can we use the things around us so they become useful, beautiful, etc for us or somebody else around us?

Simplicity not only applies to “stuff”. It also applies to our bodies and souls, as well as how we invest our time and how we choose or maintain our relationships.

I love food and I love eating: from growing to preparing to storing, food is one of my favourite activities/stuff in the world…

I used to be fit for most of my life, but since I immigrated to Canada, I gained weight and it has been stubbornly sitting there…now that I have figure out that “setting limits and accepting feedback” applies to everything, including things we like, I have started to eat less, healthier and try to balance with more walking and hiking…

Update: in 2016 and after a serious meltdown (physical and spiritual), I decided to transition to veganism. I’ll be sharing sporadic updates about this and how it relates to permaculture.

The same rules we apply to stuff may be applied to de-cluttering our minds, our hearts, our bodies, our schedules and our relationships…there is, however, a connectedness among all of it as when you clean your house, suddenly your thoughts are more organized and focuses, you feel inspired and “free” and even your body feels lighter.

Relationships and commitments are more difficult to “de-clutter” but sometimes is wise to ask ourselves why are we putting so much effort in a relationship when the other person (friend, family member, co-worker, classmate, lover) makes minimum or no effort to respond back, or even worse, they hurt you with neglect or abusive behaviour…

If you find yourself going to meetings, parties or investing in relationships and commitments (including work) that instead of “filling the glass” leave you drained, frustrated, angry or depressed, there is something “cluttered” and wrong there.

And why de-cluttering our lives helps social and ecological change?

When you live lighter, not only you are not consuming what others may need for themselves: you are now free to invest your time, thoughts, feelings and efforts in causes that fully utilize your many skills and gifts: you feel fulfilled and supported because your behaviour aligns with your values, there are no regrets…

De-cluttering and leaving things and relationships that don’t work is never easy. Maybe we can use some Permaculture principles to get the work done:

  • The problem is the solution: reverse the clutter by stop cluttering
  • Start slow and small: one step at a time and focus to stay on track
  • Produce no waste: of stuff, resources, your time, your feelings, the time you have left for living this life
  • Use an value renewable resources and services: use sources of energy that keep coming and passing through the system instead of bringing foreign/unsustainable stuff to your life
  • Apply self-regulation and accept feedback: nobody can change you except yourself, and you cannot change others. However, we learn and change by interacting with those around us, including the environment. It is not a riddle: the feedback flows two-ways, just open your eyes. When we self-regulate, you change, the world changes, the feedback changes.

 

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