Here at Simply Enough it’s all about living simply so that others may have enough. It’s a pretty simple concept really. If we use less of our resources, there will be more left over for others. One billion people are hungry as we speak. And with the famine torturing East Africa, things are worse than ever.
Now, it may be difficult to see how your living simply will make a difference. So you skipped that dessert, because you just can’t stomach it when you know a billion of your brothers and sisters don’t have enough to eat. So what? It’s not going to feed them.
Well… It can. Imagine you forego a $4.50 dessert at a mediocre restaurant. If you send that $4.50 to Africa, it will feed a child for two weeks. That’s two weeks that a child doesn’t have to go hungry!
Below are five concrete ways you can change the world through your simple living lifestyle:
Buy Only What You Need
On New Years Day 2009, I decided that for a year, I would buy new clothes only if I absolutely needed to. I ended up buying like five pieces of clothing that year, primarily new workout clothes.
At the end of the year, I realized that it had been so easy that I should extend the resolution to include all purchases. Now, this gets really hard with food, but with most other purchases, it’s worked out quite well.
Here’s how the internal dialog goes: “Ooooh, that kitchen gadget would be really useful! But do I need it? How often will I use it? Will it significantly enhance my life to warrant the cost? Where will I store it? Will I have to spend time or money maintaining it? Am I going to have to dust it (eeek!)?”
Nine times out of ten, the item stays on the shelf (or on the eCommerce site) and I happily move on. In the event that I do buy the item (like the awesome new Swedish-style waffle iron I just acquired), I know it is going to be an insanely useful item that I’ll use lots and will make me or someone in my family very happy.
Keep in mind that “need” is going to be an individual concept. My husband and I need a treadmill, because the Iowa winters are brutal and we run a lot to stay healthy and happy. Somebody else may need a grill, because that is how they like to prepare food.
It’s not so much the definition of “need” that matters, rather the thought-process that goes along with any purchase you make. It forces you to be a mindful consumer and ensures that you’re buying only things you are going to use, love, and keep forever.
Volunteer Your Time
When I had a nice salary, giving cash to various charities and educational institutions was an easy way to attempt to change the world. However, on the involvement spectrum, it is the least connected you can be to a cause. And if you’ve decided to live simply in order to do what you love (which doesn’t always generate a huge income), giving money (or at least a lot of it) may not be feasible.
Now that I have left my super-intense corporate job, I don’t have tons of money, but I have time. And it’s awesome!
Last week, my friend Amanda sent out a request for help to get her new Pilates studio fixed up. This is a great initiative and the goal is to make it a general wellness hub. I’m all about wellness, so I sent her a note letting her know that I could help out. Thus, on Wednesday afternoon, I put on my worker gloves, biked over to her place, and hauled carpet, padding, and other random junk to a big container in the back yard. The manual labor aspect of the activity was the best part. I don’t get to use my body the way it was intended to be used (for physical work) very often and it was exhilarating. Yes, my friend got rid of the junk, but I think I got the better end of the deal.
That’s what you always hear from volunteers, right? It makes you feel good! And it doesn’t cost a dime!!
As a person attempting to live simply, you probably know that buying food in bulk is cheaper than the pre-packaged options. Many mainstream grocery stores and especially local co-ops have the option for you to buy many different types of food in bulk. You simply bring your own container, note the weight of said container, and fill it up with whatever it is you’re buying (flour, pasta, dried fruit, baker’s yeast, chocolate chips, oatmeal, nuts, chia seeds, you name it!).
How cool is that? No packaging.
Think about how much trash (and money!) you can save by simply buying food in bulk using your own container. It’s a win-win for both you and Mother Earth.
We covered “reduce” in the first section about only buying what you need. Here are the rest of the Rs (I’ve added my own – Repair):
- Reuse – To me, reuse means getting the most out of your purchases and avoiding one-time-use products. This could be everything from carrying the same old purse until it falls apart (my record is 10 years), washing your ziplock bags for multiple uses (or better yet, using glass or stainless steel containers), donating shoeboxes, toilet paper rolls, bottle caps, etc to schools and daycare centers whose students will transform these into works of art, choosing cloth napkins and handkerchiefs over one-time paper products, and using real plates and silverware at your next party.
- Repair – I realize that mending is becoming somewhat of a lost art. This fact makes me sad. Indeed, I have a bag with three garments that are waiting patiently in my closet for me to call a seamstress in town to have them fixed. Because why would I throw away a perfectly fine pair of jeans just because the zipper is broken? I find it helpful to think about possible repair needs before even buying a product. I prefer to spend a bit more on stuff that won’t break within six months. I also prefer to buy products that I could potentially fix myself. I have this dream of starting a “mending club” where people come together with their broken stuff and knowledgable folks help the not-so-handy people fix their things. (I should get on that…)
- Recycle – It’s important to realize that glass, plastic, aluminum, paper, and cardboard aren’t the only materials that can be recycled. All electronics can be taken to Best Buy and recycled for free. Some recycling stations have special days where you can bring batteries and hazardous materials. Some cities have fabric recycling (though not nearly enough!). Items that still work and could be useful to others can be donated to organizations like Goodwill, The Salvation Army, and local second hand stores. I have another dream that our government will one day pass legislation related to manufacturers being responsible for the sustainable disposal of their worn products (aka product stewardship). This is already implemented in some European countries. Think this might affect the quality and recyclability of the products?
The theme here is to create less trash and spend less on new stuff. Again, it’s a win-win for everybody.
Eat Like a Poor Person
I put this section last, because it’s one that I’m still working on implementing. The phrase “eat like a poor person” is from the book Born to Run and it’s in reference to the best diet for endurance running. However, it is also the best diet for changing the world.
A vegetarian diet costs less than an omnivore diet. It is also better for your health and better for the environment. Further, food is often a big part of a family’s budget (I know it is for us!), so cuts made here will result in significant savings. These savings can be used to allow others to get an education, make a living, and thus have enough to eat.
Beans, veggies, root vegetables, tubers, grains, and seasonal fruit should be the basis of your diet. Avoid processed foods, sugar, and white flour, pasta, etc. This is not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy your food (you should!), but your tastebuds may need some time to adjust to a less sweet/salty/greasy diet. Also, I’m also not saying that you must avoid meat completely, but it should definitely not be the center of your meals or even something you eat every day.
Of course, before you make any significant changes to your diet, be sure to consult your health professional (there, I’m covered…).
The book Radical Simplicity has wonderful tools to help you calculate how to eat your share. Because that’s really what it’s all about. We (the global community) need to figure out a way to live (how we eat, how we dwell, how we consume, how we travel, how we dispose of waste, etc) where everybody has enough and were we are not destroying our planet.
Through our combined efforts to live simply, we are changing the world. One mindful action at a time.
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