Living Simply

“You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.”  I read this quote awhile back, and it has been sitting with me ever since. I am exceedingly blessed not to have been plagued with an overly materialistic desire. Growing up, emphasis was placed on generosity to those less fortunate, using only what you need, and being greatly aware of the environmental impact of one’s actions.

As I packed and ran off to college, I learned a new simplicity… how to give up hobbies that would take more time and supplies than I could give. I was living in a dorm, so gardening was out. I had a meal plan, so I gave up cooking. Clothes and school supplies replaced my painting and craft wares. Course books replaced my poetry and literature treasures. Pictures of immediate family took over for art and décor. Looking back, I had to adopt a very primitive lifestyle due to space, time, and budget. It facilitated the move back home after graduation… I couldn’t WAIT to go back to the life I had left behind!

While studying at college, I had the opportunity to travel abroad and learned yet another mode of simplicity… how to pack light. Having grown up camping and day-hiking, I was exposed to the experience of wearing everything you need. Food, clothes, and basic survival gear fit on your body or in your backpack. It is satisfying knowing that the extent of global impact was only in what your person could manage and not what any mechanical or technological device that you operated could do. Travel clothes became outing clothes became serendipitous evening clothes. Three sets of undergarments lasted ten days with handwashing. A bar of soap became laundry detergent and shampoo. Your fingers became utensils, and your disposable lunch cup was saved to be a “leftovers” container for dinner. Creativity and practicality became kindred companions.

Fast forward three years to my moving to L.A. and sharing an apartment with three other people. Yet again, I pilfered through my life’s collections at home to discern what would be necessary in this new city life. What domestic supplies did my roommates already have? What books could I not live without? What clothes hadn’t I worn in months and could be donated to make room for a trendier closet? What sentimental objects did I want to remember, and which were content to remain immaterial memories? Of course, I’ve slightly added to my room each time I venture home, but for the most part I have what I need.

It is very odd, then, to live with this simplicity in this California city which favors “more, more, more!” Within my first three months I found myself buying things because “I deserved it” or it was “just a treat.”  I suddenly “needed” more than I ever had before. It was indulgent and felt good to pretend I was a rich celebrity who could afford to set free my impulsive desires.

And yet, I became increasingly dissatisfied because I’d want something, buy it, feel guilty, get stressed about the thrown-away money, and seek fulfillment in something else. Something had to be done! So, I resolved not to buy anything for a week. No food (I’d eat what was in the pantry, even if it was beans and rice for three days), no clothes, no magazines or books, no gum, no coffee. Nothing.

At the end of my week experiment, I felt like I’d had a tough but satisfying workout.  More importantly,  my sensitivity to simplicity was restored. Remember: wealth is relative to desire.