In his classic Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life that is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich (Quill Books, 2010), social scientist and visionary Duane Elgin speaks eloquently about the possibilities of choosing to live simply. Hidden within the book and implicit in his further writings, though, is the idea that lifestyle simplicity may also be involuntary for many of us. At some time in the future, any of us could face the reality that our present ways of living won’t work and won’t continue. Involuntary simplicity—living with limited resources, increasing difficulties or growing dangers—may be closer to many of us than we have admitted.
The people of Puerto Rico and the Carolinas have come to see this reality because of recent hurricanes. Since the Crash of 2008, unemployed and underemployed workers have faced large-scale changes in their lifestyles. Refugees from other countries continue to come to our shores hoping to escape the collapse of their homelands. Older adults facing longer lives with fewer financial resources have begun scaling back their way of life.
Many of us may have grown accustomed to having many choices of how to earn and spend money, to entertain ourselves, to enjoy life. And yet—as weather events, economic uncertainties and violent conflicts attest—it seems more and more likely that a greater number of us, including elders, will find limited possibilities for living what we have previously considered a good life.
We can be dismayed at the slow diminishment of lifestyle choices. But we might also look at these growing trends as an opportunity to re-calibrate what it means to live well, to find well-being and satisfaction. Survivors of Hurricane Florence, having lost possessions, homes or livelihoods, will choose to reset their expectations about living well. Divested of almost everything around them, immigrants from Central America will risk unjust deportation and governmental prejudice to seek safety—a primary building-block for any lifestyle. Older adults with minimal savings will rediscover the presence of caring relatives and communities as a source of hope.
Any of us whose lifestyles have become corroded or controlled by our possessions, unmanageable schedules or role expectations can hope for enough time, energy and wisdom to re-think our gentle hedonism, our quiet self-absorption or our hidden trust in money and possessions. We can learn from the examples of those who have already simplified their lives, whether by choice or involuntarily. We can watch their re-started lives for signs of joy, hope and generosity. We can donate time, expertise and money to help others regain basic qualities of life. We can speak out when greed, injustice or hate remove from others their ability to live well.
The precepts of living simply are tightly wound into our understanding of God’s will for the world. We can dig into our spiritual roots to find godly foundations for how best to live with Jesus’ example in mind. The commands and invitations of the Scriptures offer the choice to live righteously, to repudiate idolatry and fulfill our fondest hopes for self-worth in giving ourselves to the welfare of others.
Those voluntary choices for simplicity—of purpose and meaning—will help ready us for the possible moments when tragedy offers us the chance to reset our lifestyles.
………A PERSONAL INVITATION……..
If you’re interested in exploring these ideas in depth alongside other older adults, consider attending the 50Forward Retreat “Simple Enough: Living More With Less” at LutherRidge Camp in Asheville, North Carolina, October 19-21. Leaders and participants in this event will encourage each other in the spiritual and practical elements of simplicity. To register, visit https://50forwardlife.org/events/living-well-retreat/ or phone 828.684.2861.