Voluntary Simplicity, aka Psychosis in a Materialistic world

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I woke up this morning, went to my closet and stared darkly at its contents, muttering to myself that I had nothing to wear and that I should go shopping, promising myself that after the bad couple of days I had had, I would make it up to myself and splurge like crazy. After all, I needed new clothes; I didn’t have anything to wear!

Then I kind of went into my morning routine trance and don’t remember how I got to work, but somehow I did, in one piece and unaccompanied by a shady guy named Joe angry at me for stepping on his daughter in the metro and demanding compensation.

Not that it has happened before.


A little later, when I was finally really awake, I thought back on those few minutes of despair in front of my closet and couldn’t help but roll my eyes at myself. I do have things to wear. In fact, I have a LOT of things to wear. I could easily not shop for a year or even more, especially if I start sewing well and fix the various tears some of my clothes have suffered from (currently, the life span of my needlework isn’t very long).

And yet, this is a conversation that often happens, not only about clothes but also about other things; I also know that this conversation is one that my friends often have, too. And every single time, it takes me by surprise just how much we mean it. How can we feel like we have so little, when we have so much?

My guess is that one of the culprits at hand is the intense materialism that permeates our society nowadays. We’re told, left and right, that we have to buy, buy and then buy some more. There is always something new everyone has to have. When it comes to clothes, we have to have the latest fashion item in the color that is now fashionable in the fit that is considered corrected. No wonder so many people wear black.

But even those who only wear black can get caught in the cycle of materialism. It really gets exhausting – you shop ‘til you drop, stuff your closets, become claustrophobic, need more money to pay off the credit cards and pay for storage, work overtime, get even more tired, feel even less tempted to figure out new ways of wearing your clothes, so you go shopping some more… I’m tired just writing about it!

The ironic thing is that even those who try to live a culture of voluntary simplicity get inadvertently caught in the system. For example, it’s a lot harder nowadays to buy things that last a lifetime (or even a couple of years, for that matter), and so we often find ourselves buying certain essentials more often than we used to a mere decade or so ago. My friend still has the vacuum her grandmother purchased a couple of decades ago; her sister keeps buying a new one every 5 to 6 years or so.

As I long to detach myself from these earthly desires (and as the free space in my house becomes alarmingly small), I’m left with a few prospects, all of which seem as unappealing as the other. Amongst others are: renting out storage space, moving into a larger house, commandeering the closets in my parents basement or choosing to live a life of voluntary simplicity.

Unfortunately, for the sake of finding a permanent solution as well as for the sake of the very small amount of living space left, I have to embark on the voluntary simplicity bandwagon.

Voluntary simplicity is “a lifestyle individuals choose to minimize the ‘more-is-better’ pursuit of wealth and consumption. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of reasons (…) [It’s] as a manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich, a way of being in which our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct and conscious contact with living. Simple living as a concept is distinguished from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary lifestyle choice”.

lv-giant-suitcaseWhile the basics of voluntary simplicity are quite simple, the details of it are slightly more. There are many disagreements on how to go about living a voluntarily simple life. While some choose to count the actual number of items and limit them to, say, 100, others choose to count the number of suitcases full of stuff they allow themselves to own. Then you have to choose what 100 of items is (do you count it as one pair of shoes, or two shoes?), or choose the size of the suitcase you are going to use (Louis Vuitton had a huge one that some people wouldn’t mind filling up).

Isn’t it ironic, that living a voluntarily simple life can get so complicated?

Then again, this might be the crux of the problem at hand; that instead of solving the root cause of the problem, we tend to find band-aid solution after band-aid solution, covering wound with something that makes it look OK for only a little while. And before long… Do I really need to describe what is going to happen to that wound under all those Band-Aids?

So I’m thinking that the next time I catch myself staring darkly at the contents of my closet, I will remember the fact that I’m utterly exhausted because I’m doing too much, try to scale down my activities a little bit and get more sleep, and that I shouldn’t solve the problem by going shopping for more clothes just because I’m too tired to figure out what to wear. Simple, yes, but up to now it has proven quite effective.

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