Simple living, or the pursuit of a simpler life, is often imagined as an exercise in reduction. In other words, in order to achieve mindful serenity or daily calm one must first relinquish modernity, exchanging fast-track urbanity for something akin to The Good Life, that 1970s comedy sitcom in which Tom and Barbara Good quest for self-sufficiency in Surbiton. Or perhaps it must involve a greater sense of sacrifice such as that tested by Henry David Thoreau, the 19th Century philosopher who decamped alone to a cabin he built in the woods of Massachusetts for two years, two months and two days. Why? As he puts it, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” But is this realistic in the 21st Century? More to the point, is it even remotely desirable?
I think not. Rather, today, I believe the key to simpler living is much more easily achieved. It’s about enriching your daily life by making your home, work and crucially technology really work for you, thus freeing more time, energy and attention for rest, or recreation with the people you love. Our phones, tablets and Blackberrys, should liberate us, enabling efficient simplification of previously laborious or time-hoover tasks: sort your banking over breakfast and your weekly shop from your bed (save physical visits for when you want to browse for “treats”; got to applaud Waitrose here for offering free tea or coffee to its in-store shopping ‘members’). But excitingly, there’s way more potential for the helpfully-integrated home on the horizon via what’s popularly dubbed ‘the internet of things’. We explore (and explain) what this means inside the June issue.
But it’s not just about simplification through efficiency, it’s also about the things we surround ourselves with, and what we choose to spend our money on too. According to James Wallman, author of Stuffocation, living more with less, “Having too much, doing too little, and living a life focused on the accumulation of material things is making people anxious and causing them stress. It can, so new research suggests, lead to the sort of depression that makes people die before their time.” Gulp.
And so, we start to explore what simpler living in the 21st Century might look like, personally, I think it definitely involves the following…
• Surround yourself with treasured things.
• When buying new, buy only what you love.
• Live a life replete with experiences, rather than one just packed with things.
• Make it all count by consciously making the most of wherever you find yourself.
First published as my Editor’s Letter in the June 2015 edition of ELLE Decoration UK