Voluntary Simplicity vs. Aesthetics: Maybe We Don’t Have to Choose

Colorfully decorated room

For years—literally—I’ve had this entry in my “Blog Post Ideas” list:

Simple Living – Finding the balance between necessity and aesthetics

This conundrum grew out of my desire to buy only what I need, in order to take only my share of the Earth’s resources.

Do I need art on the walls? No, not really, but it sure looks nice. Do I need decorative blankets and pillows? No, but it makes the home cozier. Do I need designer glasses in my kitchen cupboards? No, but it makes every drink just a bit more special.

For the most part, I’ve leaned toward not buying the art and the pillows and the blankets. (I did go with the designer glasses.) Our sparsely furnished house is a testament thereof.

I’ve thought about this topic extensively over the past few years, but I never came to a satisfactory conclusion, so I didn’t feel like I could write about it. Both sides of the coin are important: being mindful of the earth’s resources and being surrounded by beauty. Since humans are programmed to enjoy beautiful things, there must be a way to have both, I thought. But I wasn’t sure how.

Then I started reading and learning and dreaming about a world without money. And it hit me! In a different society with a different economic and political system, we can easily have both. We would be living more sustainably in the first place—growing and harvesting only the food we need, making only the clothes and tools we need, and finding ways to heat and cool our homes using free or renewable energy (just to name a few differences). Plus, everybody in the world would have enough.

And since we’re only spending three to four hours each day “working”—that is, contributing our talents and skills to the greater good, we’ll have lots of time to create beautiful things for ourselves and to share with others in the community. Our homes will be filled with hand-crafted, beautiful quilts, pillows, paintings, photography, glass, pottery, and other creations that we might not even have considered yet!

Once again, I am struck with how much sense a money-free world makes compared to the disaster we have today. This is just one example of many…

Until we get there, I will continue to buy only what I need or really, really love. This includes local art and poetry from Driftward Press, pottery from local potters, and other handmade-with-love items to elevate the coziness factor in my home. Maybe I don’t need those things in a strictly physical sense, but I do know that our spirit needs beauty to thrive.

What are your thoughts? Do you think surrounding yourself with beauty is important when a billion people are starving in the world? Is it possible to find balance between necessity and aesthetics?

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Biggest Aha Moment Ever

US dollar coinsEver have one of those aha moments (sometimes the product of months and years of study and conversation and pondering) when you know that you’ll never look at the world the same way again?

I had one of those recently.

A Little Background

While writing Her Lost Year, a book about children’s mental health, I came to realize that most everything that is bad in our society stems from one thing: big business (or profit at any cost).

By big business, I mean corporations that pay such low wages that their employees qualify for government welfare programs, that pollute our water and air, that care more about money than people’s well-being, and that buy politicians and exert undue influence on policy.

I ended up including a whole extra part in my book to talk about social change that must happen in order for our children to have a chance at a happy, healthy future.

So I was talking about this with a new friend at a party back in December, and he suggested that I check out Michael Tellinger and his book, UBUNTU Contributionism: A Blueprint for Human Prosperity. I started by watching a YouTube video where Tellinger lays out his vision for a world without money.

A World Without Money

Yep, you heard that right. A world without money.

I was intrigued. I had included a vision for a mental health utopia in my book, but I didn’t go this far. I didn’t know it was allowed. In fact, it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around.

However, after reading two-thirds of Tellinger’s book and viewing Zeitgeist: Addendum,* it makes all sort of sense.

Money is causing all the problems. And we don’t have to put up with it.

The Mental Health Benefits

Imagine for a minute that you didn’t have to worry about working for money. Rather, you contribute three hours per week to community projects (e.g. farming, sanitation, energy) and spend three hours per day contributing your God-given talents for the benefit of the community. The rest of the time can be spent tromping around in the woods, playing with your family, reading, making music, jumping in puddles…

And most importantly, not worrying about paying the bills or getting fired or having to work late once again and missing one more day of your children’s lives.

Do you feel relaxed yet?

Without corporations, we would also not have to worry about what to eat and what not to eat, because there are no more GMOs or corn syrup-stuffed food-like products. And we would have all the time in the world to get plenty of physical exercise, because we’re not stuck in front of a computer all day long.

Too Far Out?

I know the initial reaction of most will be that this is too far out there. It will never happen. The people at the top will never allow it.

This is true. I don’t think we can count on the people at the top (corporate leaders, the banking elite, and politicians) to put people first. Money speaks too loudly. (And this is the paradigm shift of all paradigm shifts. The monetary system has been in place for thousands of years.)

However, the alternative—status quo—is not an acceptable option. Any “reform” that continues to rely on a money-based economy is just going to be a band-aid.

We have to start “small”—by boycotting big business. And finding ways to circumvent “the system.” The more people we can get to do this, the harder it will be for corporations to survive. The more self-sufficient we become, the more likely it is that true, sustainable change can happen.

These are just my initial thoughts… I’m planning to read and write a whole lot more about this—and figure out what this means for me and my family and my community. But I’m curious to know what you think? What are your thoughts about a world without money? What questions do you have? Let me know in the comments or, if you get this email in your inbox, hit reply and let me know.

*I don’t agree with everything in this film, but it’s worth watching for the radical stance it takes on the monetary system.

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Reclaiming Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day heartsToday is Valentine’s Day. The day when we give cards with preprinted, poetic messages, foil-wrapped chocolate, and plastic-encased bouquets to our loved ones.

To some, it’s a bit nauseating. Especially to the people who don’t have a special “valentine” on this fourteenth day of February.

However, I must say that I love the history of the tradition. It’s easy to imagine that the card industry “made up” Valentine’s Day to sell (one billion) more cards, but there is in fact real, saintly history behind it. But like every other holiday, it’s been highjacked by capitalism.

Make It Personal

While some people decide not to commemorate Valentine’s Day because of the various issues is raises, I think there are ways to reclaim Valentine’s Day from the card and candy industries:

  • Restore the tradition of exchanging handmade valentines with your family and friends. Write a little note that is just right for each person, rather than letting a copywriter write it for you.
  • Make unique treats with love and give them to your friends. Homemade bonbons sound good right now. Feel free to drop some off at my house. :)
  • Give your valentine an experience. My husband and I don’t exchange gifts for Valentine’s, but we did go out for a cozy dinner last night. (We like to avoid the crowds.)

Spread the Love

Valentine’s becomes even more fun and meaningful when we start spreading love and kindness to people beyond our inner circle.

Yesterday, I witnessed this as I ventured downstairs to the main floor of the student union at Luther College to pick up some sushi for lunch. Several students were passing out red and pink carnations, with a card and a Hershey’s kiss attached, to passersbys. One woman received a flower and said, “for me?”

“Yes!” exclaimed the students, so full of excitement they were about to burst. “They’re random acts of kindness!”

The woman smiled and walked off with her flower. Throughout the day, I saw many, many students walking around with flowers. It made me happy.


While we should practice random acts of kindness all year long, this week is Random Acts of Kindness Week (or RAKWeek2015). It’s a great reminder to spread kindness—on social media, at work, at home, to random strangers, and to yourself!

Watch this awesome video to learn more:

I think it’s beautiful to celebrate love between parents, children, grandparents, brothers, sisters, partners, and friends. Let’s not let the commercialism of the holiday ruin it for us. Rather, let’s reclaim it and make it our own!

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Many Phones to Rule Us All?

Earlier today, as I was driving home to eat lunch (squash soup, quite delicious!) and let Sophie the Bichon out, I had to stop at a traffic light. Immediately, my hand reached for my purse on the seat beside me to grab my iPhone. My fingers connected with the sleek, yellow case and quickly withdrew.

What am I doing? Can I not sit quietly for a minute while the light is red?

My mind went to a visualization of Bilbo and the Ring. You know, the way he reaches into his vest pocket to touch the Ring—often to find solace, but sometimes just to make sure it’s there.

I think it’s quite possible that we have become as addicted to our phones as Bilbo was to the Ring. I know, I know, this is not new news. There is even a word for the fear of being without your phone: Nomophobia. And apparently 40 percent of us suffer from it.

But it was just such an epiphany today. That vision of Bilbo and the Ring. The Ring of Power. The Phone of Power. Does the phone control us? Are we under its power? It sure feels like it sometime.

Too Many Rules

I go through periods where I make rules about my phone: No checking until my morning routine is done. No using the phone in the car. No mindless browsing. No checking right before bed.

But I’m just so tired of “shouldn’ts” and “no’s.” Why have we created a society where we have to give ourselves so many rules? Rules about eating, rules about exercising, rules about technology. The list goes on…

Isn’t this in itself a sign that things are amiss? That we live in a society of excess in a way that is not good for us? Shouldn’t we do something about that instead of creating rules? Get to the root of the problem?

But the Benefits… And the Downsides

Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. I love how it allows me go get caught up on email, while I’m waiting for my Chai Latte. I love the apps that remind me of things I need to do when I need to do them. I love taking pictures and sharing them with friends and family.

But I don’t love the addiction I’m sensing after a year of iPhone ownership. The same addiction that made the choice to leave “smart phone world” in 2011 an easy one. It is simply too tempting to pick it up and spend loads of time on it.

What to Do?

I need a smart phone for my job. (It’s difficult to oversee a mobile responsive website when you don’t browse the Internet in miniature format on a daily basis.) So I’m going to keep my phone.

But I don’t want rules.

Gah! What to do?

I think the best thing I can do is take a deep breath before reaching for my phone. Make sure that I’m reaching for it consciously—for a purpose. This technique works with almost everything. Speaking, writing emails, checking Facebook, punching walls (I don’t do this, but someone reading this might)…

That is, it all comes back to mindfulness. This is how we live the life we want to live. By paying attention. I can choose not to reach for my phone. Or I can choose to reach for it, because I want to play a game (or two) of Trivia Crack.

It is my choice.

Our smart phones don’t have to rule us. Instead, we can put mobile technology to use to enhance our lives. It can help us find our way when we’re lost and enable us to video chat with loved ones on the go. And that is awesome. We’re in control. The phone is a tool.

We’ve got the power!

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300 Words

For my 300th post here on Simply Enough, I thought I’d try something fun: write exactly three hundred words about what’s been happening since we last talked.

Since time is my constraint, I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. Rather, I’ve been keeping busy with my job at Luther College and working on the fourth draft of my book (the copy-edited version), among other things.

Here’s what I want to tell you about the last few weeks:

My family returned safely—and tired—from their adventures in Europe. It was great to see them and hug them and receive Belgian chocolate and a beautiful Midori TRAVELER’S notebook.

I finished reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was one of those books that pulls you in and inspires you so much that you hate to see it end. So I went to the library to borrow Gilbert’s first novel, Stern Men. I’m reading it now. I’m also reading UBUNTU Contributionism by Michael Tellinger. World-changing stuff.

Todd and I went to see American Sniper and The Imitation Game. I loved the latter. My husband wrote a Huffington Post article about the former. I’ll post it here when it is published.

Then it got cold and snowy. I did some shoveling, but mostly left that rigorous activity to Todd, since he volunteered. Instead, I snuggled up inside with my manuscript and got through the first nine chapters.

Three days ago, it warmed up. I bought snowshoes. They’re pink.

Pink showshoes

I’ve been tromping around Palisades Park ever since.

On Thursday, I saw Selma. I had to sit through the credits because I couldn’t move—and I was weeping.

Best. Movie. Ever.

I bought the soundtrack today. I’m obsessed with “Glory.”

Yesterday, my friend Johanna sent me this (via StoryPeople):

StoryPeople Secret #1

Made my day.

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