zenhabits : breathe

Steps Towards a More Sustainable Life of Less

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

When my grandparents were young, none of the appliances (let alone hi-tech gadgets) in our homes were in common use — not the refrigerator, electric stove, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, toaster, television, computer, air-conditioner, microwave, etc.

None of it. They had cars, but they walked far more often than we do today. They had telephones, but not cell phones or Blackberries or iPhones, and they weren’t using phones all the time. They had stores, but they didn’t order things online and they didn’t buy all the time. In fact, during their Great Depression childhood, they bought very little and used very, very little technology.

And while the last 70-80 years have advanced our lives in amazing ways, and there’s no doubt that the comfort and convenience of our lives have improved tremendously … we rarely stop to consider whether technology and consumerism have always changed our lives for the better.

I mean, I am as big a proponent of the miracles of the Internet as anyone, but have we given up too much of our lives that used to exist offline and outdoors? It’s great that we have such comfortable cars that can drive incredibly fast and take us anywhere we want to go in minutes … but have we thrown away the joy and the health benefits of walking places?

It’s great that we can communicate instantly from anywhere with our mobile devices, but have we given up personal face-to-face conversations and the pleasure of being outdoors, disconnected from the world?

It’s great that food is so convenient these days, but have we given up the pleasures of slow eating for fast food, the joys of cooking for microwaving, the wonders of real food for processed food?

It’s great that we can buy pretty much anything we want these days (and often do), but have we allowed the abundance of cash we’ve had (until recently, but even now we’re still pretty rich) to force us to have bigger houses just to store all our stuff?

I propose a life of less. A life that’s more sustainable.

And yes, some will wonder if that will hurt the economy even more — buying and consuming less will mean people will lose jobs, no? Not necessarily. Scaling back our lives means we need to find jobs for people that are based not on producing more goods, but on producing more value — valuable information, valuable inventions that require fewer resources, valuable contributions to the community. But how will all of this be paid for if no one is buying stuff? There will be less wealth produced because less is being consumed … but if we consume less then we actually need less wealth. We just need to get off the escalating cycle of consuming and producing more.

We work more than ever before, despite advances in labor-saving technology that mean we should be able to work less. We do so to support a lifestyle that has become more expensive than ever, because of the new levels of convenience and abundant consumer goods that we’ve become accustomed to. We can break out of this trap, by consuming less and then needing to work less.

I’ve thought these things for awhile now, but it struck me most as I was walking to a meeting with a friend and business partner. Most people where I live don’t walk — cars are used all the time, even if the destination is just a few blocks away. I’ve been getting into the habit of walking places — for traveling, not exercise — but I’m a weirdo for doing so. And it struck me that only 50 years ago, I would have been normal — everyone walked back then.

And I wondered how we lost this valuable activity — walking to get places.

We lost it because convenience and speed have become more valuable to us than health and frugality and the enjoyment of the world around us.

I propose a life of less. A life that is more leisurely, a little more spartan, a little less expensive, a little less heavy on consuming the Earth’s resources.

I don’t think we can change the economy overnight. We can’t even change our lives overnight. But we can make a gradual change in that direction, with small steps.

Here are but a few ideas — I’m sure you could contribute some of your own:

Again, these are just a few ideas. There are thousands more.

And I’m not saying we should give up techonology. I love connecting with people from around the world! I love being able to access information instantly that I would never have had access to just 15-20 years ago! I love the ability to express myself online that is unprecedented in human history!

But I also think we need to keep the good things that have come with the advances in technology, and throw out the bad, the things that have made our lives worse.

Read more about simplifying your life in my book, The Power of Less.



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