Tag Archives: simplicity

A Simple Life


My Back-To-School Intent is to Keep It Simple.

For these last two weeks of summer, I have been in major organizing mode.

School supplies and uniforms, after-school activities, work strategy and planning, setting up speaking engagements and travel (which means coordination with my husband and mom!), cleaning closets, organizing finances, logistics galore of managing work, home, and getting my kids where they need to be from now through February!

I was laughing this morning as I read a Facebook post by my friend, Dani Modisett, author of Take My Spouse Please, about how her 2-day trip to NYC required a thesis of detailed instructions for her sitter. It’s so true! The only way for me to function sanely, while trying to work and professionally/intellectually keep growing, is to be super-organized and plan ahead.

I’ll admit my meditation practice these last two weeks has been sporadic, but when I am meditating one word seems to be popping up over and over again: Continue reading

Do You Like Dividing the World Up Into Categories?

08-07-10 I See The Same Old Warning SignsI love taxonomies, categories, ways of dividing people into groups. If you’re the same way, take these quizzes to find out what categories describe you:

1. Are you an under-buyer or an over-buyer? I’m an under-buyer.

2. Are you an abstainer or a moderator? I’m an abstainer, 100%.

3. Are you an alchemist or a leopard? I’m an alchemist.

4. Are you a radiator or a drain? I try to be a radiator.

5. Are you a finisher or an opener? I’m a finisher.

6. Are you a satisficer or a maximizer (yes, these are real words). I’m a satisficer.

7. Are you more drawn to simplicity or to abundance? I’m more drawn to simplicity.

8. Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? I’m a bit of both, but writing about happiness has definitely brought out my Tigger qualities. (I write a lot about the conflict between these two categories in Happier at Home.)

9. Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? (categories formerly known as “tortoises and hares,” but I changed the terms). I’m a marathoner.

Putting myself into categories is fun, and I think it also gives me insight into my own nature. When I see myself more clearly, I can more easily see ways that I might do things differently, to make myself happier.

Categories can be unhelpful, however, when they become too all-defining, or when they become an excuse. “Oh, I can’t be expected to resist eating the cookies in the cupboard, I’m an abstainer.”

Do you find it helpful to consider these kinds of categories? Or too constraining?

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Are You More Drawn to Simplicity or to Abundance?

Zen GardenI love dividing the world into categories. Abstainers and moderators. Radiators and drains. Leopards and alchemists. Marathoners and sprinters (formerly known as “tortoises and hares”–I like this terminology better, how about you?)

I’ve come up with a new distinction, but I’m still turning it over in my mind. I’m not sure it works out…I would love to hear your response.

A conversation between two friends, at my children’s literature reading group meeting, inspired me to notice this.

One friend said, “I always want to feel empty,” and a friend responded, “I always want to feel full.” (They were speaking metaphorically.)

I thought this was just about the most interesting pair of remarks that I’d ever heard. I wasn’t able to pursue this conversation at the time, but I plan to.

In the meantime, it got me thinking: is this a distinction?

Does one group–I’ll call them the simplicity lovers–prefer to have less, subtraction, emptiness, bare surfaces, few choices, spare supplies–one tube of toothpaste? Does this go with a love of stillness?

And does another group–I’ll call them abundance lovers–prefer to have more, fullness, overflow, collections, many choices, ample supplies–five tubes of toothpaste? Does this go with a love of buzz?

What do you think of these two categories–agree or disagree? If it strikes a chord with you, what group do you identify with? I put myself in the simplicity lovers category.

* * *

Would you like a free, personalized, signed bookplate for your copy of The Happiness Project or Happier at Home? Or, if you have the e-book or the audio-book, a signature card? Or would you like these for a friend? Request as many as you want, here. Alas, because of mailing costs, I can now mail only to the U.S. and Canada–so sorry about that.

The Problem of Spiritual Jargon

My paternal grandmother, of whom I still have the fondest of memories, was a smart, but poorly educated, illiterate woman who lived a relatively happy life in a small, poor Nigeria village called Iresi.  She told me the most fascinating traditional Nigerian tales to help me understand the complex adult concepts that I would need to navigate the world of men. Concepts like Love and Hate, Greed and Desire, Good and Evil, War and Peace were explained through the (mis)adventures of Monkey, Tortoise, Hare and a host of other animals.   I loved those myths and their “simple” explanations for why the sky is blue or the desert scorched or the river wide. I miss that simplicity.

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”  Similarly, a former professor of mine said, “If you can’t explain it to your grandmother, then you don’t understand it.”

There is a beauty in simplicity that is so often ignored in favor of hard to understand jargon.  In attempts to sound “spiritual,” much of the writing out there is nothing more than meaningless, jargon-laden gibberish.  Take the following paragraph as an example:

The power of her manifested energies was so overwhelming that I felt a vibration deep within the core of my being that made it clear that I was standing in the presence of an enlightened being.  My soul was overwhelmed by the majesty of her infinite glory, and I suddenly saw the deepest of inner truths wafting up from the vast wealth that dwells within the Void.  I moved through oceans of celestial bliss until I, unworthy as I am, found myself standing on the edge of Moksha, basking in the light of eternity.

It certainly sounds…poetic, but what does it mean?  How would you explain it to your grandmother?  (Assuming your grandmother doesn’t hold a Ph.D. in theology.)

My grandmother was a deeply spiritual woman, first as an animist and later as a Christian.  Yet, her spirituality never required the adherence to a lofty language of spirituality, but rather delighted in its simple tenets.  Even the word “spirituality” is moving into that area of speech were it is practically meaningless.  It could literally mean anything from going to church every Sunday, to bowing down before a statue of General Zod from the Superman movies.  Not that there’s anything wrong with either of these “definitions,” but the first aim of communication, written or otherwise, is clarity…or it should be.  Jargon presumes a common language, one that will alienate the vast majority of people who will likely not get it. Whenever jargon is used, you end up speaking to the “converted” rather than to those who may most need to hear what you have to say.

I am, of course, not suggesting the dumbing down of spiritual speech; the removal of jargon is not the same thing as dumbing down.   Rather what I am advocating is a return to simplicity, before we knew all the ancient words and modern “spiritual” lingo that has, in a way, made much of what we read unintelligible.

The overreliance on jargon belies a need to sound “deep.” But truly “deep” people, like truly “cool” people, don’t rely on what they say to be who they are.  They are just it.  It is as simple as that.

There is a place for jargon, of course; for example, in introductory or explanatory text and articles. However in these sorts of writings it’s not jargon; they’re terms in need of definition.  These terms become jargon when inserted into general conversation without any clarification.  Or if they are so plentiful, they overwhelm the speaker’s intention.  Somewhere in every jargon-laden article is the speaker’s original intention.  Whittle away the excess until all that is left is the original intention…then say that.

People often say, in defense of their use of jargon, that there just isn’t any other way to say it.  It’s just too complex, and requires equally complex terms to get the point across.  I disagree.  Any concept, no matter how long it took you to learn it, has a perfectly simple “real-life” correlate.  Your job as the teacher or writer or imparter of knowledge is to find it.  Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything at all, like the famous story of the Buddha holding up a flower in response to a disciple’s question.  A flower.  No words.  No jargon.  While I am not suggesting that all teaching is as simple as holding up a flower; I am suggesting that we should come as close to it as we can get.  Jargon is the opposite. Jargon is the stomping of the flower into the ground with your heel while spouting gibberish about the meaning of life and the nature of all things.  Just hold up the flower.  Whoever is supposed to get it will get it.

I recently read an article written by a very erudite, published religious author.  It was loaded with beautiful words regarding the spiritual life and the spiritual path…it was gibberish.  And I do not mean gibberish in the sense that some might consider, say, a Zen Koan, gibberish; but in the sense that this article, due to it’s convolution, inspire more questions than answers—and not in a good way.

To be fair, there were a number of favorable comments. But it’s not much of a stetch to see why people would take the gibberish of a published author for brilliance.  After all, no one wants to be the first to tell the emperor that he is, in fact, bare-bummed in public.

My overall point is that jargon, except in the most technical of situations, should be avoided.  There may be times when a “spiritual” word or phrase is necessary, but if each and every paragraph is loaded with them, it calls the author’s motive into question.  Is the point to share with the reader a meaningful experience or words?  Or is it something else?  If it is the former, then keep it simple.  However, if it is to prove that you “know” something, then your personal journal may be a more appropriate venue.

The benchmark of good “spiritual” and other writing has always been “keep it simple.” Or, to paraphrase my ex-professor, “will grandmother have any idea what you’re talking about?” I resolve we keep it simple.  Who’s with me?

Four Misconceptions About the Simple Life

 It is important to recognize inaccurate stereotypes about the simple life because they make it seem impractical and ill suited for responding to increasingly critical breakdowns in world systems. Four misconceptions about the simple life are so common they deserve special attention. These are equating simplicity with: poverty, moving back to the land, living without beauty and economic stagnation.

  1. Simplicity Means Poverty Although some spiritual traditions have advocated a life of extreme renunciation, it is very misleading to equate simplicity with poverty. Poverty is involuntary and debilitating, whereas simplicity is voluntary and enabling. A life of conscious simplicity can have both a beauty and a functional integrity that elevates the human spirit.

    Poverty fosters a sense of helplessness, passivity and despair, whereas purposeful simplicity fosters a sense of personal empowerment, creative engagement and opportunity. Historically, those choosing a simpler life have sought the golden mean — a creative and aesthetic balance between poverty and excess. Instead of placing primary emphasis on material riches, they have sought to develop, with balance, the invisible wealth of experiential riches.

  2. Simplicity Means Rural Living

    In the popular imagination there is a tendency to equate the simple life with Thoreau’s cabin in the woods by Walden Pond and to assume that people must live an isolated and rural existence. Interestingly, Thoreau was not a hermit during his stay at Walden Pond. His famous cabin was roughly a mile from the town of Concord, and every day or two he would walk into town. His cabin was so close to a nearby highway that he could smell the pipe smoke of passing travelers. Thoreau wrote that he had "more visitors while I lived in the woods than any other period of my life." The romanticized image of rural living does not fit the modern reality, as a majority of persons choosing a life of conscious simplicity do not live in the backwoods or rural settings; they live in cities and suburbs. While green living brings with it a reverence for nature, it does not require moving to a rural setting. Instead of a "back to the land" movement, it is much more accurate to describe this as a "make the most of wherever you are" movement. Increasingly that means adapting ourselves creatively to a rapidly changing world in the context of big cities and suburbs.
  3. Simplicity Means Living Without Beauty

    The simple life is sometimes viewed as an approach to living that advocates a barren plainness and denies the value of beauty and aesthetics. While the Puritans, for example, were suspicious of the arts, most advocates of simplicity have seen it as essential for revealing the natural beauty of things. Many who adopt a simpler life would surely agree with Pablo Picasso, who said, "Art is the elimination of the unnecessary." Leonardo da Vinci wrote that, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Frederic Chopin wrote that, "Simplicity is the final achievement … the crowing reward of art."  The influential architect Frank Lloyd Wright was an advocate of an "organic simplicity" that integrates function with beauty and eliminates the superfluous. In his architecture a building’s interior and exterior blend into an organic whole, and the building, in turn, blends harmoniously with the natural environment. Rather than involving a denial of beauty, simplicity liberates the aesthetic sense by freeing things from artificial encumbrances. From a spiritual perspective, simplicity removes the obscuring clutter and discloses the life-energy that infuses all things.
  4. Simplicity Means Economic Stagnation

    Some worry that if a significant number of people simplify their lives it will reduce demand for consumer goods and, in turn, produce unemployment and economic stagnation. While it is true that the level and patterns of personal consumption would shift in a society that values green living, a robust economy can flourish that embraces sustainability. Although the consumer sector and material goods would contract, the service and public sectors would expand dramatically. When we look at the world, we see a huge number of unmet needs: caring for elderly, restoring the environment, educating illiterate and unskilled youth, repairing decaying roads and infrastructure, providing health care, creating community markets and local enterprises, retrofitting the urban landscape for sustainability and many more. Because there are an enormous number of unmet needs, there are an equally large number of purposeful and satisfying jobs waiting to get done. There will be no shortage of employment opportunities in an Earth-friendly economy.

A central and exciting task for our times is consciously designing ourselves into a sustainable and meaningful future, from the personal level outwards. In envisioning what this future could look like, it is important to not be bound by old stereotypes and to instead see the realism and the beauty of simpler ways of living. 






8 Expressions of Simplicity for Healthy Living

To portray the richness of simplicity as a theme for healthy living, here are eight different flowerings that I see growing consciously in the “garden of simplicity.” Although there is overlap among them, each expression of simplicity seems sufficiently distinct to warrant a separate category. These are presented in no particular order, as all are important.

  1. Uncluttered Simplicity. Simplicity means taking charge of lives that are too busy, too stressed and too fragmented. Simplicity means cutting back on clutter, complications and trivial distractions, both material and non-material, and focusing on the essentials — whatever those may be for each of our unique lives. As Thoreau said, “Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify.” Or, as Plato wrote, “In order to seek one’s own direction, one must simplify the mechanics of ordinary, everyday life.
  2. Ecological Simplicity. Simplicity means choosing ways of living that touch the Earth more lightly and reduce our ecological impact on the web of life. This life-path remembers our deep roots with the soil, air and water. It encourages us to connect with nature, the seasons and the cosmos. An ecological simplicity feels a deep reverence for the community of life on Earth and accepts that the non-human realms of plants and animals have their dignity and rights as well as the human.
  3. Family Simplicity. Simplicity means to place the well-being of one’s family ahead of materialism and the acquisition of things. This expression of green living puts an emphasis on giving children healthy role models of a balanced life that are not distorted by consumerism. Family simplicity affirms that what matters most in life is often invisible — the quality and integrity of our relationships with one another and the rest of life. Family simplicity is also intergenerational — it looks ahead and seeks to live with restraint so as to leave a healthy earth for future generations.
  4. Compassionate Simplicity. Simplicity means to feel such a strong sense of kinship with others that, as Gandhi said, we “choose to live simply so that others may simply live.” A compassionate simplicity means feeling a bond with the community of life and being drawn toward a path of cooperation and fairness that seeks a future of mutually assured development in all areas of life for everyone.
  5. Soulful Simplicity. Simplicity means to approach life as a meditation and to cultivate our experience of direct connection with all that exists. By living simply, we can more easily awaken to the living universe that surrounds and sustains us, moment by moment. Soulful simplicity consciously tastes life in its unadorned richness rather than being concerned with a particular standard or manner of material living. In cultivating a soulful connection with life, we tend to look beyond surface appearances and bring our interior aliveness into relationships of all kinds.
  6. Business Simplicity. Simplicity means a new kind of economy is growing in the world, with healthy and sustainable products and services of all kinds (such as home-building materials, energy systems, food production and transportation systems). As the need for a sustainable infrastructure in developing nations is combined with the need to retrofit and redesign the homes, cities, workplaces and transportation systems of developed nations, it is generating an enormous wave of green business innovation and employment.
  7. Civic Simplicity. Simplicity means living more lightly and sustainably on the earth, and this requires, in turn, changes in many areas of public life — from public transportation and education to the design of our cities and workplaces. To develop policies of civic simplicity involves giving close and sustained attention to media politics, as the mass media are the primary vehicle for reinforcing — or transforming — the social norms of consumerism. To realize the magnitude of changes required in such a brief time requires new approaches to communicating with ourselves as different communities of citizens.
  8. Frugal Simplicity. Simplicity means that, by cutting back on spending that is not truly serving our lives, and by practicing skillful management of our personal finances we can achieve greater financial independence. Frugality and careful financial management bring increased financial freedom and the opportunity to more consciously choose our path through life. Living with less also decreases the impact of our consumption upon the earth and frees resources for others.

As these eight approaches illustrate, the growing culture of simplicity contains a flourishing garden of expressions whose great diversity — and intertwined unity — are creating a resilient and hardy ecology of learning about how to live more sustainable and meaningful lives. As with other ecosystems, it is the diversity of expressions that fosters flexibility, adaptability and resilience. Because there are so many pathways into the garden of simplicity, this self-organizing movement has enormous potential to grow.





The Spiritual Wisdom of Simplicity

The wisdom of simplicity is a theme with deep roots. The great value and benefits of living simply are found in all the world’s major wisdom traditions.

Christian Views

Jesus embodied a life of compassionate simplicity. He taught by word and example that we should not make the acquisition of material possessions our primary aim; instead, we should develop our capacity for loving participation in life. The Bible speaks frequently about the need to find a balance between the material and the spiritual side of life:

  • "Give me neither poverty nor wealth." (Proverbs 30:8)
  • "Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth … Store up treasure in heaven … For wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
  • "If a man has enough to live on, and yet when he sees his brother in need shuts up his heart against him, how can it be said that the divine love dwells in him?" (John 3:17)

Eastern Views

Eastern spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism have also encouraged a life of material moderation and spiritual abundance. From the Taoist tradition we have this saying from Lao-tzu: "He who knows he has enough is rich."

From the Hindu tradition, Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual and political leader who was instrumental in gaining India’s independence, wrote: "Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in the multiplication, but in the deliberate and voluntary reduction of wants. This alone promotes real happiness and contentment." Gandhi felt the moderation of our wants increases our capacity to be of service to others and, in being of loving service to others, true civilization emerges. Also found in the Hindu tradition is the idea of "non-possessiveness," or taking only what we need and finding satisfaction in balanced living.

Perhaps the most developed expression of a middle way between material excess and deprivation comes from the Buddhist tradition. While Buddhism recognizes that basic material needs must be met in order to realize our potentials, it does not consider our material welfare as an end in itself; rather, it is a means to the end of awakening to our deeper nature as spiritual beings. The middle way of Buddhism moves between mindless materialism on the one hand and needless poverty on the other. The result is a balanced approach to living that harmonizes both inner and outer development.

Greek Views

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle recognized the importance of the "golden mean," or a middle path through life characterized by neither excess nor deficit, but by sufficiency. They did not view the material world as primary but as instrumental — as serving our learning about the more expansive world of thought and spirit. Aristotle favored a balanced life that involved moderation on the material side and exertion on the intellectual side. He said that "temperance and courage" were destroyed by either excess or deficiency and could only be preserved by following the golden mean.

Puritan Views

Paradoxically, although the United States is the world’s most notoriously consumerist nation, the simple life has strong roots in American history. The early Puritan settlers brought to America their "puritan ethic," which stressed hard work, temperate living, participation in the life of the community and a steadfast devotion to things spiritual. Puritans also stressed the golden mean by saying we should not desire more material things than we can use effectively. It is from the New England Puritans that we get the adage, "Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without."

Quaker Views

The Quakers also had a strong influence on the American character, particularly with their belief that material simplicity was an important aid in evolving toward spiritual perfection. Unlike the Puritans, their strong sense of equality among people fostered religious tolerance. Quakers emphasized the virtues of hard work at one’s calling, sobriety and frugality. Although they thought it only natural for one to enjoy the fruits of their labors, they also recognized that our stay on Earth is brief and that people should place much of their love and attention on things eternal.

Transcendentalist Views

Transcendentalist thought flourished in the early to mid-1800s in America and are best exemplified by the lives and writing of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The Transcendentalists believed that a spiritual presence infuses the world, and that by living simply we can more easily encounter this vital life force. For Emerson, the Transcendental path began with self-discovery and then led to "an organic synthesis of that self with the natural world surrounding it."

The Transcendentalists had a reverential attitude toward nature and saw the natural world as the doorway to the divine. By communing with nature, Emerson felt that people could become "part and parcel with God," thereby realizing the ultimate simplicity of oneness with the divine. Thoreau also viewed simplicity as a means to a higher end. Although he said that a person "is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone," he was not particularly concerned with the specific manner in which someone lived a simpler life. Instead, he was more interested in the rich inner life that could be gained through undistracted contemplation. For both Emerson and Thoreau, simplicity had more to do with one’s intentions than with one’s particular possessions.



Japan Gifts Us an Ocean of Calm

Beneath the surrender of the long standing Japanese culture is a simplistic calm.  They have long been known for simplicity, one that seems very abstract to the west, except with regard to popular culture as it pertains to commercialism.  This notion has nothing to do with calm – the unyielding silence that extends well beyond the shameless borders we seem to call upon.

In calm they present no guilt, no chaos and no tolerance for a world where surroundings and pomp of circumstance dictate a state of mind.  Another popular misconception of calm is the forceful nature portrayed in popular Japanese imagery, movies and so forth.  Why do we need to bend a pristine practice of calm into something that it is not?

Surrender and calm walk hand in hand.

Surrender asks us to eliminate that which obstructs our ability to maneuver in and out of any situation with a deft silence of fortitude, instead of a quick wit or a timely retort.  The latter (calm) once having been achieved within that silence, asks us to remain there indefinitely until we can return without notice as required.

Any object or notion can bring us to the presence of calm.  It awakens us to the idea that abiding in the moment instead of reacting to it has greater merit than we give in to.  Such a contrast to our popular culture isn’t it.  Many try to bring calm into their life but do so in such a hurried fashion, they partake of it on the periphery of life and swim in the shallows, still longing to be elsewhere.

If you find yourself adrift, longing to be elsewhere you are anything but calm.

In perspective to the true identity of the word, calm asks us to remain where we are.  Relaxing can be calm, but learning to relax amid noise, especially noise of the mind or ego is a very frustrating concept for many westerners to believe.

One cannot achieve if one cannot believe.  To believe we must admit the need for absolute surrender to the moment and ask calm to breathe us in instead of the other way around.  Calm looks us over, measures our breath and widens our path for entrance into patterns of silence, nothing more.  No smoke and mirror parlour tricks will achieve calm, only a patient practice, knowing that when it is achieved the mind will be totally at peace and in tune with its surroundings regardless of circumstance.

We do not need to travel to Japan to experience this effect, and many will point to the fact that Japan has moved away from this notion.  Of those that do, only they spend more time surfacing above achievable values and move into the abstract of calm.  This is a clear indication of where they return for inner fortitude and resiliency.

Paper lanterns, bamboo and all the rose petals in the world will never bring about any amount of calm that letting go in surrender will do.  This is the true signal to those who honestly wish to create calm all aspects of living.

Printed with permission by Eric Gainerhttp://www.backyardmystic.com

(<) is More, part 2

(<) is an open source movement to reduce consumption and encourage giving back to the world. You can learn more about it by visiting JoinLess.org and by reading the blog I posted last week. This week, an interview with (<) founder Ben Davis.

I met Ben at my Burning Man camp this year. When he spoke of the principles behind (<), the idea resonated with me. I have a deep-seated loathing of shopping. (My mother has to forcibly drag me to the mall once a year to shop the post-Christmas sales.) So once the playa dust settled, I asked if we could speak further about the cause.

Father to a teenager, founder and owner of Words Pictures Ideas, a creative agency that works on amazing social and civic projects (like the new Transbay Transit Center in downtown SF), communicator, and creative professional, Ben Davis is a fireball who emits sparks when he talks. PG&E should hook him up to the grid; he could probably power half the city.

MeiMei Fox: So, tell me how about (<) came about?

Ben Davis: It started with (RED). The (RED) philosophy is that most people won’t give to charity anyway, so you might as well shake them down for a few bucks while they’re shopping. I rejected that. If you can use marketing techniques to get people to buy (RED) products, then you can use those same tactics to get people to do things that are good for the world.

We started with a website called BuyLessCrap.org and touched a nerve. It got hundreds of thousands of hits and international buzz with everyone from Christian organizations to anti-consumption groups to marketing/branding blogs. But we realized quickly that we had to get rid of the word “crap.” Even if it had appeal, it was too negative. So we stripped it down to BuyLess. Then we took away the “buy,” and it was just Less. At that point we decided we’d just use the symbol (<) because it’s visually impactful and internationally recognizable.

MF: What is the purpose of (<)?

BD: I wanted to toy with the vernacular of the branding world. Not to sell products, but to occupy that space. (<) is the first open source brand, tapping into the new open source movement. So no money changes hands. The mark is not for sale or for purchase.

In my mind, an inappropriate thing to do is to spray paint a (<) symbol on someone’s Hummer. I’d hate to see the mark used that way. But do put it on your bike or your old t-shirt. It’s an external reflection of your values.

MF: What does (<) represent, though?

BD: That you’re exploring the idea of having less in your own life. It often isn’t until we endure something difficult in life that we get to less. But when we have a simpler day-to-day existence, we have more time, and therefore we make deeper connections with other people. So really, the primary intention of (<) is to say: Do more for others. Humans reach their full potential for happiness when they’re in service of others. That’s when we feel most at peace and connected to world.

MF: What’s your desired outcome for society?

BD: Well, that’s an interesting question. The irony is that (<) is not the answer for society if we want to save our planet. But it does give us time to think about the real solution. By consuming less, we’re taking our foot off the accelerator. If we slammed on the brakes, a whole other set of problems would arise. So with (<), we’re just easing up on the gas. Hopefully this will create the space for new ideas and a more sustainable path.  

MF: How are you putting the (<) principles into practice in your own life?

BD: Right now I’m in a weird mode where I have a lot more things than I had before, so I’m not sure I am living it! Or I should say, I have room for improvement. But you know, (<) is interesting that way: As soon as you put a stake in the ground, you open yourself up to challenges of hypocrisy. Rather than lobbing accusations at other people, it’s best to focus on the changes you’re making in your own life, even small ones. “Be the change,” as Gandhi said.

I have many (<) moments that have evolved from conscious choices into unconscious habits. For example, I think about it before I buy things. I turn the lights off, leave the heat on low, use less toilet paper. I ride my bike also because I enjoy it, and I walk.

MF: What motivates you to volunteer your time and resources to (<)?

BD: I’m seeking to find the love in the rage. I’m full of rage at marketers. I’m full of rage at people who say you can’t get people to help others, so just get them to give a bit of money while they’re shopping. I want to beat them at their own game. I want people displaying the (<) mark to give each other a special nod when they pass each other in the street because they know it’s about a shared set of values, not a brand. In a world of mass produced stuff, a brand that’s always an individual expression has an advantage. (<) is truly expressive of the individual while still being a part of something bigger.  

This is the second in a series of blogs I’ll be writing about (<). Next week: How to apply (<) principles during this holiday season with experiential  and alternative gift-giving!


(<) is More, Part 1


What the heck is (<)????

In honor of the holiday season, it’s a plea for consuming less. Please, take a moment to consider how you might REDUCE your consumption. Give love and experiences, not things.

(<) is an open source brand. A movement. A revolution.

Pronounced: Less.

Tagline: “Sometimes the things we own end up owning us.”

Aspiration: “To become an internationally recognized symbol, like the peace sign, but for a new generation grappling with sustainability.”

Website: JoinLess.org

Think simplicity. Think (Red) campaign only better. Think buy less crap. Get rid of stuff, lots of it. Ride your bike or take mass transit. Move to a smaller apartment. Turn the lights off. Make your own clothes out of things you already have. Minimize your carbon footprint. Tread lightly on the Earth. 

You can join the (<) movement by taking three vows:

1) I will explore the beauty of less in my own life.

2) I will do more for others.

3) I will neither buy nor sell (<) branded products.

Watch the gorgeous short film introducing (<) here.

This is the first in a series of blogs I’ll be writing about (<). Next week: An interview with (<) creator Ben Davis.

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