SL was founded in 1992 to be a different kind of environmental organization, one that focused on the need to live “joyfully and sustainably” on the earth. We envisioned a community of people sharing a common mission to reduce our environmental “footprint” as a simple way for anyone concerned about the pollution of our air, water, and soil to take individual responsibility for cleaning up the messes caused by business and industry. Our commitment to voluntary simplicity would act to counter the excessive emphasis on the consumer culture. Our desire to live sustainably would inspire us to drive less and bike and walk more; purchase goods and services produced without chemical toxins; save water and use less energy in our homes; start a garden, compost food waste, and eat lower on the food chain.
Living joyfully was our way of saying that living simply and sustainably was not about having to “make a sacrifice.” Our Simply Living community would attract others to change their behavior and discover that the experience is a net positive! We’ve been organizing learning opportunities and showing documentary films on sustainability topics since we started and our potluck dinners showing off healthy food options have become a memorable tradition.
We’re a different kind of environmental organization because we do not focus on “single issues” as important as those are. Instead we network and collaborate with the other environmental organizations – food, energy, transportation, etc. — and connect the dots between them by incorporating their messages into our Simply Living lifestyle. It’s a process that evolves as we discover new insights about living sustainably and new strategies for sharing them to educate our members and the larger community.
Throughout our history we have learned from surveys and strategic planning efforts that the one common denominator among almost everyone who joins Simply Living is our values. Individuals who value living more simply by creating and practicing a conscious lifestyle in harmony with nature form the core of our membership. That said, most people come to us from one or more of the “three themes” that reflect our mission: simplifying our lives, greening the earth, and healing to wholeness.
Simplifying Our Lives
“Simplify! Simplify!” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Many people join Simply Living because they have a visceral reaction to our consumer culture: there’s just way too much stuff! A trip to any big box store can feel overwhelming. In theory the cornucopia of choices available to us is supposed to be a good thing, but over time some people begin to question their behavior. The sheer volume of ads we absorb consciously or unconsciously on a daily basis starts to irritate more than inform. The packaging starts to seem wasteful as we throw it away or recycle it, and we realize that much of the stuff itself was designed to be thrown away (planned obsolescence) soon after it is consumed.
Being a consumer can become addictive and some of us realize we have become “shopaholics.” Evidence for the addiction shows up as our closets fill up, our cars can no longer fit in the garage, and suddenly we realize we need to rent a storage pod if we really want to keep some of the excess stuff. It shows up in our credit card debt as we try to keep up with all the latest fashions in clothing, home furnishings, skateboards, video games, plus all manner of smart phones and electronic gear to interact with pop culture music, movies, and TV serials.
At some point Henry David Thoreau’s message to “Simplify!” sounds a small alarm bell in our heads. Is there an alternative to the consumer culture? Simply Living offers a welcome home to anyone interested in stepping off the consumer merry-go-round long enough to re-discover how much stuff is enough, and become a more mindful consumer. Our 6-week Voluntary Simplicity course is a natural starting point for making this transition to a lifestyle that is not only simpler, but more personally rewarding. Thoreau was perhaps the first American who gave voice to a way of life that values Nature more than our material goods, aka Stuff!
Greening the Earth
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead
Many who come to Simply Living have a passion to solve our environmental problems. These members are well aware of the excesses of the consumer culture, and they are determined to do something about it. Individually, we may not be able to “save the earth,” but together we can form a community of like-minded people whose actions, practices, and projects demonstrate how we can all participate in “greening the earth.”
Simply Living makes it easy for members to form special interest groups that can meet at our office or connect virtually through email lists or social media. Nine discussion courses on sustainability topics are offered through the Northwest Earth Institute and they take place at Simply Living as well as other organizations and workplace settings. Projects emerge from the bottom up so there are always fresh ideas from our members: for example, we collaborated to form the Clintonville Community Market food co-op, which lasted for 18 years. One member had a passion for community radio, and the result after several years of work was the formation of a low-power FM community radio station that SL operated for several years before transferring our FCC license to the Neighborhood Network. New groups and projects come and go and sometimes they morph into neighborhood “sustainability groups” that can last for years.
In addition to discussion courses, Simply Living organizes monthly Meetups and screens documentary films that are open to the general public. The Meetups combine social interaction with the opportunity to learn about local organizations and businesses that focus on sustainability. The monthly movies raise sustainability issues and include a Q&A led by local experts who connect the issues in the film with work being done in Columbus and central Ohio.
Our members are networked with other local environmental organizations. Climate change has emerged as an overarching issue that cuts across diverse issues. In response to the International conference in Paris last year (COP-21), Simply Living formed the Central Ohio Climate Action Coalition and organized demonstrations with the Sierra Club, Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, the Columbus Community Bill of Rights, the Citizens Climate Lobby, and others. Simply Living does not endorse political candidates, but our members and our programs are designed to educate the community about ways to “Green the Earth.”
Healing toward Wholeness
We must become the change we seek for the world. ~ Gandhi
Many Simply Living members believe the consumer culture places too much attention on materialistic values. They tend to agree that living more simply and “cleaning up our messes” is important, but they also feel that the traditional American Dream of financial success and material prosperity is not satisfying their need for personal fulfillment. Many see this way of life as unnecessarily complex, too fast paced, and too much emphasis on individual competition to get ahead. They feel the consumer culture is an endgame, that it’s time now for a New American Dream that values more time for family and friends, more emphasis on cooperation than competition, and balances material success with spiritual values.
As we simplify, as we encourage others in the mainstream consumer culture to eliminate waste and live more in harmony with nature, we are challenging the status quo. Many feel that materialistic values leave us “empty” and lacking in experiences that nourish the spirit. This can be a difficult transition that involves a healing process leading to a greater sense of wholeness, both as individuals and as a community.
If we want to change the culture, then Gandhi’s dictum suggests that we must practice “being the change” we seek. While Simply Living is not affiliated with any religious or spiritual tradition, we attract many who draw upon their own spiritual and wisdom traditions as the means to work toward healing and wholeness in their lives. Many members practice meditation, yoga, energy healing, holistic medicine, eat an ethical diet, and learn compassionate communication techniques as part of their effort to work through personal issues and interact peacefully and authentically with family and community.
All three responses to the consumer culture, separately and often together, contribute to the fabric of our growing Simply Living community. We don’t always agree nor do we endorse any practice or social change strategy. We do share some common values, especially our intention to live more simply, sustainably, and joyfully as we learn from each other. All are welcome to join! We invite you to add your journey to those who have come before. We all strive to embody and embrace the changes we seek for the world.
To Make Life Good Together
Simply Living aspires to facilitate and create a more compassionate and sustainable community.