Recently, while surfing online, I came across a story that really inspired me. It was about a concept called Voluntary Simplicity, where middle-class people decide to downsize and get off the treadmill, which we all know keeps turning until someone dies or decides to jump off.
A middle-aged couple in the US were having trouble during the GFC and the bank was trying to take away their home. They fought foreclosure, worked hard, suffered and struggled until one day — sitting in their loungeroom depressed and exhausted — they came to the crushing realisation: life is very short.
Most people, as they push closer to 60, suddenly understand the limitations of time. Perhaps 20-25 more Christmas dinners (give or take) before they’re on the way out. Or if they don’t die prematurely, perhaps 20 more times spent in DJs, stocking up on winter jumpers. Time is finite.
The couple decided there was no point fighting for possessions they weren’t going to need on the other side. They decided to allow their world to come crashing down. The bank took possession of the house. Meanwhile they sold their belongings, which left them with enough cash to buy a second-hand RV-trailer home and live wild.
Having flown the coop, the couple now stay in caravan parks; visit friends and family; mix with other travellers or town-folk; move on when the weather gets nippy; and do freelance or internet-based work on the road to get cash for petrol and basic needs.
Voluntary Simplicity doesn’t have to happen when the kids have grown. In 1999, we packed up and moved to Byron Bay for eight years to give our daughter simple values. There we met many urban migrants like ourselves living on rural properties, self-sufficient and happy in nature.
I read that 60 per cent of people who use social media feel jealous of others online: their photos, lifestyles, looks, possessions. They feel inadequate and lonely or boring.
The net result is people work longer hours and more desperately in order to get those “things”. Or they need drugs, alcohol and more possessions to look and feel better about themselves. I call it “Happy Ever After” dreaming.
The photos of this couple made me smile — the big broad grins, the scenery, the little caravan with tarp out the front, chairs and flower pots. The Buddhist philosophy of “The grand impermanence of all things” is being celebrated in a home with wheels and a marriage with wide-open spaces for freedom, adventure and love.
As far as envy is concerned, I bet there are people reading this who are secretly praying: “Bank … come and foreclose on us. Take the shackles of consumerism off.”
As this couple proved, the shackles are only in our minds.
Twitter @OstrowRuth; Ruthostrow.com