Out With the Old, Out With the New: One Child's Experience with Voluntary Simplicity

Photo by Clearly Ambiguous on Flickr

Yesterday, I overheard our 9 yr old, Aaron, talking to his friend, Zach, who was visiting for the first time since December break.

"What the heck!!" Zach began, peering in Aaron's closet. "Where are all your toys?"

"Oh, we are doing something called Voluntary Simplicity, so I basically got rid of 80% of my stuff."

"What?!! Did your mom and dad MAKE you do this?"

"No. Voluntary Simplicity is - voluntary. That means you decide to do it because you want to."

"But why would you wanna give away most of your Playmobil and matchboxes? I mean you had more than me! Besides, I thought you were supposed to GET toys for Hanukah, not give them away!"

"Yeah, I know. Voluntary Simplicity is when you choose to give away a lot of your things to make room for family activities. I did it because I wanted to live differently and have less stuff in my life."

"But - still - why would you CHOOSE to get rid of most of your toys?"

"Part of the reason is 'cause my parents were doing it with their stuff. And my mom talked to me about it and explained. She told me about other people who did it and how they felt happier afterwards. And I thought maybe I DO spend a lot of my time in my room playing with toys instead of spending time with my parents and sister."

"So, how do you know what to keep?"

"Well, it took many tries to get as far as I did. First I picked things I didn't need as much for my games and put them in a box in the basement, just in case it did not work out. My room kept feeling better and my games got more interesting and creative. And it was much easier to clean up! Then, I started asking myself a different question. I started asking what do I really love and need that makes me happy? That helped me get rid of a bunch more! And I do feel happier now."

"Seriously?"

"Well, I feel more peaceful and connected with my family. I feel proud because I am a person who has just what I need and not more. And I'm starting new activities like writing how I feel in a private notebook, reading more, spending more time doing stuff around the house - like loading the dishwasher and vacuuming."

"OK, let me get this straight. You have less toys, more chores, and you feel happier?"

"Well, it's not like the chores are fun. But I do them with my parents. We talk and connect while we're doing them. So that is part of the fun. And they are happier and more appreciative. And we've been doing more activities together, like reading out loud at night. And on the weekends, we have conversations or go out together, instead of my dad being on his computer, mom cleaning, and Rachel and me playing with our toys."

"OK, but it doesn't look like you have enough toys for us to play with together."

"Yeah, that's true. That's the not so good part. Not having enough to share with friends when they come over. But we can do other activities, like board games, chess, foozball. Or go outside when its not too cold."

"So you're ok with not getting a bunch of presents for the holidays?"

"Yes and no. I did feel left out at times, but at the end, I've been enjoying the Voluntary Simplicity enough to count it as a huge Hanukah present."


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To read more about the philosophy behind voluntary simplicity, check out the classic book "Voluntary Simplicity" from your local library or bookstore. For tips on simplifying your home and life, take a look Leo Babauta's blog zenhabits.net.

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January 5 update: This post was chosen as an "Essential Read" by Psychology Today's Ethics and Morality Blog.

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