Poverty and simplicity

The greatest challenge to one who wants to live in simplicity is to be able to do so fully and not as a psychological excursion cushioned by an economic safety net. People who have grown up in poverty tend to lack the psychological willingness — having gotten out of poverty — to throw away their new-found sense of security and stability. They are not risk-takers unless they are entrepreneurs or still abuse themselves in some way. They are not atttracted to simplicity because it reminds them of their childhood misery. What so many call adventure and risk-taking is hollow when we learn that the adventurers and risk-takers can always go back to family or trust fund to rescue themselves from that precariousness of having no money or place to live. At the heart of too many advocates of simplicity is a kind of “playing at.”

So how does a person brought up in reasonable stability take on simplicity without being hypocritical? It must begin with what the classic hermit knows: with effacing the self and desire, so that the products and contrivances of the popular culture do not trap the self in a material web. Simplicity is wariness of and ultimately disengagement from consumption and the commercial world. Simplicity carves out a psychological dimension that is removed from the artificial world and placed squarely within the natural world, as much as this can be. In an urban environment, simplicity has a personal touch, perhaps an intellectual or creative cast, or an engagement with objects and people that comes from an authentic core of selflessness. It is not the psychological baggage or refinement of manners that should impress, but the humility and self-effacement that must mark a person seeking simplicity.