Several years ago I wrote a column of this same title. And I began the process of doing so. Changes can come fast or they can take years. Life changes in an instant with a job loss, a move, health challenges, divorce, or death. These kinds of changes are unexpected and there is little we can do to prepare for them.
Other kinds of changes take months or years, depending on circumstances. I began downsizing five years ago. I started by getting as much plastic as possible out of my house. Then books were donated to the library, the local Montessori school, and my friend’s rural ‘library box’ alongside her driveway. Bags and bags of recently unworn clothing went to local churches. Household goods went to Salvation Army and local Senior Centers. This made a considerable dent in ‘stuff’ but not so much.That reminds me of one of my favorite new sayings–“everything matters, but not that much.” Similar to “don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff,” but easier to say and usually gets a laugh as people think about it. Ultimately we are not the ones “in charge.” The Big Guy (or Gal) upstairs is in charge, not us. Just realizing that we’re not really in charge of everything goes a long way towards de-stressing.
De-teching came next for me. I cannot tell you how many people respond to that by saying “I can’t do that.” But you can. Start small. When so-called time-saving devices wear out, don’t replace them. Don’t replace the electric coffee grinder, dishwasher, microwave, or TV when they break down. By the time I was seriously into downsizing, all of the above had broken down. I never replaced them. And I’ve never owned a clothes dryer. I dry my clothes outside on the line in the summer and inside by the woodstove during the winter. Do you really need to upgrade an expensive phone? Or will a simple but portable one do? They all do texting and photos now. If you are serious about “slow food” instead of fast food, don’t eat out more than once or twice a week. Learn to cook and save money besides.
De-stressing happens when you tackle the above “stressors.” Of course you need to make decisions for yourself and your circumstances. A large family may need a dishwasher or clothes dryers and career addicts may choose to keep their fancy phones and computers. But many “devices” lead to stress. However, I remember an amusing incident when someone asked me why I owned a bread machine. Well, my oven was broken, that’s why!
We need to remember that humans lived without any “devices” for literally millions of years. .Electricity only hit most of the US in the late 1800s and was pretty much universal by 1940. Smart phones and computers are really relatively new. We’re encouraged, advertised to, and given incentives to modernize. But does everyone need to?
In seeking a slower-paced life, rather than pursuing the frazzle-dazzle, I’ve spent most of my life cooking at home, doing dishes by hand, and drying clothes on the line outside. Over time I’ve become happier and less stressed. Lots of alternative publications recommend de-stressing by getting out of debt. First of all, pay off all your credit cards–then cut them up. Then pay off your car or trade it in on a used car you can pay for outright. Then pay off your mortgage. This is how my parents and grand-parents did it. Even those on fixed income or at poverty level may be able to survive on less. Studies show that people are most content right at or just above poverty level. Pots of money don’t necessarily make people happier. In fact, those who win lotteries are often depressed within just a few years.
The decision to retire and live on a low income was not as difficult as one might think. Especially since my level of life satisfaction went up with every step towards self-sufficiency.
My life is easier without so much stuff, especially stuff that breaks down and becomes instant garbage. After careers in radio, television, and record promotion (back when we still had records) I chose a career in natural medicine. I’ve love the more than twenty years of practicing and writing. Some people took my advice, some didn’t. Such is the nature of human beings. But by continuing to write the columns I can continue to disseminate information, maybe even controversies. I’m kept up to date on current information and trends. And that’s a good thing, for all of us.
Several studies show that crises in mid-life are real. I’m well beyond “mid-life” and in fact beyond retirement age but in order to live the lifestyle I desire I’m choosing to no longer practice other than to provide information via these columns. Surveying people in 72 developed countries found that people are at their happiest after age fifty. With our youth culture that curve of happiness may even start later. While aging has its attendant unpleasantness the decrease in anger, worry, and stress generally gives way to an increase in laughter, wisdom, and acceptance as we age. I look forward to continuing to bring you my monthly columns.