Simple life, Quaker life?
January 4, 2018 9:37 AM   Subscribe

What are some sources of inspiration for living a simple life (more in the Quaker sense of simplicity?) Writing, movies, blogs, podcasts, etc. that take a more philosophical/spiritual approach, are compatible with (small) city life, and avoid bootstrapping Thoreau-ish rhetoric (which also shows up in Minimalism stuff) are appreciated!

My life has been focused more and more on simple things, and I'd like to keep building on this! I try to prioritize the simple pleasures: walking across town, hanging out with my cat, spending time with friends without spending money, keeping a simple household with no expensive possessions, and focusing on nature time whenever possible.

I'm fortunate in that most of my family and friends are 100% on the same wavelength and don't covet expensive outings or anything like that. However, I definitely still struggle to be thrifty on my own, especially when I am tired or distressed. I sleep in and take Ubers to class (I know), impulsively buy clothes online when I'm feeling bad about myself, fail to make my own lunch, etc. The set of incongruous behaviors is very obvious to me now that I've winnowed out some of the bigger offenders, but rather than always be in the self-censuring mode of behavior policing, I'd like to spend more time reflecting on my values and being really clear with myself about enacting them whenever possible (so going from a deficits model to a value-driven model of living).

I will be moving from my small city to an even smaller city/big town in a few months. This seems like a perfect opportunity to go deeper into living a simple life. I am definitely going to start going to the local Friends Meeting as a starting point, which will hopefully provide an encouraging social framework for this kind of living. But I'd also like to be more deliberate about this and regularly reflect upon enacting simplicity day to day, dealing with impulsiveness, etc.

What are some sources of encouragement you might recommend in working towards these goals? I have looked into Minimalism stuff online, but tend to be kind of offput by this perspective (both the Instagram-ideal version of this and the kind of bootstrappy rhetoric). I'd also like to find perspectives that are compatible with living in a (small) city -- I'd rather live a very simple life but still be around the bustle of many different folks from diverse backgrounds than join a eco-oriented cooperative living situation for example (which I did for a year in college). Bonus points if any of this is Quaker-inspired and written from perspectives other than cis straight white men (as the vast majority of Quaker writing I find online seems to be!)

Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Ah, the way I wrote this implies I'm asking specifically for didactic materials, but I'm also interested in representations of individuals and families that live simply. If you pointed me to stories about queer Quaker families who live simply, for instance, I would go head-over-heels for it. :)
posted by elephantsvanish at 9:44 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

While not specifically about simplicity, I find that the guests and posts on On Being discuss simplicity a lot.
posted by CMcG at 9:47 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I know it sounds weird, but as someone who is subscribing to the Quaker life, I find the writing of Pema Chodron (a Buddhist nun) to be particularly helpful.

It's not so much that she writes about simplicity or minimalism, but more about mindfulness. Once you really get mindfulness, the materialism is easier to overcome ... because it just doesn't feel the same. She's very gentle and tackles a lot of the ways that we beat ourselves up (fear, laziness, impulsiveness, being judgemental) and helps to build positive things like gratitude, calmness, listening and compassion.

You can sample some of her books via Kindle or the library.
posted by typetive at 9:50 AM on January 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm hoping these fit in some way- I enjoyed them immensely.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
My life as a Turkey
posted by beccaj at 9:58 AM on January 4, 2018

I've always thought that Duane Elgin's "Voluntary Simplicity" and Linda Breen Pierce's "Choosing Simplicity" were some of the first and still some of the best works on the subject.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 9:58 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

You should check out the Plain Reader. It was produced by the publishers of the now-defunct Plain Magazine (not to be confused with the design and architecture magazine).

In looking for this, I just found Just Plain Values, an Amish magazine. I have no idea what the content is like but it might be worth looking into.
posted by slogger at 9:58 AM on January 4, 2018

Have you seen the movie Paterson? Most of the film is spent watching the main character's routine, which is very simple and satisfying. I still think of this movie all the time a year later, and it feels inspiring in a way similar to what you're describing.
posted by figgy_finicky at 10:37 AM on January 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Reading My Tea Leaves is a blog that focuses a lot on simple pleasures and sustainable living with a growing family in a small city apartment. No true spiritual aspect to it, but the focus on re-dedicating yourself to a commitment to simplicity is very enjoyable.

I haven't listened to any of the episodes from the past three or four months, but I used to be really into The Simple Show podcast. Again, the focus is on an ongoing commitment to yourself to live fully in a light, simple way. There's a lot of focus on travel but it's not the only topic covered. Some of the co-hosts are religious (though I don't believe any are Quakers) and there have been episodes discussing the interaction of church values and day-to-day values.
posted by DSime at 10:53 AM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

The website QuakerQuaker is kind of a hub for plainness/simplicity thinking and resources. I've come across some really nice essays and ideas there, and they have a group focused on plainness and simplicity. Be aware that though it's frequented by all manner of Quakers, it does seem to have an especially strong focus on from evangelical/Western/"Primitive"/Christian Quakers as opposed to liberal Quakers.

Also check out resources using the keywords voluntary simplicity.
posted by Miko at 12:02 PM on January 4, 2018

You might enjoy two different things which popped into my head when I read you question:
1) Dick Proenneke moved to Alaska in the 60s and lived Alone in the Wilderness for the rest of his life. He took lovely video along the way, and these videos have become annual Christmas viewing in my family. YouTube for clips so you get a sense.

2) Frugalwoods (online pseudonym for a couple—now growing family, who chose to save for purchasing a piece of land and live off it. Not so much philosophy, more nuts and bolts mechanics and frugality, but from the perspective of how this helps yourself, others, and the planet. Also written by the wife, so not cis-white-male.
posted by eglenner at 1:13 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

A Quaker Book of Wisdom: Life Lessons in Simplicity, Service, and Common Sense
Robert Lawrence Smith
posted by Crystal Fox at 2:15 PM on January 4, 2018

When I was in my early twenties, I ran across this Bible verse. It has influenced my lifestyle and caused me to embrace modest living since then and encompasses simplicity. Don't know if it will provide the inspiration you seek, but you might want to spend some time meditating on it -

Two things I ask of you, O Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much
and disown you and say,
"Who is the Lord?"
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:7-9
posted by eleslie at 5:14 AM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I really enjoy two podcasts I started listening to recently.

Hurry Slowly is an interview show focused on simplifying and attention. The interviews are great. It’s quite new so is eminently bingeable.

The Slow Home Podcast also has good interviews. They are on a break and reposting their favourite shows from 2017 at the moment, which is a good highlight reel.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:53 AM on January 5, 2018

Response by poster: I absolutely loved Paterson. Such a wonderful suggestion and definitely in the spirit of this question, thank you. Everything about that world... (also, Adam Driver, woof.)

Pema Chodron's writing seems like a great fit too. I think I'm going to start with The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.

I used to listen to On Being all the time! It's been several years, a good time to start exploring the archives.

Many other lovely suggestions here too, but just wanted to point out where I found most helpful to start. Thank you!
posted by elephantsvanish at 9:07 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

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