Friday, April 8, 2016

Voluntary Simplicity vs Poverty

There's a world of difference between voluntary simplicity and poverty. They might look similar to the casual observer, but there's a world of difference.

Take a poor person and someone practicing voluntary simplicity. They might both be wearing old patched clothes. They may both be living in a small space. (apartment, house, tent, van, car, whatever) Both may be eating low cost meals. They may both have similar income levels. Even so, they are worlds apart.

Let's start with meals. Poor people tend to eat a lot of prepared, low nutrition food. It could be they are working two or three low paying jobs and don't have the time nor the energy to shop for and prepare good meals. If you don't have the opportunity to shop very often it actually makes sense to buy foods that don't spoil.

Someone living simply may not spend any more money on food, but they eat a lot better. Sometimes it's as simple as having a few decent cooking tools and knowledge how to use them. They may be eating cheaply, but they are mostly eating foods they prepare themselves. While the poor person may heat up a frozen dinner, the other guy's eating a rice and beans dish made from cheap dried beans, a few spices, and might have a salad made from wild greens. It's cheap, but takes time, effort and knowledge to prepare. It's also pretty yummy and high in nutrition.

Take two different people who are living in their car. The poor person can't make rent and ends up sleeping in an old van. Someone who wants to live a more simple life might decide to give up living in an apartment or house for van living. The poor person sort of ends up there. They've got to figure it out on the fly. Odds are he's the guy who the cops will be hassling at 3 a. m. to move on.

Someone who decides to move into a van has a plan. He's had a chance to figure out how to make a small space a comfortable living area. Sleeping, cooking, security, hygiene -all that stuffs been figured out. There are probably solar panels on the roof, a house battery system, and black out curtains. This guy is less likely to get hassled by the police as he's researched where to park without running into trouble.

Where the two really differ is when something goes wrong. The poor person is really hurting when his car breaks down. There's no money to fix it and now he has a hard time to get to work. The person living simply has a back up plan. Maybe he doesn't even have a regular job where he needs the vehicle right away. That gives him time to fix the problem himself. Then again, he probably has an emergency fund for just that sort of problem. After all, he's a guy living simply. He's not poor.

At different times in my life I have been both of those guys. It doesn't matter if you have a year or two's worth of supplies and savings. Sometimes things go bad for three or four years or more. As prepared as well like to me, everyone has limits. Nobody can prepare for everything. Don't look down on the poor guy as it's not that hard to become him.

Trust me, living simply is better than living poor. If you are living simply and break a tooth, you go to the dentist. If you are poor, you suffer.

Knowing how to live simply can help prevent you from having to live poor. If you see bad times coming and can set yourself up to live at a simpler level before you have to, there are choices. Completely running out of resources and becoming poor limits your options terribly.



  1. Most of my life, I've been relatively poor, though not extremely so. For ten years, though, I had more money coming in than most people knew, but I never changed my lifestyle. Many of my neighbors looked down their nose at me for driving the same truck for 28 years, then got jealous when I bought a new one off the dealer's lot. People are strange.

    1. People want to do better than their neighbors.

    2. "People are strange."

      Got your point, but people aren't strange. People, and behavior like that, are normal. Normal doesn't mean "good". It never has. It means "norm" as in, what there is the most of. Often, what there is the most of, isn't very good.

  2. Living simply makes a lot of sense to me. Of course, I live alone and that makes a lot of difference. I have choices others don't have.

    1. Certainly makes it easier when you only have yourself to please.

  3. I have lived both ways also, I prefer resources over none but it's easy to get into the "over extended" category. I really want the simple life, self sufficient but prepared. I am getting ready for that day. Lord willing soon.

    1. It's a better way when you have a chance to prepare and plan.

  4. I have never really been poor but had tight times, after divorces mainly. At one time i had to eat, entertain my kids on visitation, support my vice, all on $150 a month. And that was renting a crappy apartment and a paid for car. So yes, that is pushing poor.

    I'm still living kinda frugal, been paying off bills and haven't bought anything really in six years. Did buy a new basic Toyota pick up 3 years ago but needed a commuter, work truck for the side job and you cant save money buying a Tacoma used. My side work pays the note mostly.
    Always wanted to get an older van as a fall back shelter. Could still happen but I'm pretty secure where I'm at. Mobile home is paid for and a friend holds the land note. Getting things paid off rapidly now and will build my new home (small and better for off grid) in about 2 years debt free God willing.
    Land will be paid off in 4 or 5 years. At that point I can live off very little.

    1. Good sound plan, even if nothing goes wrong life is good.

  5. SB,

    Good topic. Curious what motivated it if you care to say.

    Maybe it was unexpectedly distributing most of your shit on the bottom of the ocean in the middle of the night. Even if so, the depth in your description clearly developed long before that, happening over years.

    Among lots of well-written lines, one caught my attention more than the rest: "Don't look down on the poor guy as it's not that hard to become him."

    If a person does not start out poor, or become poor early in life, it takes quite a bit of life experience to arrive at your level of understanding ... if ever. For two main reasons as I see it.

    First, perspective.

    I remember younger me who was convinced that divorce for "good people" was not only unlikely, but inconceivable. And then I got divorced. And then ten more things like that.

    It is hard for me to find even one redeeming quality in Dick Cheney. However, despite surely being programmed for nearly all of his long life to despise LBGT people and likely cultivating that prejudice in himself and others, he had an epiphany. Why? His daughter came out of the closet. It was no longer "them". It was "us". It was no longer unimaginable and "a choice". It became conceivable and unavoidable. And finally, it became understandable and genetic.

    Personal experience drastically alters perspective. It might be the only thing that ever really does.

    Second, indoctrinated obstacles.

    Sometimes the things we're most proud of can also be weaknesses. Sometimes they even have a sinister side. For example, our traditional work ethic, self-reliance, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. There is unquestionably value in those. But overdone, as they often are, they become insidiously detrimental on an individual and collective basis. And while we're on this point, this is something that most Europeans understand, but most Americans still don't.

    For example, those perspectives and our illusion that we're exceptional lead to denial. About what?

    First, denial of the fact that society bears a lot of responsibility for creating those "poor people" in the beginning, and thus, society also bears some responsibility for helping them to a place of self-sufficiency, dignity, and self-respect.

    Second, related to your point in my favorite post line, denial of the fact that 90% of us constantly live only a hair's width from becoming that despised "lazy, slacking, good-for-nothing charity-case, loser, taker".

    Cultural brainwashing and propaganda aside, none of us is as responsible for his or her own level of success as we like to believe we are. Just as none of us is as responsible for our failures as we are led to believe we are.

    For those who don't understand, you should thank your lucky stars every day that you were never forced to understand.