Linda In The News - North County Times

In our complex world, many are starting to simplify

by Cyndie DeNeve, Staff Writer, North County Times January 21, 2001

In our technologically advanced age, where people can be tracked down by pagers, cell phones and wireless e-mail, a movement is underfoot to simplify.

Some people are daring to "go unplugged." Spending quiet time in nature is valued ---- dare we say it ---- over time on the Internet. The Boomers who once touted "quality" family time over quantity of time are now relishing the chance to enjoy family and friends on a clock-less afternoon.

OK, not all of them. But these rebels are out there. And their numbers are growing.

A 1998 survey by the University of Maryland found that half of the respondents were willing to give up a day's pay for a day off. Imagine, preferring time over money. Just a decade ago, that seemed unthinkable.

"The '80s were excess. The '90s were awakening," said Laurie Cohen of San Diego, who teaches organic gardening and has an organizing business called Simply Put. Today, she said, people are saying "enough of too much. The movement is a backlash against the rat race."

As the affluent middle class enters a new millennium with all its high-tech equipment, the world seems to be spinning at a dizzying speed ---- so much so that people are saying No more. No to pagers. No to all-night business dinners. No to clutter. No to junk mail. No to working late every night. No to more "stuff." No to promotions in different cities and no to demanding jobs. No to anything that eats away at personal time that can never be replaced.

But it won't be an easy transformation. Ironically, the desire for a simpler life is being used to hawk more goods and services ---- everything from outdoors activities, books and a new magazine called "Simple," to vehicles, organized closets, and dining at Denny's with the family.

The "simplifying" movement was not inspired by any one individual, or by the media. In fact, several people interviewed had been simplifying without realizing they were part of any trend.

Linda Manassee Buell of Poway used to be a self-described "Type-A personality" and "perfectionist" until she stopped her corporate climb, moved to California with her husband and started her personal coaching business, "Simplify Life."

"Part of it is, a lot of baby boomers have worked 20 years and are looking ahead to another 20-plus to go," she explained. "A lot of people are worried about how fast things are moving. Baby Boomers in their 40s and 50s are saying, 'Wait a minute.'"

"Wait a minute" is a theme echoed by Elaine St. James, best-selling author of the "Simplify Your Life" series. "We went through the '80s and thought we could do it all. Then we said, 'Hey, wait a minute. When I was trying to do it all, was I happy? Did I enjoy my life?'"

But now as we enter the 21st century, she said, "We're at the point in time that we have fabulous lives, but we have no time to enjoy them. We're trying to do too much."

St. James, who lives in Santa Barbara, was one of the first to write about "simplifying" in 1994. Now she has six books on the subject, with her newest, "Simplify Your Work Life" (Hyperion), out this week.

She advocates a path filled with such steps as replacing the gym and its high-tech equipment with a brisk walk outdoors, and being selective about giving out your e-mail address and cell-phone number.

Part of having an un-simplified life is that we get sucked into our culture's push for more and more, she explained in a phone interview. Newer cars. Bigger houses. The latest gadgets. But then people find themselves trapped by their jobs, working 10 to 12 hours a day, just so they can keep and buy more "stuff." That means there's "more stuff to clean, to accrue, to take care of," she said. "A lot of people are realizing our priorities are skewed."

Lisa Maynor of Escondido started simplifying five years ago when she realized, "I was ignoring my friends and family. I was not enjoying my spare time. My day off from work was being eaten up. Why was I working so hard if I can't enjoy the time?"

Now she stays organized, takes care of bills and chores as they come up, and does errands before and after work so she can enjoy the weekend with her husband.

When life gets complex, Maynor handles it by getting outdoors. "I need to get out in the garden, out with a shovel and rake."

Though she's never read any articles or seen any shows on the subject, as an assistant manager at Henry's Marketplace in Escondido, Maynor talks to customers and friends who are also making it a goal to simplify.

"I think it has to do a lot with the computer age. It seems we have all these new inventions to go faster and faster, but they're not working. We're all busier than ever."

According to Linda Breen Pierce, author of "Choosing SImplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World" (Gallagher Press), our new inventions aren't all bad.

"Technology can complement simplicity by reducing the time needed to complete tedious tasks," Pierce wrote via e-mail. "The problem arises when we use technology to simply increase our work load, e.g., double our productivity, rather than create some 'down' time in our day.

"So, in a sense, the way we have used technology may be contributing to that crazy, rushed, never-enough-time feeling so many people experience today. It's not the fault of technology per se, but rather how we use it."

Buell gave up suits and heels for T-shirts and tennis shoes by working at home at her own pace. She said slowing down and taking a simple approach is good for us mentally and physically.

"We can be more productive when we're not juggling," she said. "If I slow down, I actually get more done. I'm paying more attention to each thing I'm doing."

Buell said she used to be "the queen juggler. I could talk to you on the cell phone while driving and eating. It's not that I couldn't (still) do it, but is this what I want out of my life?"

And that's at the heart of the simplifying movement. People are setting aside time to figure out what it is that they want to be doing with their time.

Denise Carr, 45, of Fallbrook has spent the past half-year pondering that idea. She quit her full-time business as an insurance agent after 15 years, and is moving to a smaller home. With her found time, she has been able to drive a friend to physical therapy and doctor appointments, and is taking exercise, cooking and Bible study classes.

"I'm doing those things you dream about,"she said.

But, adds the mother of two grown children, that free time has also given her a chance to contemplate.

"My dream would be to have enough money to travel all the time. I'm not quite in that financial position ... I'm playing with the fact that I'd like a more worthwhile career so that I can make money so that I could travel more." For her, quitting her job and clearing her house of clutter was just a first step.

"As much as I enjoy my craft and helping others, there is still a part of myself that wants to be fulfilled, that empty part that wants to see that you're making a difference. This is a new season of my life. I know that I need something different."

Laurie Cohen and her husband, who live in a small, spare home in San Diego, are content with older cars and small vacations. She works from home, and he works nearby so he doesn't have to fight traffic each morning and can come home for lunch.

"To him, that's worth more than earning $10,000 more a year," she said. "He's happier with less stress in his life."

Cohen, the mother of a 14-year-old daughter, spends her spare time in her organic garden, brewing wine and making her own vinegar.

"It's the simple things I can do to connect me back to the earth. That's what is really, really important to me. It's my source of rejuvenation."

It's not, she emphasized, working hard just to be able to collect more "stuff." She said people are realizing the falseness of the ubiquitous bumper sticker, "He who dies with the most toys wins."

"People rush around their whole lives and then they die," she said. "Our grandparents, who lived through the Depression, kept telling us, 'You can't take it with you.' It's finally sinking in. I've seen a big change in the focus on the family alone."

Working harder and harder in a complex world just to make more money to buy material goods is not worth it, Cohen emphasized.

Copyright 2001, North County Times. All rights reserved.
Used with the permission of North County Times.

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