Leo Babauta at Zen Habits writes all the time about simplicity. His latest piece, "Your Life, Simplified," is a profoundly basic list of how to simplify your life in the most important ways-- one which I intend to use as I start to evaluate my goals and visions for the upcoming academic year.
I know I've been writing a lot about simplicity lately. I think I've gotten more interested in this idea of simple living because of the life I've seen during my time in DC, which I inevitably always reflect on more when I'm away from the city. With some distance, it's easier to compare and contrast the lives I see people living in small town New England, and the lives I see people living in the District.
I don't pretend to believe that one is better or worse. In fact, I rather enjoy the balance I have going between the two. DC has its pluses-- good public transportation (makes it easier not to drive everywhere and damage the environment), high levels of public engagement, and my university friends (all of whom are wonderful people and some of whom are wonderful people with great ideas about simplicity and social justice). But it also has its minuses-- high levels of consumerism, people always on the go and in a hurry, people more interested in networking than relationships. My hometown in New England, on the other hand, still has high levels of consumerism (you get that everywhere), and public transportation is minimal so people generally drive-- though some of my friends are more known to bike or walk. But the air is cleaner (something I ALWAYS notice-- it's like a veil is lifted on the sky) and people are usually more relaxed and enjoy the chance to communicate and develop real relationships. Small businesses are arguably more present and established than corporations. There may be less "big-league" stuff to do, but the only way you can be bored is if you allow yourself to be.
I often wonder about how simple my life really is, either in DC or at home. Is there any kind of measuring stick? Part of me doubts it. It's such a personal thing. For me, learning to shut down my computer at night and not boot it up until I was up and dressed was a big development, and felt like a major step toward simplicity. But how much of an impact does that really have, on me or in the grand scheme of things? I don't really know. Maybe simple living is more of a continual process, something you do when your life feels like it's spiraling out of control or when you get discontented. Everything I read says describes it as a lifestyle. Some things have described it as a means to an end. Either way, evaluating life from the perspective of simplifying can only be a good thing, in the long run.