A key way to be rich in what matters is to do something you love for a living. Most of us know that intuitively.
Something less widely known is that living simply greatly expands our choice of livelihood. Think about it. More income flexibility means greater job flexibility.
Many people do work they dislike to finance fancy cars, large houses, etc. Sometimes, the more they dislike their work, the more they compensate themselves for it with costly lifestyles, toys and hobbies. This can be a vicious circle.
A diamond-cut life circumvents that circle with a wider array of choices and skills.
For five years of my youth I lived in a narrow, one-room loft (I’m counting my 30’s as part of my youth). I was a self-employed artist, and my art design and production all happened out of this room in Portland’s Central Eastside Industrial District — along with the rest of my life.
My bathroom in those years was a toilet and sink down the hall that all six of us loft-renters shared. I had no shower or bathtub. So I learned to bathe in a bowl of water.
I took a washcloth, soaked it in the water, squeezed it til it stopped dripping, and rubbed myself all over. I resoaked and resqueezed the washcloth until all of me was scrubbed clean. I didn’t need or use soap unless I’d gotten greasy. My hair got washed in the sink. It did take a lot more than a bowl of water to wash my hair :).
I stayed clean this way. I was quite happy in those years, despite being dollar-poor and quite cold in the winter (there was very little heat). I told myself I was doing urban camping in service to my art.
Fast forward to this Fourth of July weekend, which I’ve spent mostly gardening, getting good and sweaty. I’ve bathed only with a washcloth and a bowl of water. I am clean as I write. No cooties have accumulated. My husband still wants to touch me and kiss me.
Let me clarify: I’m not saying that you should bathe in a bowl of water, nor live in a tiny artist’s loft (the main problem with the latter was that it was illegal. I made amends to the landlord long ago). And these days I often bathe in a big bathtub.
But I’d like you to know that you can bathe in a bowl of water if you need to. Beyond giving us a wider array of life-choices, low-consumption skills make us resilient in the face of natural disasters, and the dislocations that will come as climate change progresses. Practicing these skills give us insight into how people in the developing world live, and not by choice. These skills make us more self-sufficient, and appreciative of whatever abundance we have.
Last year my husband Thor and I had reason to think our income would get slashed. I can honestly say I felt unafraid to live on two-thirds less income than we’ve been living on. We’ve lived below our means the whole 12 years we’ve been together, saving aggressively by doing things like being a one-car household.
It turned out our income didn’t take a dive. But the lack of fear was due to the presence of skills, such as how to live successfully with others, cook tasty simple meals, conserve electricity, and do challenging things in general.
What is your favorite equivalent of bathing from a bowl of water? That is, what resiliency skill do you have that you enjoy using?
Next weekend I’ll be writing about community, because July 12th I’ll help my brother Jeff celebrate his marriage to the vivacious, lovely and loving Jen Zhou. I’m gaining a cool niece as well, Michelle, age 15! My new family members are making me way richer in what matters.
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