When Janet Luhrs first became involved with the concept of voluntary simplicity, she found that she frequently encountered Henry David Thoreau's words.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I wanted to live deep and suck all the marrow of life...
Remembers Luhrs, "First I thought it meant that anyone who wanted to honestly simplify had to go live in the woods. After all, how could anyone live simply in the midst of the hustle and bustle of a city? ...Six years later I'm still living in the same house in the same city. I still look pretty much the same. But inside, I've changed."
From experience gained publishing and editing a journal entitled Simple Living, Luhrs has written The Simple Living Guide A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living. As she researched and wrote the book, the theme of living deliberately became more and more prominent. Those she interviewed "live consciously...deliberately...and thoughtfully. This is what Thoreau meant when he said, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life...'"
Living deeply means living consciously, living intimately, living a more authentic life. "This is the essence of simplicity...to live with full awareness and with passion." And, Luhrs realizes, "Simplicity is not just one thing, one path. There is not an easy recipe for simplicity. There is not a perfect way to live simply.... Simplicity is not so much the outward trappings of your life; it is the inner you making decisions."
In presenting us with a variety of options toward living deliberately and deeply, The Simple Living Guide explores both the inner and outer actions we may choose to follow. Luhrs breaks down the discussion into 14 major topics, one per chapter. The titles of each are themselves simple and self-explanatory. Within each chapter, subsections, filled with suggestions, tips and inspiration, explore the whys and hows to re-route and re-energize one's life. Each chapter contains The Sensuality of Simplicity, a sidebar on how the topic stimulates the senses if one opens to it. Each chapter ends with a personal story about someone who changed and enhanced that aspect of their life. Each also lists further source materials so the reader can delve deeper into the topic.
To give you a sense of each chapter, I have gleaned a quote or two from each.
Our time famine is really an intimacy famine.
If you don't want to work too much, don't spend the money.
The more still your outer environment becomes, the more aware you are of what's going on inside. No more staying busy and running away from yourself. There you are.
Find something you love to do and get paid for it.
Live under your means.
These are the simple pleasures of my life, the memories that stand out, the thoughts and actions that make my life feel very rich. These simple pleasures are a highlight of living a less complicated existence; they can be easily missed in a life that goes by at 90 miles per hour.
Much of what is missing in a hurried life is the simple act of nurturing.
The essence of simplicity is living from the core of your being.
When we practice living virtues such as honesty, respect, love and compassion, we draw those same virtues back to us.
Besides making conscious choices for your family, you also need to be a good role model. Every rule that applies to simplifying your own life applies to simplifying your life with children.
The holiday season, like anything else, is what we make it.
We can create holidays with deep meaning by looking past mainstream traditions and developing new customs for ourselves and our families. As with all other aspects of simplifying, going against the grain takes a little more creativity and energy, but the results are well worth it.
Simple living is very much about slowing down and living sensually — smelling, touching, tasting and seeing our way through life. Cooking offers the perfect opportunity to bring this sensuality alive by fully engaging all of our senses.
Remember, love is an ingredient. That is what simple living is all about — fully enjoying the little moments that are right in front of you.
Take a look at nature sometime. When left to itself, everything flows and works in harmony with gentle, continual movements.
We are part of nature, yet we carry on in our daily lives as if we have no connection.
Remember the rule: Moderation in what is good for you and abstinence from things that are no good.
Over the five years I have published Simple Living, I discovered dozens of innovative people who were able to simplify their lives by creating fabulous alternatives to traditional American housing. They decided to create models that fit their unique lives rather than quietly following the dictates of the status quo.
The simple living lesson on clutter is this: If you don't like to clean, sort, and fool with stuff, have less of it.
For those who love it, gardening is a source of passion and even spiritual nourishment. It offers a way to connect with the natural cycle of life....
Even for those who don't love to garden, there is nothing like a patch of growing green life to awaken the senses and spirit.
Traveling is one time I am, indeed, fully and completely "in the moment" as the Buddhists call it.
I love checking out new places, new people, new smells, food, sensations, new skies, new roads. I love immersing myself in this newness.
Travel and the simple life. Traveling teaches you a lot more about life than any book will tell you.
Although the size of the book (444 pages) looks daunting at first and the word sourcebook on the cover engenders thoughts of dry reading, The Simple Living Guide reads very easily and smoothly. You never feel like you are reading an encyclopedia of concepts or a book of life recipes, but feel as if you are having Janet Luhrs talk with you personally.
Paper books are, unfortunately by nature, linear in design and thus compel the reader to begin on page 1 and read through to the last page of text. The Simple Living Guide has more of a web quality, a webbook that fits the non-linearity inherent in CD-ROM software better than the traditional linearity of books. That is, with the Introduction at the center, each of the 14 chapters stands independent and yet also interdependent of each other, beckoning you to read where you will, in the order you desire.
For example, is Housing your biggest concern today? Start there. The thoughts and questions raised in your mind while reading that chapter may logically lead you next to Money. Instead, I may go to Families or Gardening. After following a path for a while, I likely will return to the center, the Introduction, to remind myself I strive to live more deeply.
I found it interesting that The Simple Living Guide had no concluding chapter, no summation, nor words of parting. I don't know if this was deliberate on the author's part, but I see it as an understanding that there is no end to the process, no destination to achieve, only a journey to our future. At times that journey may lead us to travel; at other times toward cultivating inner simplicity. Like the journey, the path of living deeply, living deliberately, living gently has no end.
Buy this book. It is a keeper that will be well read over and over and over again, in different ways, with different eyes, with different purposes. I know I will come back frequently, re-reading those specific chapters that are relevant to my life direction at the time.
The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living by Janet Luhrs, Broadway Books, New York, 1997, ISBN 0-553-06796-6
reviewed by Keith C. Heidorn
July 21, 1998
Originally published in Living Gently Quarterly, Vol 2 No 3 (Autumn 1998)
Living Gently Quartery Review: The Simple Living Guide©1998, Keith C. Heidorn. All Rights Reserved.
Order Janet Luhrs' The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living Today!
For Other Great Books, Visit The Living Gently Quarterly Bookstore
Living Gently Quarterly is published by Keith C. Heidorn. ©1996-2002, 2003. Correspondence may be sent to: email: firstname.lastname@example.org.