* Michelle Thoughts

Big Ideas

Big ideas. As many of you know, Jedd and I are full of them. Within 15 minutes of first meeting each other back in July 2007, our conversation quickly turned, revealing how we were each entrepeneurs at heart and felt called to non-profit work. Most recently, we dreamed up our own TV show/documentary where we would travel the country in a veggie-oil RV on a quest to find creative ways that people are practicing “voluntary simplicity” (from community living to urban farming to self-sustaining homes and more). Apart from all the cool people and places we would encounter, can you imagine the entertainment value? [Jedd makes outrageous pronouncement. Then, close-up on Michelle’s lifted eyebrow. Jedd dances, trying to get a reaction. No reaction. Etc.] If anyone can line up a sponsor, let us know! By the way, we discovered days later that a somewhat related series was done on the Sundance Channel, called “Big Ideas for a Small Planet.” We recommend watching it on instant Netflix.

Other big ideas of ours include starting an inter-generational, intentional living community; a multi-functional coffeeshop/community/ministry center (like Q-Cafe in Seattle); a non-profit/co-op residence hall for low-income University students; an annual Serve Portland ministry conference (inspired by Hawaii’s H.I.M. conference); and many, many more. I have little doubt that one or more of these ideas will happen in one way or another at some point in our lives. “With our powers combined!” We know we are surrounded by amazing friends and family with all kinds of talents, skills, and experience that could come together in creative and synergistic ways.

I’m sure some of you have “big ideas,” too. We’d love to hear about them. Please share!

* Michelle Thoughts

Voluntary Simplicity: concluded

I never concluded with my favorite quotes from the Voluntary Simplicity book by NWEI so here they are:

Chapter 5: Living Simply on Earth

“Most of us get almost all the things we need by buying them; most of us know only vaguely, if at all, where those things come from; and most of us know not at all what damage is involved in their production. We are almost entirely dependent upon an economy  of which we are almost entirely ignorant. … To build houses here, we clear-cut forests there. To have air conditioning here, we strip mine the mountains there.  To drive our cars here, we sink our oil wells there. It is an absentee economy.”

This quote may come off as very pessimistic. What are we supposed to do? But I think it’s worse to be in denial or ignorant than to feel the weight of our problems. By paying attention to the consequences of our actions and our purchases, we can start down the path to being more responsible, one step at a time. I heard recently that there’s a patch of garbage floating out in the Pacific Ocean that is the size of Texas! It can be seen from space! The way we’re consuming and using resources clearly has its effect. Something’s got to change.


“I suggest that each of us strive to fall in love with our own daily life. If we are not loving the life we live, we need to change it, right now, today.”

This quote stood out to me as well. I often focus on having a meaningful life in the grand-scheme-of-things way: my career, big accomplishments, changing the world. But here it says to fall in love with your “daily life.” One thing this series of readings reminds me to do is find joy in the little things, in the journeys, in the time between big accomplishments, in daily life. I confess I am not always in love with my daily life because I’m too focused on the future or I don’t use my time wisely. How much fuller could my life be if I had more appreciation for what would otherwise seem ordinary? If I didn’t zone out on the way to my “next thing”? And I like how no-nonsense this author is if you aren’t in love with your daily life: Change it. Right now. No excuses. Life is too short to wait for circumstances. So that’s something I will be working on is making those changes in my attitude and my day-to-day activities so that I can truly say I am in love with my own daily life.

* Michelle Thoughts

Making A Living: Voluntary Simplicity cont.

Chapter 3: Making A Living

“We must take time to dress for our jobs, commute to our jobs, think about our jobs at work and at home, ‘decompress’ from our jobs.  We must spend our evenings and weekends in mindless ‘escape entertainment’ in order to ‘recreate’ from our jobs.”

“How many people have you seen who are more alive at the end of the work day than they were at the beginning?”

“For most human history people only worked for two or three hours per day.”

“We’ve begun to lose the fabric of family, culture, and community that gave meaning to life outside the workplace. … Because life outside the workplace has lost vitality and meaning, work has ceased being a means to an end [financial support] and become an end in itself. … Our jobs now serve the function that traditionally  belonged to religion: they are the place where we seek answers to the perennial questions: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Why am I here?’ and ‘What’s it all for?'”

“Having the financial independence to walk away rarely triggers people to do just that.  The reality is, making money is such hard work that it changes you.  It takes twice as long as anyone plans for. It requires more sacrifices than anyone expects. You become so emotionally invested in that world- and psychologically adapted to it- that you don’t really want to ditch it.”

There is this paradox between not letting your job be the center of your life and finding a job that you “come alive” doing.  With the amount of time we spend at our jobs (see first quote), it seems we should find something we truly enjoy doing.  But at the same time, our jobs aren’t necessarily supposed to be the one source of our satisfaction, nor the source of our identity- they’re a means for us to enjoy the rest of our life (assuming we have time and energy left to enjoy it).  I found a lot of “food for thought” in this chapter, and I welcome your comments and reflections.

* Michelle Thoughts

Time: Voluntary Simplicity cont.

Chapter 4: Do  You Have the Time?

“Our task is to balance the many roles we play and refrain from volunteering to understudy everybody else’s.  It can be tough to say no, especially to causes we recognize as worthy.  The goal is to realize that, since we can’t help with everything, our time and stamina need to go into what truly speaks to our hearts.”

“The time you spend preserving your health  is like time invested in a savings account: you’ll get it back plus interest.”

“How much time do you choose to spend with electronic companionship?” (i.e. TV, internet, video games)

“If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert and a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of doing these things joyfully. With the cup in my hands, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and flavor of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment. The time of dish-washing is as important as the time of meditation.”

Time is an interesting subject for all of us, I think.  As someone who is “a planner” and an “achiever,” I am constantly spending my thoughts on the future.  Pushing forward,  working toward, planning ahead. It’s a struggle to be present to the moment I’m in. Our time is such a precious thing because it passes without hesitation, like a strong current, and it doesn’t come back. Am I spending my limited time on what I’m passionate about? Am I using my limited time to invest in meaningful relationships or in TV shows? Am I joyful with what I’m doing now or am I always looking to the next thing?

* Michelle Thoughts

Voluntary Simplicity

image_previewThis is the title of a short discussion course by the Northwest Earth Institute I recently got to participate in with some college students.  Even if you can’t participate in a discussion group at some point, I highly recommend the reading materials for Voluntary Simplicity (which you can order off their website). I can’t think of a better way to express the things I’ve learned from this course than offering a few quotes from the book to speak for themselves.

Chapter 1: The Meaning of Simplicity

“Simple living is about making deliberately thoughtful choices. The difference is that you are fully aware of why you are living your particular life, and that life is one you have chosen thoughtfully.”

“Life is occupied in both perpetuating itself and surpassing itself; if all it does is maintain itself, then living is only not dying.” Simone de Beauvoir

Chapter 2: Living More With Less

“Americans today [compared to the 1950’s] own about twice as many cars per person, eat out more than twice as often, and commonly enjoy big screen color TVs, microwave ovens, home computers, air conditioning, Post-it notes, and gobs of other goodies. Materially, these are the best of times. … Since 1957, the number of Americans who say they areimage_thumb ‘very happy’ has declined slightly, from 35 to 30 percent. We are twice as rich and no happier. Meanwhile, the divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide rate has more than doubled, and increasingly our teens and young adults are plagued by depression.  … We were excelling at making a living but too often failing at making a life. We celebrated our prosperity but yearned for purpose.”

To be continued…