Saturday, December 1, 2012

Minimalism In The Big City

Voluntary simplicity and minimal living have great cachet in today’s fragile economic times.  Frugal living is nothing new, and simple living has bee the mainstay of many environmentally aware people for decades.  However, the concept has not gained widespread acceptance for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the tendency to look to rural living or escaping from the “big city”  standards of living as the primary technique for achieving a simple lifestyle.  Yet, living minimally actually is easier to undertake in urban centres, even though the social pressures to conform to more materialistic lifestyles are significant.
Living with less is the primary focus of this lifestyle, but, in truth, the most gratifying aspect of cutting back on frills is the ability to focus on the most important aspects of our lives.  That is unique to each of us, yet proponents of the way of living too often urge us to adopt their own perspectives and interpretations of simple living.   It is far from an accurate or satisfying approach.
My wife and I opted to live in a yurt, off the grid, for several years.  However, I would never advocate that everyone else who wants to embrace voluntary simplicity move to a rural environment, live off the grid or build their own yurt.  It was our personal preference.
Other acquaintances have employed a more basic approach to living in the city, without any difficulty and with a lot of enjoyment.
In the city, one has greater access to options than in the country, and greater opportunities to employ alternative strategies to reduce ownership while increasing enjoyment of assets and activities.
One of the greatest materialistic and economic burdens is the automobile.  Yet, any owner will tell you that the car is essential to daily life.  There are several options, however, to reduce reliance on personal ownership of a vehicle in the city.  While public transportation is the most frequently cited substitute, other alternatives include “car sharing” (where owners either opt for specific times of the day or days of the week to use a shared vehicle),  commuter vehicles (mopeds, etc), bicycles, weekend vehicle rentals (or on-demand rentals) and seasonal leasing.
Of course, to reduce the need for a vehicle, simply either move closer to work or search for a job closer to home!
In the 1970s, many young people (most often, young men) cut housing costs by sharing a house.  The modern-day extension of this concept is for homeowners who wish to cut housing costs to lease out rooms or share the house with other renters.
In the vein of shared housing, consider sharing other entertainment assets.  On average, a video or DVD is viewed fewer than three times, yet millions of us buy and store vast collections of movies.  Similarly, print books gather dust on the shelves after one or two readings.  Why not develop an exchange program with friends, passing these movies, CDs and books or magazines among the members of the group.  Lower cost, greater reach of each piece of entertainment!  Even many e-books can be shared or “loaned” on Amazon and other e-book vendors.  Hundreds of thousands of free songs and books are available, legally.
Inexpensive entertainment can become free entertainment, if you opt for “open house” days at local zoos, art galleries, museums and even local high school drama productions.  In summer, most cities offer myriad free entertainment, including bands, dance groups and theatre.
Many places offer discounts for groups of six or more people.  Inquire as to whether the entertainment venue that you wish to visit will provide a bulk rate, and then arrange for a group outing.
Weekly visits to restaurants form the backbone of the food service industry.  However, home-based parties provide a much more relaxed atmosphere.  Consider arranging for a regular rotation of hosted dinner parties (e.g. each member of a group of eight hosts once every two months).   
There are hundreds of ways to minimize costs while simplifying your life in the big city.  Most rely on the principle of owning less, or getting more mileage out of each possession.  Be creative, and the need to own will become less of an addiction, or even a craving.  At the same time, you will find that your budget dollars last much longer!

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