Friday, January 2, 2009

Simplicity Lessons - a book review

A Book Review By Joe Leeak
(Originally published in 2003 at

Simplicity Lessons: A 12-Step Guide to Living Simply

By Linda Breen Pierce

Gallagher Press, 2003

For most people who decide to simplify their lives the process starts out as an inside job. As Linda Breen Pierce, author of Choosing Simplicity, describes it in her new book Simplicity Lessons : “many people are attracted to simplicity because of personal stresses in their lives-- too much work and debt, too little time and pleasure”. Pierce says that once people “make progress in those areas something else happens. They develop an interest in other-directed values-- interest in community (however small a radius), concern for the earth, and social justice.” Simplicity Lessons offers the reader plenty of tips and tricks for completing the inside work of cleaning out their closets and simplifying job, housing, and financial demands, while at the same time giving us a glimpse of the deeper “other-directed” or outside reasons to simplify.

Pierce came to write Simplicity Lessons after facilitating a simplicity workshop in early 2002 after which a number of people were interested in forming a study group to learn more about the subject of simplicity. She found that there were numerous guides published focusing on various aspects of simplicity but there was not a single volume that dealt with all of the aspects that she wanted to explore with a study group. Though Simplicity Lessons is primarily written to function as a basic text for groups wishing to gather for discussions about the how-and-why of creating a simpler life she also suggests study methods for those who want to explore the subject on their own or with a friend. Readers are given a chance to focus on practical issues related to material possessions, money, time, work, housing, transportation, and travel as well as outer-directed issues like community and environmental sustainability.

Each lesson offers the reader a chance to consider some of the personal aspects of the lesson topic as well as a chance to look at some of the related big-picture issues. For example in Lesson Four -- Home is Where the Heart Lives-- Pierce considers many of the issues and circumstances that surround our wants and needs related to housing. At the end of the lesson the reader is encouraged to determine the size of their home in square feet per household member and reflect on how they feel about its size. After this we’re encouraged to think creatively about new ways of living that would reduce demands on the environment while still meeting our needs.

Suggestions are offered at the end of each lesson of issues that can be reconsidered during annual check-ups. Pierce suggests in Lesson Four that we reconsider our housing situation on a yearly basis to see if our current housing still relates to and supports our life. Have our space needs changed? Is our home still in a good location for what is going on in our life? And if we previously determined our housing should change-- what progress have we made in changing our living situation to bring it more in to alignment with our simple living goals?

At the end of the book a number of useful worksheets are provided. These exercises are designed to give us the chance to collect and to put down in black-and-white the financial data and inventories that can help us to identify areas of our lives where we can simplify. Worksheets are provided for determining actual job compensation, tracking how money flows through our lives, how we spend our time, and home ownership versus renting costs. Detailed instructions are also provided that help to explain how to start and conduct a simplicity study group for 8 to 10 people.

Discovering and accepting the value of living a simpler life leads us into a process that is likely to last a lifetime. As Pierce explains:

“Simplifying your life is not accomplished in a few weeks, or even a few months. Many people need an initial period of three to five years to make basic changes toward a life of simplicity. And you never really get there. Simplicity is not a destination but a life-long process, a way of looking at life, a form of mindful living that will take on different shapes as you go through life. Recognize that what may be a life of simplicity for you now might look radically different in ten years. Refinements and adjustments are ongoing.”

Linda Breen Pierce’s Simplicity Lessons is likely to become an often referred to friend in the years to come as your path to simplifying your life continues to unfold in front of you.

Joe Leeak is a part-time engineer, writer, bicyclist and guitarist who lives simply in Seattle, Washington.