The “simple life” is expensive.
I actually know someone who probably spent hundreds of dollars on a big wooden sign that says “Simplicity.” It is proudly displayed in this person’s kitchen. Here is a taste of what Charlotte Allen has to say about simplicity in a piece over at In Character.
Simplicity movement people always seem to shell out more money than the not-so-simple, usually because the simple things they love always seem to cost more than the mass-produced versions. On a website called Passionate Homemaking that’s dedicated to making, among other things, your own cheese, your own beeswax candles, and your own underarm deodorant, you are also advised to cook with nothing but raw cultured butter from a mail-order outfit called Organic Pastures. The butter probably tastes great. It also costs $10.75 a pound – plus UPS shipping. At farmer’s markets, where those striving for simplicity like to browse with their cloth shopping bags, the organic, the locally grown, and the humanely raised come at a price: tomatoes at $4 a pound, bread at $8 a loaf, and $6 for a cup of “artisanal” gelato.
Wealthy and well-born people admiring – and sparing themselves no expense in convincing themselves that they’re cultivating – the virtues of humble folk is nothing new. Two millennia ago, Virgil, in his Georgics, heaped praise upon the tree pruners and beekeepers whom he likely could see toiling in the distance while he sipped wine on the veranda of his wealthy patron, Maecenas. Marie Antoinette liked to dress up as a shepherdess and hold court in her “rustic” cottage at the Petit Trianon. Other harbingers of today’s simplicity movement were the arts-and-crafts devotees of the early 1900s who filled their homes with handcrafted medieval-looking benches and the 1960s hippies whose minibuses and geodesic domes that enabled their gypsy lifestyles usually came courtesy of checks from their parents.
And here is her conclusion:
The problem with the simplicity movement is that its proponents mistake simplicity, which is an aesthetic lifestyle choice, for humility, which is a genuine virtue. Humility is an honest acknowledgment of one’s limitations and lowliness in the great scheme of things and a realization that power over other human beings is a dangerous thing, always to be exercised with utmost caution. The Amish, as well as monks, Eastern and Western, cultivate humility because they know they have a duty toward what is larger than themselves. Leo Babauta of the foregone grooming products cultivates simplicity because it makes him feel “happier,” as he writes on his website. For humble people, their own happiness or other personal feelings are secondary.
Furthermore, no virtue is a real virtue unless it is available to everyone. Simplicity doesn’t fall into that category. If everyone decided to hunt boar in the Berkeley hills like Michael Pollan, it wouldn’t take long for boars to become extinct. Furthermore, simplicity, because it is a lifestyle choice, necessarily means that its practitioners have to have the financial wherewithal – and usually plenty of it – to make the choices.
If you can’t afford fine grooming products, you’re not practicing simplicity by going without; you’re just plain poor. Not so for humility, for even the poorest of the poor can be humble – or its opposite, irritatingly full of themselves.