Columns » Small Talk

Dorothy Schlaeger

Director of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission



This is the busiest shopping weekend of the year, so there's no better time for a chat about voluntary simplicity with Dorothy Schlaeger of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission. An outgrowth of a discussion course developed by the Northwest Earth Institute in Portland, Ore., voluntary simplicity seeks fulfillment through a pared-down, non-consumptive lifestyle -- one that allows time and energy for the people and activities we most value.

What's the appeal of voluntary simplicity? I think that people are getting burned out and dissatisfied with the fast pace that they're living. I think that as people accumulate more and more and more, it doesn't necessarily bring them satisfaction. Our whole economy is built on dissatisfaction. As long as everybody stays dissatisfied, [we think] this new product, this new gimmick, this new trip, this new home will bring us fulfillment. And voluntary simplicity is about looking at: What do I need to keep me satisfied? What is enough for me?

Do you think the dissatisfaction stems from a deeper spiritual emptiness? People are hungering for spirituality, and I think they find spiritual nourishment in nature and in doing things creatively with their hands and being away from the materialism that is so prevalent.

When people go hiking or do something creative with their hands, are they then abiding by the principles of voluntary simplicity? People carve out this little chunk of time when they can do something like that, but the rest of the week is the rat race. Voluntary simplicity is not a motivator in their lives, my hunch is. And so [it] really involves looking at priorities and cutting back on non-essentials, and that's hard to do, because we're pulled in so many directions.

What do people gain from becoming part of a voluntary simplicity discussion group? The whole concept really goes against the tide and goes against the mainstream of American culture. So, being in a group like this makes you feel like you're not alone. There are other people who have the same values.

How does voluntary simplicity fit in with the environmental movement? If you're really living simply, you're not exploiting resources or using more resources than you need. You're sort of treading lightly on the earth.

What questions should we ask ourselves when we begin to wonder whether it's time for simplicity in our lives? Is my present lifestyle bringing me happiness and fulfillment? What -- and who -- is really important to me right now? How am I caring for the relationships that are important to me? It boils down to: I've got one life to live. This present moment is the only real life there is. This day is important. I can't think of waiting 10 years down the line 'til I start living. ... The sad thing is that our children are growing up on this want, want, want, want, want. They're being groomed for an even more high-powered rat race than our generation.

So, I take it you won't be hitting the malls this weekend. No, I'm not going to be buying a single thing.

The Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission will offer a voluntary simplicity discussion group in the beginning of the new year. Call 632-6189 to find out more.

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