A couple of weeks ago over Cold Stone ice cream, my friend mentioned an article she’d read about how more and more Americans are adopting simpler lifestyles. In fact, she said, it’s a movement, a philosophy of “voluntary simplicity” by which people are learning the value of less: Less money, less stuff, less jonesing, less stress.

On a day when I’d spent the morning in a webinar for writers with the daunting title “The Essential Online Tools for Marketing and Promotion,” and the afternoon test-driving much of what they’d suggested on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In, I have to say I was both wiped and receptive to the idea of living more simply. I asked her to send me the article, which she did, and which I finally got a chance to read.

Certainly the philosophy is not new. Allison Glock, author of Back to Basics: Living with “Voluntary Simplicity” points out that simple living was encouraged by Buddha, Jesus, Thoreau, the Shakers, the Amish. Over time, the philosophy became a movement, though until recently it remained a fringe lifestyle. Now, in the midst of the housing-banking-economic-environmental crisis that is our reality, the simplicity movement is gaining momentum, and that makes sense. And there’s something else too, something that appealed to me more than any other aspect – it’s not about guilt.

I like that because it acknowledges the differences between us. I could give up television, I think, but live without my laptop? I can’t imagine that. Maybe you can’t imagine letting your hair go gray, or shopping in thrift stores, or growing your own vegetables, or biking instead of driving. Ever since my friend first brought this up to me, I’ve been thinking about “my stuff,” thinking about the things that make me happy and the things that just take up space – physically, mentally, emotionally.

By next week, every show I watch regularly will have aired its season finale, and I’m thinking of letting them go. (Except maybe House. And The Daily Show. And Rachel Maddow, but she doesn’t count; she’s a quasi-news show.) I’ll spend this summer reading more, writing more, playing games with the boys, listening to music, following my curiosity wherever it takes me. It’ll be my experiment in simplicity. If it works the way it’s supposed to, I should feel happier and, come fall, have no compulsion to tune back in.

There’s other “stuff” too. My list of things to do, despite my best efforts to cut it back to the essentials, is consistently unrealistic (and defeating). My efforts to stay socially and professionally networked are often exhausting. I spend too much time on my weekends doing chores instead of playing outside. I impulse buy fancy (ultimately disappointing) hair care products. I go down rat holes in email when a simple phone call could illuminate the path for all parties. The more I think about it, the more I notice that my physical, virtual, emotional, psychological “stuff” is definitely not always making my life easier.

So… this summer, an experiment. Along with eliminating mindless television, I’m going to question every purchase – buy only what I need to feel satisfied, not gorged. (What the hell, I’ll eat that way too.) I’ll network in a way that is respectful of my time and priorities. I’ll make sure to schedule time to wander and play, and I’ll keep thinking of ways to simplify. I think it may be one of those snowball things, once you get started.

Want to join me? Get a little simpler this summer? Remember, there are no rules. You pick what simplicity means for you. Will you let those gray hairs peak through? Plant an organic garden? Buy only what you “need”? Give up Twitter? Cut back on Facebook? Toss your Tivo? Tell me your ideas. And if you don’t want to simplify, if you think it’s stupid and trendy and you’re not buying in, tell me that too. You know I love to hear your thoughts!

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