Is simple life a luxury item?

The year 2012 will not be remembered as the (promised) end but as the beginning: the first time we awoke to the fact that the world has changed, or gotten flat. Previously, we used the words “recess,” “bad,” or “slump” to describe the depressing economy, implying that the turmoil was a seasonal adjustment, a preparation period for restoring the order to the world. No more: now we all know that the current situation is a transition period and what comes next is an unforeseen world, or for many people, an unwanted world.

What we need to do now is not to hold our breath and endure the waves, as we did in the olden days, but to adapt rapidly before the tsunami swallows us. I chose a quick (and popular) option: get rid of materialistic lifestyle. I moved to an inexpensive apartment close to my workplace; threw away 2/3 of my stuff; let go of my travelling and started connecting with local friends deeply and frequently. It was a surprisingly painless, and even liberating, process. I even thought that the world was going to be fine after all—all we need was to learn to live happily with what we already have.

But of course there was a catch. Getting rid of stuff was the easy part; the challenge was to remain happy with my relatively naked self. The only reason I am passing that test—hopefully—is because I already had more than enough. I owned cars for many years; lived in a large apartment with a great view; traveled around the world using corporate expenses, staying in 4-star hotels, enjoying the night life after meeting with clients. For me, living a simple life is more of a detoxication program than a spiritual transformation. After accumulating layers of unnecessary stuff and habits, I needed to slim myself down, with or without the recession.

Would I be able to embrace the simple life if I haven’t enjoyed having more than enough? Theoretically yes, practically no. I can reject the constant stream of luxurious lifestyles from the media and my rich neighborhood mainly because I already know that the grass on the other side isn’t that green, or requires high maintenance cost. If I never had more than enough money, I wouldn’t be looking at my humble apartment and possessions and be fine with them.

There are hundreds of books and online articles that advocate simple life as the survival tool for the body and the soul. I agree that it works: for me. But I cannot recommend those books to the lady flipping 蛋餅 (Chinese omelet) in a breakfast shopIs, who laments that her son wants an iPhone which costs more than a month’s income.

Is it possible for us to embrace the beauty of simplicity without complicating ourselves first?