I think the idea of living simply has resonated with me since I was a child. when my dad started us kids on collecting things. He loved to collect stamps and coins, so he encouraged us to have a collection of some sort, and whenever he went on a business trip he would bring back a glass animal each for my sister and me. But when I was about 11, I realized that when you collect stuff, you are never satisfied. You just want more and more things in your collection. I decided I didn’t want to be endlessly yearning for more stuff, I wanted to be satisfied, so I stopped collecting things.
My desire to live more simply and to acquire less “things” began because of my strong environmental ethic, but it has gradually also become, a quality of life issue for me. Yes, my life is better because I own fewer things, because I get things fixed instead of purchasing a replacement, and I cull the pages of ebay and Craig’s List for used items instead of buying new from the store. It is sometimes a pain to get things fixed, or to find what you need used – like my husband and I still havent found a secondhand kitchen table that fits our home and we have been there a year – but there is something respectful, and respectable, about not just throwing things away and buying new stuff. It takes work though, to keep the influx of possessions at bay. When I took my phone in to get fixed recently, the guy looked at me and said it would be much cheaper just to buy a new phone, and he thought I was kooky that I didnt want that. Meanwhile, I was thinking, it aint cheaper for the planet, my friend, and my life is richer for spending money on repair. Not spending time buying – which has become a national sport these days, especially among young people – frees me up for other, more important things in life, and makes me more grateful for the possessions I do have.
A couple years ago, I decided I wasn’t going to purchase anything but food and soap for a month. My first reaction was panic – what if I NEED something? But right after that came a calm, knowing that I really already had everything I needed. To know that, that I had everything that I needed gave me an incredible feeling of Peace. Because you know, our economy is based on the premise that we are not enough because we don’t have enough, and not buying into that (no pun intended!) was so liberating. And that month wasn’t hard at all – it was great. It wasn’t a sacrifice, it was a gift.
Now, I am an actress living in Los Angeles. Those factors put me under a lot of pressure to keep up with the fashion trends, to live in a big house filled with fabulous furniture. People expect actors to have a lot of money, and to spend it. I read in US magazine an article on a celebrity, and she said she had to shop every day, and she wasn’t even ashamed of that. In this article it was celebrated like a cool thing to do. Now I am no saint – I want to look hip and pretty too, and I wrestle with this whole shopping thing. I had two functions in the last couple weeks that I considered buying new clothes for. I even went shopping once to look for something, but I couldn’t bring myself to purchase anything. I went home and found some things in my closet that made me look. .. hip and pretty. About 10 years ago, I was at a premiere, going down the red carpet, and a tv reporter said to me, “I saw you in that outfit at an event last week, Alexandra”. My first instinct was to feel embarrassed, that I had been busted, but then I realized that was silly and I was kowtowing to odd societal rules that say you cannot wear the same thing too often or too close together, and I told him the truth, that I didn’t have very many dresses and that I thought I looked good in this dress. He didn’t know how to respond.
It is a constant thing my husband, Ian, and I work on. We give each other experiences like massages and picnics, instead of things. We downsized our home last year, and we found we prefer living in a smaller place. I think the best present I ever got was when my sister donated blood in my name for my birthday. When Ian writes me a note telling me why he loves me, that is better than any piece of jewelry. I know that I still have too much stuff, that I still have that niggly thing sometimes that says that I NEED more clothes to be pretty and acceptable. But I am working on it, and being here today, among people like you, is an inspiration.
Alexandra is on the board of directors of Simple Living America. This talk was given at their 2004 annual meeting, in Los Angeles. (http://www.getsatisfied.org/)
- Center for a New American Dream http://www.newdream.org
- Center for Livable Communities http://www.lgc.org/clc/welcome.html
- Smart Communities Network http://www.sustainable.doe.gov
- National Center for Appropriate Technology http://www.sustainable.doe.gov
- Communities by Choice http://www.CommunitiesbyChoice.org
- Ecological Footprint analysis from Mathis Wackernagel: at Redefining Progress: http://www.rprogress.org/progsum/nip/ef/ef_main.html (go to the Calculate your own footprint line)
- Ecological Footprint analysis from Monty Hempel: http://www.lwvhc.org/vote/footprints.htm
- EPA: Paths to a Green Community http://www.epa.gov/greenkit/
- International Institute for Sustainable Development http://iisd1.iisd.ca
- National Councils for Sustainable Development http://ncsdnetwork.org
- The Natural Step http://www.naturalstep.org
- The New Road Map Foundation http://www.newroadmap.org
- “Our Common Journey: A Transition Toward Sustainability” http://books.nap.edu/catalog/9690.html
- Sustainability Indicators (Maureen Hart) http://www.sustainablemeasures.com
Thank you for the Population Coalition for the list of organizations and links!
Watch a clip of The Cost of Cool, a documentary that Alexandra co-wrote and produced, about over-consumption.