THE TWO OF US BROWSE the gourmet market
aisles- past the 400 choices of cheese, the gorgeously-packaged
varieties of non-alcoholic champagne, the exotic meats.
An unbelievable cornucopia beckons to us, far beyond what
kings enjoyed in ages past. We are hungry. We want it all.
And we could have it all. We could load our cart to brimming
with no dent in our budget!
What guides our choices when price is no object?
This question has been our daily mantra since wealth landed
in our laps twenty years ago. The culture around us seems
to say that buying as much pleasure and convenience as one
can afford is the "natural" goal. As television
viewers who have watched Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
know, lavish personal spending represents fun, freedom,
comfort, power, and importance. It's sexy. Why hold back?
A Different Dream
Of course, that question is rhetorical.
We hold back because our lives already feel stressed and
cluttered, and we have the rare good fortune to truly know
that more stuff won't bring happiness. We know that money
spent on ourselves often could be better spent for others.
And we are painfully aware that our consumption as a society
is poisoning the planet and creating markets for near-slave
wages around the globe. If only our daily spending could
mirror our deepest values, instead of constantly contradicting
them! This is our dream.
How can we actually live this different dream,
choice by mundane choice, without withdrawing from urban
life or driving ourselves crazy? As we have followed with
interest the voluntary simplicity movement, we've come to
understand that "simplicity" is a complex term.
For some people, it means spending less; for others, it
means creating a more peaceful and centered life; for still
others, it means being guided by environmental, social justice,
or spiritual concerns. But for any given spending choice,
these disparate values can be at war. Buying cheap clothes
saves money, but supports sweat shops; hiring a housekeeper
makes life saner, but decidedly less frugal; shopping for
environmentally sound products can seem a lot more complicated
than just stopping by Walgreens. What's a consumer to do?
Four Qualities to Guide Us
To cut through this complexity, we identified
four qualities to guide our spending choices: satisfaction,
sustainability, sharing, and spirit. (See sidebar.) When
we use this model to shape our spending, sometimes we spend
more than we otherwise would have, sometimes less. Our life
goals have become our guideposts, with thrift applied only
selectively, as a means to certain ends. As people with
plenty of money, we have the rare freedom to do this.
Both the good news and the bad news is that
using this model compels us to grow ever clearer, not only
about our current life goals, but about our core purpose
here on the planet. People can address the fourth guidepost,
which we labeled "spirit," in different ways:
What am I here for? What is most important in my life? What
is God calling me to do? Although we cannot claim always
to find clear answers, it feels vital to ask the questions.
Spending choices then become like a daily spiritual practice,
moment by moment, choice by choice.
Sometimes people who know we're rich
(such as our ten-year-old son!) judge our careful consumption
as stingy, eccentric, or holier-than-thou. Going against
the culture of consumer frenzy is challenging for anyone;
being wealthy can make it even harder, with temptations
at every turn and few role models. We sometimes envy people
who spend with abandon, apparently oblivious to the deeper
Our goal is not purity. Our goal is to become
fully aware of the impact our lifestyle choices have on
our lives and on the wider systems of which we are a part,
and to embrace response-ability in a joyful way. We aim
to dance gaily through the contradictions, experimenting
and revising in the spirit of adventure, not with a tone
of guilt, restriction, or harsh judgment.
Here's what has helped this become a more
fun and creative endeavor for us:
delighting in our abundance, material and
finding others, wealthy and not, who share
deciding on one aspect of consumption in
which to take leadership (This means accepting that in
other areas we might lag behind. For example, building
community has been a much more important motivation for
our choices than, say, environmental factors.);
learning not to sweat the small stuff;
developing a relaxed and forgiving attitude toward ourselves
and others, knowing that wise spending is a lifetime project.
Of course, addressing the negative affects
of global consumption will take far more than personal efforts.
We need to throw our weight behind organizations and movements
that are working on related economic, political, and cultural
changes. Still, individual action is worthwhile: It can
energize us and bring our lives greater integrity; it can
remind us daily of our interconnection with larger systems;
and if sufficient individuals are inspired to action, eventually
the aggregate results will influence the larger systems.
A Vision for People with Wealth
Face it. This culture admires, even adulates,
wealth; and people with wealth are looked to as trendsetters.
What would happen if all of us simpleliving millionaires
went public about our finances and our lifestyle? For example,
The Simple Living Company is producing a thirteen-part documentary
about voluntary simplicity for public television; what if
one segment were to highlight people with one, ten, or a
hundred million dollars in assets who then would articulate
why living simply is fulfilling to them? Or, what if we
were to join together with the handful of groups funding
sustainable consumption? Those of us with wealth could have
tremendous potential influence. Just think how surprised
the public would be!
We don't have to go on television to be role
models. We can inspire people around us just by opening
respectful discussion of these issues with our friends and
family, by being honest about our questions and confusion,
and by daring to be different. We can let others know of
our vibrant and unfolding dream: living lives of deep satisfaction
and integration, and contributing to cultural changes that
will make life better for all.
--Anne Slepian and Christopher Mogil
Christopher Mogil and Anne Slepian
are the founders of More Than Money. They are award-winning
writers, presenters, and organizers on issues of wealth
stewardship. Their books include Taking Charge of Our Money,
Our Values, and Our Lives; Welcome to Philanthropy; and
We Gave Away a Fortune.