Simpler Than Thou

The hot word on the street these days is that we have all been the unwitting victims of involuntary complexity. Sensing that no idea should circulate without a movement, and no movement without an industry, the market has stepped into the breech. Now, along with the Thomas Moore industry, the “I Believe in Angels” thing, and the “Everything-I-Know-I-Learned-in...” series, we have the Simplicity Industry. From workshops and study groups to newsletters, audiotapes, and a list of best-sellers, simplicity was never so complicated.

Like all movements, it has a mecca, Seattle, proud parent also to grunge (the Seattle sound) and Starbucks (the Seattle java). It also has its gurus. Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, authors of the best-selling Your Money or Your Life, are credited in large part with initiating the drive to simplify among disenchanted aging boomers. In three years, the book has hauled in more than $3.5 million and sold more than 350,000 copies. Both authors live in Seattle (surprise) on only $13,000 a year.

A major player in the cybersimplicity movement is the Simple Living Network, based in Trout Lake, Washington. It offers, among other on-line services, a complete mail-order catalog, presenting the shopper with such exotic treats as “Garden of Eatin’ Vegetarian Jerky” and “New Age Household Cleaner.” Visitors to their home page are confronted by a full-color ad for Ecco Bella Botanicals, in which Botticelli’s masterpiece The Birth of Venus is used to endorse a full line of body and facial care products. One can only assume that the nakedness of the famous goddess is being exalted as an ideal of voluntary simplicity, but I couldn’t help feeling that this emperor wasn’t exactly fully clothed, either.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1996
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